Joseph J. Rishel, 1940–2020
Joseph J. Rishel, 1940–2020Curator Emeritus Joseph J. Rishel, who retired in November 2015 after a long and distinguished career at the museum, passed away in his sleep on November 5, 2020. He was the former Gisela and Dennis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900, and Senior Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection and the Rodin Museum. Joseph John Rishel was born on May 15, 1940, in Clifton Springs, New York, a small town near Lake Geneva. In 1962 he graduated with honors from Hobart College and in 1968 received an MA at the University of Chicago. Joe began his curatorial career at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he met his future wife, the late Anne d’Harnoncourt. He joined the curatorial staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1971, and Anne a year later. Joe would go on to lead our Department of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900; Anne became director of the museum in 1982. Joe’s accomplishments were legion. He played an instrumental role, for example, in the comprehensive reinstallation of the museum’s renowned holdings of European art in the 1990s and in encouraging the gift of works of art to the collection, thus ensuring its ongoing development during a time when purchase funds were limited. Joe was perhaps best known for the many major exhibitions he organized, among them The Second Empire 1852–1870: Art in France under Napoleon III (1978) and Tesoros/Treasures/Tesouros: The Arts of Latin America, 1492–1820 (2006). He organized several shows on the work of Paul Cézanne, including Cézanne in 1996—which was seen by nearly 550,000 visitors, shattering all previous attendance records—and Cézanne and Beyond in 2009. It was in this work that his creativity and brilliance as a curator were most clearly evident.
Among Joe’s many gifts was his talent in nurturing friendships within the museum as well as across the field. He also took great pleasure in mentoring young curators, encouraging their development and helping to advance their careers. In this regard, it was deeply rewarding for Joe to see so many of his curatorial colleagues return to the museum in May 2016 for his retirement party to acknowledge the instrumental role he had played in their lives. It is difficult to describe in a few paragraphs all that Joe Rishel meant to this institution and to those who had the good fortune to know him. He was a great curator, a wonderful friend. He will be sorely missed.
Joe Rishel and wife Anne d’Harnoncourt, the late director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
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