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The Philadelphia Museum of Art has received major works of art as gifts in honor of the late Anne d’Harnoncourt, the Museum’s Director from 1982 until her death in June 2008. Among these gifts are remarkable paintings by Gilbert Stuart, Georges Seurat, and Frank Stella; an important drawing by Claes Oldenburg; as well as many other noteworthy works in a variety of media. In addition, the Museum is purchasing an important work by Ellsworth Kelly with funds donated in memory of Anne d’Harnoncourt.
“Art was Anne’s great passion, and she was a public servant in the truest sense of the word,” said Gail Harrity, Interim CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “It is both fitting and deeply moving that the Museum has received these exceptional gifts in Anne’s memory because they are testaments to her directorship and will be shared with the public that she served with tremendous dedication.”
Alice Beamesderfer, Interim Head of Curatorial Affairs, said that the Museum has thus far received more than 50 gifts in memory of Anne d’Harnoncourt and expects to receive more in the months to come. “Anne was an inspirational leader whose passing evoked a profound desire among many people to honor her extraordinary legacy. These gifts have come from her friends, fellow museum professionals, artists, dealers, collectors, and others who wanted to remember her in a very meaningful way—by adding to the collection of the Museum she loved and making these works accessible to all,” Ms. Beamesderfer noted.
Among the highlights is an exceptional portrait by Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755-1828), a gift from Robert L. and Nancy McNeil, Jr. Painted in 1797 when the artist, living in Philadelphia, was at the height of his powers, the Portrait of Anne Willing Bingham captured her elegance in the grand British manner. He presents her with polished self-assurance and an elaborate hairstyle, the rich black velvet of her dress allowing a revealing neckline that sets off a dazzling jeweled necklace. The sitter’s education is signaled by the book she holds, Voyage en Syrie, by the French geographer Chasseboeuf, Comte de Volney, whom the Binghams entertained in Philadelphia and engaged to teach their daughters French.
Seurat’s Moored Boats and Trees is the first work to enter the collection by the great neo-Impressionist (French, 1859-1891). It is the gift of Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, artist and honorary trustee of the Museum. The painting was executed in 1890 on the channel coast near the French border of Belgium less than a year before Seurat’s untimely death at age 31. It was painted in oil in the consummate Pointillist style that Seurat originated, on the top of a cigar box. While it measures 6 5/16 x 9 13/16 inches, it is remarkable for its seeming stillness and gemlike illumination and evokes a large space. Henri Matisse, who was the donor’s grandfather, owned the painting for many years, and Matisse’s signature appears on the back of the support, presumably to document his ownership.
Plant City, 1963, a large shaped canvas by Frank Stella (American, b. 1936), has been given in Anne d’Harnoncourt’s memory by Agnes Gund, the President Emerita of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It belongs to an important series of paintings completed during the artist’s yearlong residency at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The series is unique in Stella’s artistic trajectory for bringing together his earlier exploration of forms and color. Like all of the works in Stella’s Dartmouth series, Plant City references a town in Florida, which the artist visited in 1961. At Florida Southern College he was especially impressed by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and Plant City’s eight-pointed star format draws upon Wright’s interlocking of diamond and triangular architectural modules there.
A large and important drawing for a project in Chicago by Claes Oldenburg, Study for a Tomb Monument to Louis Sullivan, 1971, is the gift of Marion Boulton Stroud, trustee of the Museum and founder of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia; it is the first drawing by the artist to enter the Museum’s collection. The drawing, which is 21 ½ by 25 1/16 inches, depicts in monumental scale the broom closet in a Chicago hotel where, according to legend, Sullivan was forced to sleep at the end of his life, surreptitiously cared for by hotel employees.
The Museum is also acquiring Seine, 1951, a seminal early work by Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923), with funds contributed in Anne d’Harnoncourt’s memory. The painting was executed at a critical time when Kelly was living in Paris and had abandoned figuration and easel painting to embrace abstraction. His playful use of the grid and black, white, and primary colors in his compositions recalls the work of Piet Mondrian, while his interest in incorporating elements of chance connects Kelly to Marcel Duchamp and Jean (Hans) Arp. In Seine, the artist employed a system of randomly shaded units on a rectangular grid to represent the irregular, flickering reflection of light on the surface of the river.
The Gilbert Stuart is installed in Gallery 107 of the American Wing. The Seurat has been placed on view in the large Impressionist Gallery (152). The Stella is on view in Gallery 177 of the Modern and Contemporary Wing. Kelly’s Seine is on view in Gallery 175, in context with an installation of the artist’s early works.
In addition to these works, the Museum has received gifts of works by such notable artists as Aaron Douglas, Robert Frank, Francis Picabia, Elizabeth Murray, Richard Hamilton, and others.