Scope and Content Note
Amid works by David, Degas and Renoir, in rooms of silk-covered walls, marble floors and furniture of the French Restoration period, Henry Plumer McIlhenny welcomed to his Philadelphia (Pa.) home visiting dignitaries, lords and ladies, maestros and movie stars, and from every walk of life, lovers of the fine and decorative arts. Unless it was summer. Then McIlhenny would be greeting guests at Glenveagh, his country estate in northern Ireland, inviting them to roam around his 24,000 acres of hills, forests and gardens, or lounge in one of the 45 rooms of his 19th century castle. The Henry P. McIlhenny Papers offer evidence to the privileged and urbane lifestyle of the man whose tastes and talents earned him a reputation as a distinguished connoisseur of art and antiques, world traveler, host extraordinaire, philanthropist and generous friend. Although McIlhenny is the primary creator, this collection is very much a family affair, encompassing the art collections initiated by his parents, John D. and Frances P. McIlhenny, which passed, along with the family trust fund, on to McIlhenny and his sister Bernice Wintersteen.
Most of the letters that comprise the first series of "Correspondence" pertain to McIlhenny's daily, personal activities, especially his busy social life. Although there is a limited amount of material with most individuals, McIlhenny's long-term friendships with professional colleagues at museums, universities and galleries in the United States and Europe, and particularly associates from McIlhenny's 30-year tenure with the Philadelphia Museum of Art are more fully documented. Other significant correspondents include prominent Philadelphia figures, such as Walter and Lee Anenberg, and friends Gloria and Emlen Etting. Correspondence divides into two subseries of "1927-1975" and "1976-1986."
The "Financial records" series consists of correspondence, bank statements, account books and journals, appraisals, insurance policies, and legal agreements. The "Appraisals and insurance" subseries pertains to the objects acquired by the family. Material regarding the disposition of the collections is located in the "Estate administration" subseries. Most of the documentation of the various bank accounts set up to administer the family trust fund is filed in the "Banking and investments" subseries, and material pertaining to the taxable deductions allowed by McIlhenny's numerous gifts of money, publications and art objects comprises the "Tax files" subseries. Household expenditures, including wages for his staffs in Philadelphia and in Ireland, can be found in the "Bookkeeping" subseries along with his personal records of investment activity.
"Family papers" comprise the smallest series although the material dates from 1866, the year of John D. McIlheny's birth, to 1985, concerning matters at East Laurel Hill Cemetery. The "Correspondence" subseries is the largest and consists primarily of McIlhenny's letters to his mother and to his sister. The most detailed documentation included in the "Genealogy" subseries is three family histories that apparently were privately published. The final subseries, "Other," is comprised of various material formats and subjects. Most of the clippings are obituaries. Invitations, passports and a late nineteenth century travel journal offer a glimpse of the social life enjoyed by McIlhenny's parents.
The "Articles, interviews and lectures" series consists of a significant amount of writings about McIlhenny that were put out by major media outlets here and abroad. Popular publications in which McIlhenny's art collection and homes were featured include Connoisseur, House Beautiful, Town & Country, and Harper's Bazaar. While most clippings are from Philadelphia-based newspapers, items from the New York Times, Boston Globe and a few Irish papers are also included. Transcripts document an interview produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation and one given as part of the Archives of American Art's Oral History Program.
The next three series pertain to subjects for which McIlhenny was best known. The "Art collection" series documents many of the transactions that as a whole earned McIlhenny the distinction of being named one of the all-time Top 10 art collectors in America. Including a significant amount of material pertaining to the acquisitions of McIlhenny's parents and papers documenting purchases and loans made by his sister, the series also makes apparent the family's 80-year legacy of art patronage and connoisseurship. Material includes receipts, invoices, correspondence, loan forms, photographs, clippings, and other material documenting works of art the McIlhennys owned, sold, or considered for purchase. The artists cited in the first subseries, "Objects by artist," attest to the different tastes of father and son; namely Old European Masters versus nineteenth-century French and English artists. Both the "Objects by genre" and "Dealers, museums and others" subseries make obvious the breadth of the collections built by the McIlhennys. In addition to painting and sculpture, almost every type of decorative art is represented, from furniture to fireirons, as well as books, ceramics, textiles, jewelry and gems. Most of the documentation in the "Subjects" subseries pertains to loans, visitor requests and gifts although other files deal generally with the purchase, shipping, insuring or disposing of items. "Photographs and publications" offer published and unpublished illustrations of objects in the family's collections.
The "Residence" series documents where McIlhenny made his home and the measures he took to make each residence suitable to his tastes. Correspondence, invoices and receipts make up the bulk of the material, documenting approximately half a century of fine living, along with photographs, drawings, fabric swatches and ephemera. The "Philadelphia" subseries pertains to several addresses in the metropolitan area, including the family homestead in Germantown, McIlhenny's later home in Center City and his sister's homes in Chestnut Hill and later in Villanova. The second series, "Glenveagh," pertains primarily to McIlhenny's country estate in County Donegal, located in the northwest of Ireland. A small portion of the material pertains to Dunlewy, another estate in the area, which McIlhenny owned apparently as a rental property for approximately ten years. The third subseries, "Gardening and related topics" reflects a passion shared by the McIlhenny family, and documents a variety of landscape and gardening ventures.
The "Affiliation" series documents McIlhenny's lifetime of service and philanthropy to numerous institutions in Philadelphia and in Ireland, especially those related to his passions of art, music, gardening, and interior design. Contributions given by his sister and by his mother are also included. Material includes correspondence, invoices and receipts, ephemera, and meeting minutes, the bulk of which relates to McIlhenny's affiliation with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Orchestra Association, the Academy of Music and the Metropolitan Opera. Separate subseries pertain to each of these organizations. The "Various affiliations" pertain to the other numerous institutions that McIlhenny supported monetarily or through active participation.
The "Other subjects" series touches on other aspects of McIlhenny's life and lifestyle, particularly his flair for entertaining and his passion for globetrotting, each of which is documented, respectively, in the "Social events" and "Travel" subseries. Comprised of correspondence, invoices, numerous lists and notes, and frequently revised itineraries, each subseries underscores McIlhenny's attention to detail and adherence to doing everything in grand style. The third subseries, "Various," consists of an assortment of documentation, identified either by material type or subject. An example of the former is the set of folders identified as "Invoices." Selected during processing, these papers give a sampling of the types of goods and services McIlhenny purchased regularly. The largest set of subject-related folders pertains to McIlhenny's military service in the United States Naval Reserve during and after World War II.