Historical Note

As a scholar and teacher, author, architect and museum director, Fiske Kimball had an insatiable desire to immerse himself in numerous and often simultaneous projects concerning art and architecture, and in turn, to educate and excite others in those pursuits. Best known for his thirty-year tenure as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kimball packed several prolific careers into his 66 years. Although he never attributed his motivation and drive to any individual or institution, Kimball's work ethic no doubt was cultivated during his early years, particularly by his father. Born December 8, 1888, in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, Sidney Fiske Kimball was the second child of Ellen Leora (nee Ripley) and Edwin Fiske Kimball. The elder Kimball was an educator in the Boston school district, serving as headmaster of the Gilbert Stuart School in Dorchester from 1909 until his death in 1924. He lectured and wrote on educational and other social topics, such as scientific temperance and hygiene, and sat on several civic committees. While the younger Kimball was away at college and during his early career years, his father corresponded often, advising and encouraging his son to stay "on the road to even higher usefulness." Based on her accomplishments, Kimball's sister Theodora received similar encouragement from their parents and shared her brother's enthusiasm for scholarship. Born in 1887, Theodora Kimball was one of the first women to graduate from Simmons College with an advanced degree. She was an author, editor, and lecturer of landscape architecture and city planning, as well as librarian of the School of Landscape Architecture of Harvard University, where she worked with and later married Professor Henry Hubbard.

Coming from such a motivated environment, Fiske Kimball entered academia in 1905, attending Harvard University's Lawrence Scientific School, Department of Architecture. Upon earning an A.B. in Fine Arts from Harvard College in 1909, Kimball was accepted to Harvard's Graduate School of Applied Sciences to further his studies in architecture. During this time, Kimball was awarded the Sheldon Fellowship, which allowed him to travel and study art in Europe for approximately eight months. He also received several scholarships and prizes, including that awarded by the Boston Society of Architects in 1910. By the time he received his Master's degree in Architecture in 1912, Kimball had already gained experience in three professions--as a teacher, architect and author. While the latter two served as lifelong careers, Kimball used his early years of teaching as an opportunity to further his own graduate studies.

Although Kimball taught as an assistant in fine arts while studying at Harvard in 1909, his first full-time teaching position came in 1912, when he was appointed an instructor in architecture at the University of Illinois. While at Urbana-Champaign, Kimball took graduate courses. He also met Marie Goebel, daughter of Julius Goebel, a professor of Germanic languages at the university. They married the following June and moved to Michigan upon Kimball's appointment as instructor and later assistant professor of architecture at that university. As at Illinois, Kimball continued his own graduate studies while teaching at the University of Michigan. With a concentration in the history of architecture, he wrote his dissertation, "Thomas Jefferson and the First Monument of the Classical Revival in America," which was a study of the design of the Virginia Capitol. His degree of Ph.D. was conferred in June 1915, at which time Kimball also decided to use "Fiske" rather than "Sidney" as his first name. Kimball's study in early American architecture was further advanced the following year when he was named the first recipient of Harvard University's Sachs Research Fellowship. The research work and travel required Kimball to take a year's leave of absence from Michigan. Upon his return to the university, Kimball was offered the position of assistant professor of fine arts, which he held from 1918 to 1919.

The Kimballs next moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where in the fall of 1919, Kimball joined the faculty of the University of Virginia as a professor and head of the department of architecture and fine arts. He also served from around 1921 to 1923 as the university's supervising architect and as such, oversaw the design and construction of Memorial Gymnasium, McIntire Amphitheatre, and a faculty housing complex. In addition to his multiple responsibilities in Virginia, Kimball also began in 1919 to lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and in the summer of 1921 he taught two art history courses at the University of Chicago. In 1923, he and Marie made Manhattan their home when he accepted a position at New York University (NYU) to re-establish and serve as director of its Department of Fine Arts and as Morse Professor of the Literature of the Arts of Design, which included lecturing at the National Academy of Design. (The department's graduate program in the history of art later developed into the Institute of Fine Arts.) In 1924 he also was appointed the university's consulting architect. Kimball remained at NYU and continued lecturing at the Metropolitan until 1925 when he was appointed director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He retained his position as NYU's consulting architect until his death. Although Kimball's last formal teaching position was a 1940 summer session at the University of California in Berkeley, he continued to teach through his lectures and addresses given at Philadelphia Museum of Art and other museums and institutions, professional associations, and a variety of clubs and organizations.

