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Portrait of Anne d'Harnoncourt, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Anne d’Harnoncourt, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer, Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Photo by Graydon Wood, 2005.)


A Director’s Vision: The Legacy of Anne d’Harnoncourt

April 25–July 19, 2009

Anne d’Harnoncourt (1943–2008), the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s late and beloved Director who served the Museum and its audiences for four historic and transforming decades, reveled in the art of all ages and cultures. Connecting art with people—while fostering "conversations" among works of art through inspired installations—was her great personal pleasure and professional goal. To celebrate Anne, her passion for art, and her drive to share creativity's treasures with all, the Museum presents A Director’s Vision. Throughout the Museum, labels announcing The Legacy of Anne d’Harnoncourt will highlight magnificent examples of the nearly 80,000 works of art acquired during Anne’s directorship (from 1982), some of the more than one hundred modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures acquired while she was curator of those collections (1972–1982), and selections from the great outpouring of gifts presented to the Museum in Anne’s memory. Many of these works of art are on paper or textiles and, due to light sensitivity, cannot be on long-term display, but more than 1,000 are currently on view in the galleries and others can be seen here on the Museum's website.

Curating Departments

American Art

Highlights include Thomas Eakins's Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) (1875) and other treasures of Philadelphia’s cultural and artistic heritage once under threat of leaving the city through sale, such as John Singleton Copley’s Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin (1773), and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s Angel of Purity (Maria Mitchell Memorial) (1902). Anne encouraged a concerted effort to increase the Museum’s holdings of African American art, bringing to the galleries painted masterpieces such as Henry Ossawa Tanner's Portrait of the Artist's Mother (1897) and Joshua Johnson's Portrait of Edward Aisquith (c. 1810). Philadelphia's central role in the development of American furniture and decorative arts is reflected in the addition of suites of parlor furniture, including rococo examples created by Thomas Affleck in the 1770s for John and Elizabeth Cadwalader and contemporary dramatic wooden elements made by Wharton Esherick for his 1936–37 renovation of the Bok House in Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania. "The American collections, from the colonial era to the present, expanded on all fronts under Anne d’Harnoncourt's enthusiastic and discriminating leadership. As curator of modern art, Passionate and tireless in her defense of the city’s artistic heritage, she led campaigns to secure some of the greatest masterpieces in the Museum’s collection: Houdon’s portrait of Benjamin Franklin, Copley’s portrait of Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Mifflin, Saint-Gaudens's Angel of Purity, and Thomas Eakins's The Gross Clinic." — Kathleen Foster

View selections from the department of American Art

Costumes and Textiles

The Museum’s vast collections of costume and textiles grew from a primarily Western and "high-style" focus to include work in fabric from around the world—including Bangladesh, Peru, India, Japan, and Myanmar—and stunning expressions of folk creativity, such as the Ella King Torrey Collection of African American quilts. The collections also expanded to include cutting-edge, contemporary designs by Issey Miyake, Ralph Rucci, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Vivienne Westwood, among others. "Anne understood that collections must break with tradition to develop. She encouraged us to push boundaries (and borders). She delighted in the unexpected and unusual. Thus, the textile and costume collection has expanded to include traditional textiles and clothing from around the world, work by self taught artists such as the quilter Sarah Mary Taylor seen here, avant-garde fashion, and contemporary fiber. " — Dilys Blum

View selections from the department of Costumes & Textiles

East Asian Art

The Museum’s collections of East Asian art were enriched with acquisitions such as the early seventeenth-century handscroll by Hon'ami Kōetsu, Poems from the "Shinkokin wakashū" (an imperial anthology); an imposing seventeenth-century porcelain Dragon Jar from Korea; and Frederick McBrien III’s distinctive collection of modern and contemporary Japanese craft arts such as Itaya Koji's Tsuitate Screen with Design of Golden Fox (c. 1950s). "As a colleague and director, Anne d’Harnoncourt had an omnivorous curiosity about all art. Always inquisitive and open to learning about proposed works of art for acquisition, Anne would proudly take visitors to the Asian galleries to show off a handscroll by Hon'ami Kōetsu, or a 15th century Korean vase, or a Chinese scholar's rock. She saw each work of art as a reflection of the diversity of cultures and societies, and as an effective means of translating the "other" into a language at once personal and collective." — Felice Fischer

