The history of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, like that of most public art museums in cities across the United States, is one of civic spirit and private philanthropy. The majority of the works of art in the Museum's world class collection entered as gifts from generous and public-minded individuals. This tradition of giving remains strong today, reflected in a broad-ranging exhibition which celebrates not only remarkable individual works of art but in many cases entire collections or large groups of objects acquired over the past five years in celebration of the Museum’s 125th anniversary.
Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (September 29-December 8, 2002) presents to the public a spectacular array of works, many of them for the first time. Like the Museum’s collections as a whole, the new gifts span centuries, cultures and continents—from a robust Japanese earthenware Jar dating from 2500-1500 B.C. to a recently completed painting by Jasper Johns. The exhibition also includes anniversary purchases secured through generous contributions totaling some $8.3 million in endowed purchase funds given to the institution by far-sighted donors.
Renewing the challenge set by the example of its history of legendary collections and donors, a Committee for Collections 2001, chaired by Trustee Harvey S. Shipley Miller, was formed in 1996. The Committee of Museum trustees and curators has worked diligently since then to attract spectacular additions to the rich variety of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, costume, textiles, and works on paper in the existing collections. An early inspiration to the Committee was the splendid challenge grant from the Barra Foundation Inc. enabling the Museum to acquire Jean-Antoine Houdon’s great marble bust of Benjamin Franklin at auction in the fall of 1996.
According to Committee for Collections Chairman Miller, "Our greatest thanks are extended to the individuals far and wide who donated works of art and the funds to help us acquire such important works. Their great generosity and perceptive taste are reflected in the works of art contained in this exhibition, a monument that records the greatness of these gifts and honors not only their donors but those donors who have preceded them in the past 125 years."
"No appeal by this Museum has ever received a more splendid or far-reaching response from collectors and from contributors to collection-transforming purchases than this 125th Anniversary celebration, which carries the Museum exuberantly into the 21st century," said Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "This wonderful exhibition brings together for the first time a breathtaking range of art which enriches every field in which the Museum collects. These are birthday gifts to grow on – which will inspire, excite, and fascinate the Museum’s audience for generations to come."
Filling six galleries, the works on view are installed according to their affinities with one another, including aspects of nature, spirituality, the human figure, and "the artist’s touch." They range from early Japanese and Chinese wares to exquisite 16th century miniature paintings made in India, from American modernist and large-scale abstractions of the last half of the 20th century--among them major paintings by Man Ray, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, Sam Francis, Jasper Johns, and a rare work by the figurative expressionist painter Bob Thompson (1937-1965)--to European masters, including contemporary paintings by such artists as Gerhard Richter. Also on view will be the first handscroll to enter the collection by the great 17th century Japanese master Honami Koetsu, a rare, 27-foot-long scroll decorated with gold and silver woodblock designs, the Museum’s first still life painting by Edouard Manet (French, 1832-1883) and two Impressionist landscapes by Claude Monet (1840-1926). Among the works having a strong resonance for Philadelphia’s rich and colorful history are the splendid 1773 double portrait of the first governor of Pennsylvania after the Revolution, Thomas Mifflin and his wife, Sarah Morris, by John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1813); two masterpieces of 18th-century American furniture commissioned in Philadelphia by Revolutionary War General John Cadwalader; and spectacular examples of Pennsylvania German fractur. Visitors may also be surprised by such adventurous additions as the avant-garde menswear--including works by such designers as Jean Paul Gaultier, Comme des Garçons, and Yoji Yamamoto--that once formed the wardrobe of the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. Several fine works of late nineteenth/early twentieth century traditional African sculpture will also be on view, including a royal seat, or ulimbi bia, which takes the form of a leopard grasping a small animal its teeth.
Gifts of numerous private collections have also highlighted the Museum’s 125th anniversary, as collectors shared with the Museum their passion for entire fields of art. The Alvin O. Bellak collection of Indian paintings, the Howard I. and Janet H. Stein collection of Italian Renaissance ceramics, as well as a set of rare etchings by the master printmaker Jacques Villon given by The Judith Rothschild Foundation, which transformed the Museum’s holdings into one of the greatest public collections of his Cubist prints. With its strong tradition of collecting American ceramics, the Museum is a fitting repository for Gerald and Virginia Gordon’s superb gift of 126 pieces of Rookwood pottery, raising the Museum’s rank to the premier venue in which to view the finest late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American art pottery. Selections from the recently acquired Lynne and Harold Honickman Gift of the Julien Levy Collection of some 2,500 early modern American and European photographs will also be on view, as will privately assembled collections of painted European furniture and American, German, and Korean ceramics. In addition, the gift of two important collections and a number of individual works by self-taught artists,
The Museum’s collection of twentieth-century women’s fashion has been enhanced by a number of gifts, including a wedding dress designed in 1999 by Vera Wang for Caroline Kimmel, and designs by such leading designers of the 1970s-1990s as Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro and Valentino. The purchase of Harry Packard’s notable set of traditional Japanese textiles, ranging from firemen’s coats to Okinawa kimonos, also contributes greatly to the exhibition while giving the Museum one of the most significant holdings of Japanese folk textiles on the east coast.
Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is organized by Alice Beamesderfer, Associate Director for Collections and Project Support. A fully illustrated catalogue published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art accompanies the exhibition.
The exhibition was made possible by Wilmington Trust and The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Additional support was provided by Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, LLP, the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions, and The Pew Charitable Trusts, with a donation from Sotheby’s. Generous contributions were given by Gisela and Dennis Alter, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, Maxine and Howard H. Lewis, Harvey S. Shipley Miller, and Martha J. McGeary Snider.