Anne D'harnoncourt

By Cropper, Elizabeth; Dempsey, Charles | Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Anne D'harnoncourt


Cropper, Elizabeth, Dempsey, Charles, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society


7 september 1943 . 1 june 2008

ANNE D'HARNONCOURT was born to a family distinguished in the arts. Her father, René d'Harnoncourt, was for nearly twenty years director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the famed Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt was her cousin. After attending the Brearley School in New York City, she took her B.A. at Radcliffe College (1965) and her M.A. at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London University (1967), and began her career as curatorial assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1967 to 1969. After serving two years as assistant curator of twentieth-century art at the Art Institute of Chicago (1969-71), where she married Joseph J. Rishel (APS; currently Gisela and Denis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and senior curator of the John G. Johnson Collection and the Rodin Museum), she returned with her husband to the Philadelphia Museum, where both took up full curatorial appointments, she as curator of twentieth-century art (1972-82). In 1982 she was named the George D. Widener Director, and in 1997, upon Robert Montgomery Scott's retirement, she became the George D. Widener Director and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Museum. Her sudden and quite unexpected death in 2008 in the fullness of her career and at the height of her accomplishments sent shock waves throughout the museum and its supporters, the city of Philadelphia, the national and international art world, and her thousands of friends everywhere.

Anne made her mark quickly as a curator, notably as a specialist on Marcel Duchamp. In 1973 she co-organized with Kynaston McShine a major retrospective of the artist's work, also shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago and accompanied by an indispensable catalogue. She also oversaw, in collaboration with the artist's widow, Alexina (Teeny) Duchamp, and stepson, Paul Matisse, the installation of the artist's sensational last work, Étants donnés: 1) La chute d'eau, 2) Le gaz d'éclairage, also publishing, with Walter Hopps, the fundamental study of this unsettling work. She organized the important exhibitions Futurism and the Avant-Garde (1980) and John Cage: Scores and Prints (1982), all the while building the Philadelphia Museum collection through acquisition of works by Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, and Ellsworth Kelly, among many others. As director, she was especially effective in acquiring for Philadelphia works important to the cultural and artistic patrimony of the city, among them John Singleton Copley's Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin (1773) and Jean-Antoine Houdon's wonderful Bust of Benjamin Franklin (1779). Most famously, Thomas Eakins's masterpiece, The Gross Clinic (1875), commissioned for the Jefferson Medical College and in danger of leaving the city through sale by the college, was saved for Philadelphia by Anne's brokering of a joint purchase with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Less well known, but of immense importance for the city, was the acquisition through the generous giftof Muriel and Philip Berman of 2,500 Old Master drawings and 42,786 Old Master prints from the former teaching collection of the Pennsylvania Academy.

She was by inclination and training a scholar of modern and contemporary art, and under her directorship the museum twice represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, with exhibitions of works by Jasper Johns (1988) and by Bruce Nauman (2009), both of which won the Leone d'Oro. Anne's great love, however, was for art itself. She relished the opportunity to work in a major museum with collections embracing the widest range of artistic expression, from the great traditions of European and American art, to decorative arts and crafts, to costumes and textiles from around the world, and art from India, Korea, China, and Japan. She was especially thrilled by the acquisition and exhibition of the seventeenth-century handscroll by Hon'ami Koetsu, Poems from the Shinokin Wakashu. …

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