View selections from the department of East Asian Art

European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

The Museum’s holdings of historical European decorative arts grew with notable acquisitions including the purchase of a Jewelry Cabinet (1867) made by Charles-Guillaume Diehl and gifts from the Howard I. and Janet H. Stein Collection of Italian Renaissance maiolica. In 1996, the Museum acquired Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Bust of Benjamin Franklin (1779), an engaging likeness of a brilliant American and Philadelphian. A significant collection of modern and contemporary design was built through the efforts of Collab, a group of design professionals and aficionados working with Museum curators and with Anne’s enthusiastic support. "Anne presided gracefully (if sometimes nervously) over the growth of our modern and contemporary design collections from hundreds to thousands of objects; she supported our program of building on strengths, in French ceramics, for example, and filling in gaps with examples of periods and artists lacking, such as the mid-nineteenth-century monumental Diehl cabinet." — Kathy Hiesinger

View selections from the department of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

View selections of modern and contemporary Decorative Arts

European Painting

The Museum’s rich collections of European art were further strengthened with the acquisition of singular masterpieces such as the paintings Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus Would Freeze (c. 1600–1603) by Hendrick Goltzius; Mermaid (1896) by Edvard Munch; and the marble Danaid (The Source) (conceived 1886; carved before 1902) by Auguste Rodin. " As invested as she was in the arts of our own time, Anne was very alert to art of the past and the huge importance and potential of older European painting, both in terms of the Museum’s rich inherited holding in this area but also the continuing possibilities of enhancing this great strength of the PMA.

No example could better illustrate this than the acquisition of the Goltzius Venus, whose purchase in 1990 was pursued by Anne with great vigor. A long lost masterpiece, famous in its own time, it is a nearly unique and precious example of Dutch Mannerist painting. It turned up in the London art market and was immediately put on hold by Larry Nicholas, a young curator on staff and a Goltzius expert, who, by good chance, was in London at the time, the first person in the dealer’s door. The price was high, Larry’s articulate support of its pursuit winning, but it was Anne's full-voiced championing of this work which won the day. As time has quickly proven, it was an astute and bold act which not only added a special work to the collection but also gives on each encounter (as it did for Rudolph II's Holy Roman Empire, the first owner) a spellbinding entry into a very magical and sexy story, illustrated with Shakespearean charm and punch. It is a work without equal in any other American museum and one of great enchantment. " — Joseph Rishel

View selections from the department of European Painting

Indian and Himalayan Art

During Anne’s tenure, her longtime colleague Stella Kramrisch, the Museum’s Curator of Indian Art, gave and bequeathed more than 800 objects from her personal collection including the elegant fifth-century sandstone sculpture Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion, one of the finest examples of art created under the powerful Gupta dynasty, which ruled much of northern India. Former Trustee Alvin O. Bellak also gave his fine collection of Indian "miniature" paintings." Anne had an astonishing ability to perceive quality and power in works of art, no mater how unfamiliar the type. She had the equally astonishing ability to listen, weigh information, and honestly scrutinize her own perceptions and assumptions. She was impervious to fads and trends, opening the Museum’s doors to new realms, such as the modern and contemporary arts of South Asia, only after intense and thoughtful deliberation. One of the Department's final purchases under her leadership was its first by a contemporary Indian artist (Sabari with her Birds), and one of her final achievements was negotiating to host the Museum’s first retrospective of a modern South Asian artist (Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandalal Bose), which opened less than a month after her death." — Darielle Mason

View selections from the department of Indian and Himalayan Art

Modern and Contemporary Art

The Museum’s engagement with the art of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries—a relationship cultivated by Anne—continued with transforming acquisitions of works by Eva Hesse, Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Sol LeWitt, Man Ray, Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol. In 2007, with Anne’s galvanizing enthusiasm, the Museum acquired Bruce Nauman's iconic neon spiral The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967) [link to Nauman exhibition info]. "As the former Curator of Twentieth Century Art, Anne d’Harnoncourt had a great knowledge and passion for modern and contemporary art, especially the iconoclastic work and ideas of Marcel Duchamp. Despite her increasingly hectic work schedule as the Museum’s Director and CEO, she could often be found in the galleries she loved best, such as the rooms devoted to Duchamp, Constantin Brancusi, Jasper Johns, and Ellsworth Kelly, whose work she had championed through numerous exhibitions, publications, and acquisitions. Her taste in art was eclectic and open-minded and had little to do with accepted canons of taste and beauty. Indeed, it was her passion and curiosity for art that enabled her to admire and support with equal measure Philadelphia artists, such as Tom Chimes and Edna Andrade, and heroes like Johns, Kelly, and Robert Rauschenberg. Fiske Kimball, her illustrious predecessor as Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, liked to describe the period rooms and objects on display in them as "a walk through time." I think Anne understood the Museum in a more open and less linear fashion, conceiving it as a forum for a "conversation"between works of art that took place across centuries and involved the history of ideas." — Michael Taylor

