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1950 - 1960

The 1950s began with a grand celebration in honor of the Diamond Jubilee. Commemorating the Museum’s 75th Anniversary, the Jubilee activities included a symposium, special lectures, and an exhibition marking the progress of American collecting during the lifetime of the Museum. 1950 also saw unprecedented attendance numbers as well as the appointment of the first full-time press representative.

The decade further established the Museum as a true international presence; distinguished guests throughout the years of the 1950s included the King and Queen of Greece; His Excellency, Dr. F. Kerim Gorkay, the Mayor and Governor of Istanbul; and His Excellency, Dr. Sukarno, the President of the Indonesian Republic, among others. Meanwhile, the final stage of the A.E. Gallatin Collection of 175 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints further assured the Museum's prominence as a repository of masterpieces of early modern art. The collection included Pablo Picasso’s Three Musicians as well as works by Man Ray, Giorgio de Chirico, Joan Miro, and Piet Mondrian.

Jacques Lipchitz’ Prometheus Strangling the Vulture came to the Museum in 1953, and it still greets visitors entering the Museum from the East Entrance Terrace today. That same year saw the opening of Before Columbus, an exhibition of Pre-Columbian art from the Walter and Louise Arensberg Collection. These objects were lauded for having had such a great impact on the modern visual experience, and they, along with the Brinton and Gallatin collections, became the basis for the "Modern Museum" of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The "Modern Museum" consisted of 28 galleries featuring both works of art created in the 20th century and works of aboriginal cultures "first appreciated and collected as art in the 20th." The holdings included the largest group of sculptures by Constantin Brancusi outside of Paris and the foremost collection of works by Marcel Duchamp in the world, as well as masterpieces by Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Kandinski, Mondrian, and numerous others. Meanwhile, an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vincent van Gogh featured several works of art never before exhibited overseas.

In 1954, Fiske Kimball persuaded Dr. Stella Kramrisch, a renowned scholar of Indian art who had taught at the University of Calcutta and the University of Pennsylvania, to join the Museum as Curator of Indian Art. Kramrisch greatly expanded the Museum's holdings during the course of her decades-long curatorial career--just two years after her arrival, in fact, the Museum acquired from her a phenomenal group of stone sculptures from the Hindu temples of northern India, dating from the 8th to the 13th centuries, collected during her many years of residence and research there.

1955 marked the end of an era for the Museum when, in January, after almost 30 years as Director, Fiske Kimball resigned. Less than two months later, Kimball's beloved wife Marie, to whom he was very devoted, died. Five months after that, while traveling in Europe, he suffered a heart attack and stroke. He died on August 14, 1955 in Munich. Asked once to write an autobiographical sketch, Fiske Kimball himself best summarized his work and legacy. In collaboration with the Museum's presidents and staff, and with the support of the City and private benefactors, he saw the institution "emerge from a minor provincial position to become one of the leading museums of America. . .not unworthy of comparison with those of Europe." Henri Marceau, who had been Chief of the Department of Paintings and Sculpture as well as the Johnson Collection, assumed Kimball’s responsibilities. Under his guidance the Museum continued to flourish.

An Open House was held in February of 1955, an event that drew a crowd of close to 50,000 people. Highlights included performances by the Police and Firemen’s Band, the Ballet Guild, the Hegeman String Band, and the Sandole jazz orchestra, as well as a concert of Asian music, ancient and ecclesiastical music from the University of Pennsylvania choir, the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, and a Fashion Show. Awards were presented to seven distinguished Philadelphians "on account of the lustre their artistic creation has cast on [the city]", and the Artists Equity Exhibition of paintings, sculpture, and prints by Philadelphia-area artists was opened.

During this time, the Department of Conservation and Restoration was further enhanced. The Museum hired a conservator, and workspace and equipment was vastly increased. The following year an assistant joined the staff. In 1956 the Museum received its most popular item of clothing, the wedding dress worn by Princess Grace of Monaco--who was, of course, Grace Kelly of Philadelphia--for her marriage to Prince Rainier III on April 19 of the same year. A reception was given in the gallery by Grace’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John B. Kelly, to mark the occasion.

At long last, in the fall of 1956, all of the objects that remained at Memorial Hall were transferred to the Museum. The number was in the thousands. The keys to Memorial Hall were then turned over to the Commissioners of Fairmount Park, and the move was officially complete. In 1957, 2100 new members joined the Museum and the Library’s holdings grew to 40,000 volumes. 1957 also saw the opening of a new Far Eastern Wing and the installation of some of the Museum’s most beloved architectural settings. The space to properly house these marvelous structures was finally available, and after nearly 30 years of planning, the Museum opened to the public the ceremonial teahouse, Sunkaraku and its surrounding bamboo gardens, the Sasanian Portal, Shah Abbas Cubiculum, Safavid Court Tile Mosaics, the Pillared Temple Hall, the Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhao, the Hall of Great Wisdom from China, a Chinese Scholar’s Study, and the Buddhist Temple for the Attainment of Happiness from Japan.

In 1958, a traveling exhibition of the works of Picasso opened with a ticket price of 75 cents per person. A $2.50 catalogue was created expressly for the Philadelphia show, featuring four color plates and over 300 black-and-white illustrations. That same year, fifteen galleries devoted to Philadelphia furniture and silver were also opened, as well as the Titus C. Geesey Collection of Pennsylvania German (also known as Pennsylvania Dutch) furniture, pottery, metalware, textiles, and other types of decorative and graphic arts.

January 1959 saw the inauguration of the Charles Patterson Van Pelt auditorium, given by Mr. and Mrs. David Van Pelt and named for their son. Until then, the Museum had been making do with an empty second-floor gallery space where it was difficult to "see much or hear much and where folding chairs and chilly draughts were downright hazardous." The new 400-seat auditorium, designed by architect Erling H. Pedersen (who, incidentally, had acted as Assistant Director to Fiske Kimball in the late 1920s-early 1930s), was state-of-the-art for the time--with air conditioning, modern lighting, a stage, various dressing rooms and green rooms, and excellent acoustics and sight lines. There was also an enlarged projection booth accommodating double projectors each for 35 millimeter films, 16 millimeter films, and lantern slide projection on a large screen. Also in 1959, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation announced that a monumental thirteen-panel tapestry set representing the "History of Constantine the Great" would be given to the Museum. The Great Stair Hall played a crucial role in the Foundation’s decision, as the tapestries fit perfectly within the magnificent space.

Major Exhibitions

  • 1950–51: The Diamond Jubilee
  • 1952: A Decade of American Printmaking
  • 1953: Before Columbus
  • 1954: The Arensberg Collection
  • 1955: Toulouse-Lautrec
  • 1956: Princess Grace’s Wedding Gown
  • 1957: Opening of the Teahouse
  • 1958: Picasso
  • 1959: Courbet

Major Gifts and Acquisitions

  • 1950: The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection; the Lisa Norris Elkins Collection; Peter-Paul Rubens's Prometheus Bound
  • 1951: Animalier bronzes from the Elkins Family; the William and Thomas Tucker Collection of porcelain objects, design books, papers, and tools relating to their short-lived manufacturing venture given by Anne Tucker Earp
  • 1952: The A.E. Gallatin Collection; Jacques Lipchitz’s Prometheus Strangling the Vulture
  • 1954: The Titus C. Geesey Collection
  • 1955: The Joseph Lees Williams Collection of Oriental Carpets
  • 1956: Princess Grace’s Wedding Dress
  • 1959: The first of 71 gifts given by Natacha Rambova, regarding her Himalayan Art collection; the Constantine Tapestries given by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation

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