While Kimball's first published article, concerning the arrangement of photographs and magazine plates, appeared in the April 1908 issue of Brickbuilder magazine, his long and prolific career as a writer began on a more regular basis in 1912. In addition to writing an article on the brick manor houses of France, Kimball was invited in the spring of 1913 to write a book on the history of architecture as part of a series of histories of art to be published by Harper. Over the next dozen years, Kimball continued to write on the history of architecture, particularly that of early America. In 1916, Kimball's first book, Thomas Jefferson, Architect was published privately. Sharing his interest in American Colonial and early Republic history, Kimball's wife Marie assisted her husband with his research of Jefferson and published her own studies of the period. After the Harper's project, published in 1918, Kimball's next book, Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and of the Early Republic, appeared in 1922. He also wrote numerous reviews of publications on architecture. With Kimball's appointment as museum director in 1925, his subject matter broadened to include topics such as Philadelphia Chippendale furniture and other decorative arts, period rooms, collections of paintings, artists and special exhibits, and issues concerning the operation of art museums in America. From 1925 to 1955, Kimball wrote nearly 200 articles for literary and art magazines published in the U.S. and Europe, as well as six books, including his study of American carver and architect Samuel McIntire (1940) and his seminal study of the development of the Rococo (1943). Kimball served on several editorial boards, including a vice chairmanship on the board editing the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, and from 1920 to 1926 he was in charge of the American section of Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Kunstler, a comprehensive dictionary of artists and architects known commonly as Thieme Becker.

As previously noted, Kimball's other lifelong career was his work as an architect, which he began practicing in 1910. Licensed to practice in several states, Kimball was appointed fellow of the American Institute of Architects and served as president of the Virginia chapter. Between 1906 and 1930, Kimball completed nearly twenty residential projects including several cottages at Christmas Cove, Maine, a colony of cottages at Onekema, Michigan, and the Scottwood subdivision in Ann Arbor. In addition, Kimball oversaw the renovation of several Colonial and early Republic houses, including most significantly that of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello. In addition, Kimball, often along with his architectural colleague Erling H. Pedersen, worked on Dumbarton House, Gunston Hall, Moors' End, the Octagon, Stratford Hall, Tryon's Palace, Carroll Mansion at Homewood, and two Fairmount Park Houses, Lemon Hill and Mount Pleasant. Kimball's more personal architectural projects include his design for his in-laws' house at Castle Park, Michigan, and for his parents' home at Milton, Massachusetts. For himself and his wife Marie, Kimball in 1935 began designing Shack Mountain, their home near Charlottesville, Virginia. The house, a modern home that incorporated the "classical Jeffersonian model," represented the Kimballs' long-term attachment to the area, which began with their shared scholarly interest in Thomas Jefferson and Monticello and continued with Kimball's tenure at the University of Virginia. The Kimballs retained Shack Mountain throughout their lifetime. In 1992, the house was nominated as a National Historic Landmark.

Kimball also sat on several advisory boards, including many that fostered the nation's nascent historic preservation movement in the United States. He served for 25 years on the Advisory Committee of Architects overseeing the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. In this role, he provided guidance on the restoration of the Colonial city based upon his historical research and interpretation. In addition, he was a member of the Advisory Board of National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments that advised the National Park Service on the identification, restoration and management of historic sites. He also served as secretary of the Jefferson Bicentennial Commission, was a member of the jury for the Thomas Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and was a member of the Rockefeller Center Art Advisory Committee.