View selections from the department of Modern and Contemporary Art

Prints, Drawings and Photographs

Rembrandt van Rijn’s drypoint with burin masterpiece Christ Crucified between Two Thieves (The Three Crosses) (1653–55) is a highlight in the vast collections of drawings, prints, and photographs acquired during Anne’s directorship, which also includes The Muriel and Philip Berman Gift of 2,500 Old Master drawings and 42,786 Old Master prints, as well as the Julien Levy Collection of 2,500 early modern and Surrealist photographs. "Anne was in the background as well as in the forefront of all of this department’s greatest acquisitions: the old master European drawings and prints from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1984 and 1985); the Stieglitz photographs and Georgia O'Keeffe drawings acquired from The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation (1997); the Julien Levy Collection of photographs(2001); and the recent acquisition of five major drawings by Ellsworth Kelly (2007). Once these acquisitions landed on Anne’s radar she wouldn't let go, in spite of any apparent obstacles that lay in her path!" — Innis Shoemaker

View selections from the department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs

Anne d'Harnoncourt 1943–2008

Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who led the institution with greatness and grace since 1982, died on June 1, 2008, at her home in Center City Philadelphia of cardiac arrest. An internationally respected art historian and museum leader, she served as The George D. Widener Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1982, and as both Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Museum since 1997. As Director, Miss d’Harnoncourt fostered the growth and distinction of the Museum’s professional staff, and encouraged a sequence of major exhibitions and publications by Museum curators and scholars. Among these were the retrospectives Brancusi (1995), Cézanne (1996), Hon'ami Kōetsu (2000), Barnett Newman (2002) and Salvador Dalí (2005), and surveys on topics ranging from The Pennsylvania Germans: A Celebration of Their Arts (1983) to Japanese Design (1994) and The Splendor of Eighteenth-Century Rome (2000). Each exhibition was accompanied by a groundbreaking catalogue, and other Museum publications produced under her tutelage have included British Paintings in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1986), Handbook of the Collections (1995), Gifts in Honor of the Museum's 125th Anniversary (2002), and Italian Paintings 1250–1450 (2004). Between 1992 and 1995, Miss d’Harnoncourt oversaw a massive project to reinstall all of the European collections in more than ninety galleries; renovation of twenty galleries of modern and contemporary art followed in 2000. Also in 2000 the Museum achieved a long-term goal by acquiring The Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, a neighboring landmark which opened in September 2007 with greatly expanded, state-of-the-art facilities for the Museum’s collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; costume and textiles; modern and contemporary design; and the Library and Archives. Miss d'Harnoncourt led the Museum through two major capital campaigns: the Landmark Renewal Fund, which raised $64 million between 1986 and 1993; and the 2001 FUND 125th Anniversary Campaign which concluded in 2004, exceeding its goal and raising over $246 million. The 2001 FUND, like the acquisition of the Perelman Building, supported the strategic goals of two successive Long-Range Plans. Prior to becoming Director, Miss d’Harnoncourt served as the Museum’s Curator of Twentieth-Century Art from 1972 to 1982. A specialist in the art of Marcel Duchamp, she co-organized a major retrospective exhibition in 1973–74, which traveled to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and The Art Institute of Chicago. During her tenure as curator, the Museum built its contemporary collections and acquired important works by Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Elizabeth Murray, and Sol LeWitt, among others. Miss d’Harnoncourt has written extensively about Duchamp, John Cage, Futurism, and other topics in modern and contemporary art. Miss d’Harnoncourt received a B.A. from Radcliffe College and an M.A. from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She was a Director of the Henry Luce Foundation, a Trustee of the Fabric Workshop and Museum, and a member of the Visiting Committee of the J. Paul Getty Museum, among other affiliations. She is survived by her husband Joseph J. Rishel, the Gisela and Dennis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting Before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Donations in her memory may be made to the Anne d’Harnoncourt Memorial Fund for Art Acquisitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was created to celebrate her life and extend her remarkable legacy. Mr. Rishel, has selected Ellsworth Kelly's Seine (1951; on view in gallery 175) as the first important work to be acquired with this fund.

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