Already an established author, architect and professor, Kimball in 1925 accepted the position as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (operating at that time as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art). As the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin noted at the time of his death, "few have ever made a greater contribution to Philadelphia's culture." When Kimball assumed his directorship, the Museum still operated in Memorial Hall, a Centennial Exhibition structure, and its collection focused on American-made objects with an emphasis on textiles and the industrial arts. Construction of the new building was underway. During his tenure, Kimball oversaw the completion of the building's exterior and a significant installation of its interior, most of which was accomplished with WPA-sponsored labor. Kimball filled the newly built Museum with several period rooms and architectural elements from Europe and Asia. For this and his own academic purposes, Kimball, always accompanied by Marie, traveled to Europe many times to meet with dealers, visit architectural sites of interest, and conduct extensive research in French archives. In addition, Kimball was responsible for bringing several major collections to the Museum, including the Foulc collection of Medieval and Renaissance sculpture, furnishings and artifacts, the Crozier collection of Oriental art, and the Arensberg and Gallatin collections of 20th century painting and sculpture.

To care for these collections, Kimball worked to develop a professional staff of men and women, some of whom went on to assume head positions at other major museums in the United States and in Europe. To all personnel, Kimball passed on his devotion to the Museum and a sense of fairness. As recalled in a Museum Bulletin, Kimball "was preeminent in his relationship with his staff...[giving] credit where credit was due." When writing to staff or colleagues, Kimball often animated his correspondence with a "Bully!" to signify his approval of a particular action or recommendation. Such commanding enthusiasm complemented his six-foot-one frame "of ample girth." According to PMA curator Carl Zigrosser, "Kimball was a titan of directed energy...[which] came from his sense of dedication to the Museum." Kimball's contribution to the Museum was publicly acknowledged when he was named the 1950 recipient of the prestigious Philadelphia Award. While serving as director, Kimball was also active in several related professional organizations, including the American Association of Museums, the Museum Council of Philadelphia, and the Association of Art Museum Directors.

In the end, according to his biographers George and Mary Roberts, Kimball's boundless energy and frenetic work habits apparently overwhelmed him, and in January 1955 he resigned as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On March 2, Kimball's wife Marie, to whom he was very devoted, died. Five months later, while traveling in Europe, Fiske Kimball suffered a heart attack and stroke. He died on August 14 in Munich.


1888 (Dec. 8)Sidney Fiske Kimball born, Newton, Massachusetts.
1909A. B., Harvard University.
1909-1910Teaching assistant in Fine Arts, Harvard University.
1910-1911Travels in Europe as Sheldon Fellow of Harvard University.
1912M.Arch., Harvard University.
1913Instructor in Architecture, University of Illinois.
1913 (June 7)Marries Marie Goebel, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.
1913-1915Instructor of Architecture, University of Michigan.
1915Ph.D., University of Michigan.
1915-1916Assistant professor in Architecture, University of Michigan.
1916-1917Sachs Research Fellow at University of Michigan.
1918-1919Assistant professor of Fine Arts, University of Michigan.
1919-1923Professor and head of Department of Architecture and Fine Arts, University of Virginia.
1923-1925Director of the Department of Fine Arts and Morse Professor of the Literature of the Arts of Design, New York University.
1924-1951Architect for New York University.
1925 (Sept.)-1955 (Jan.)Director, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
1955 (Mar.)Death of Marie Goebel Kimball.
1955 (Aug.)Death of Fiske Kimball, Munich, Germany.

Works Consulted

Bober, Harry. "The Gothic Tower and the Stork Club." Originally published in Spring 1962 issue of Arts and Sciences. New York University. Institute of Fine Arts. 10 Sept. 2003.

Fiske Kimball Papers. Personal papers and records series. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Includes information on the estates of Kimball's parents and family correspondence.

Fiske Kimball: Master of the Diverse Arts. An Exhibition Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Fiske Kimball Fine Arts Library, September 1995-July 1996. University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA). 23 Jan. 2003.

Kane, Mary Givens. A Bibliography of the Works of Fiske Kimball. Edited by Frederick Doveton Nichols. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1959).

"The New Director: Fiske Kimball, Ph.D." Bulletin (Pennsylvania Museum of Art) (Oct. 1925):2-3.

Papers of Sidney Fiske Kimball, 1918-1952. Fine Arts Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA). 23 Jan. 2003.

"Review of the Year Presented at the Annual Meeting: June 13, 1955." Bulletin (Philadelphia Museum of Art) (Summer 1955):51-67.

Roberts, George, 1900- and Mary Roberts. Triumph on Fairmount: Fiske Kimball and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1959).