In conjunction with its 125th Anniversary in 2001, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has launched an ambitious drive to dramatically enrich its collections through gifts of outstanding works of art and contributions of funds toward special purchases. With this undertaking, the Museum seeks to both significantly enhance its holdings in areas in which it has traditionally collected as well as broaden its reach into newer areas of emphasis, such as African art. The Museum also seeks to expand upon its program of recent acquisitions of 19th and 20th century works by African American, Latino, and Asian artists.
In the 125 years since its founding, some 90 percent of the Museum's collections-encompassing more than 2,000 years of artistic achievement in cultures that flourished across six continents-have come as gifts to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from individual donors and collectors. Renewing the challenge set by the example of its history of legendary contributors, the Museum two years ago formed a Committee for Collections 2001, headed by Trustee Harvey S. Shipley Miller. The committee, comprised of the Museum's curators and a group of trustees, has been working diligently since then to attract spectacular additions to the rich variety of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, textiles, and works on paper in the existing collections.
"Exciting things are unfolding for the collections virtually every day as we approach our 125th birthday on May 10, 2001," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Already, we are tremendously encouraged by the support we are receiving, both in the arrival of new gifts and also of funds to help complete the purchase of major works. In the spring of 2002, we will mount a wonderful exhibition to celebrate these collection-transforming gifts. Each object will be labeled as a special 125th Anniversary Gift from the donor, or donors, whenever it is displayed. On the Committee for Collections 2001, Harvey Miller's dedication and enthusiasm have greatly encouraged our exceptional curatorial staff."
The Museum's quest for anniversary gifts has to date resulted in acquisitions, in some cases consisting of entire collections, from some 40 donors to the eight curatorial departments. Major works of art have been given in just the past few months and weeks. Recent acquisitions include American furniture, contemporary art, French drawings, Japanese textiles and paintings. There have also been major gifts of work by self-taught and "outsider" artists that, as with African art, mark a new direction for Museum acquisitions. A selected list of highlights follows:
- From Gisela and Dennis Alter, a partial and promised gift of Red, 1955-56, the first painting to enter the collection by the Abstract Expressionist painter Sam Francis (American, 1923-1994).
- Gift of Trustee Luther Brady, MD, a rare complete set of votive plaques (Ema), ink and color on wood, showing the Thirty-Six Immortal Poets (Sanjurokkasen) and dated to 1698 (Genroku 11), Japan. Most likely commissioned for a temple or shrine, each plaque depicts an imaginary portrait of a poet.
- From John Cale, a founding member of the Velvet Underground in the 1960s, 58 pieces of 1980s-90s men's avant-garde clothing by such designers as Jean Paul Gaultier, Comme des Garçons, Vivienne Westwood, and Yoji Yamamoto. Many of the works were produced solely for the runway. Others can be documented to Cale's performances and tours.
- From Mr. and Mrs. George M. Cheston, La Résistance Inutile, an exquisite work by Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) in brush and brown wash with watercolor and opaque watercolor over black crayon on laid paper.
- From two collectors of works by folk and self-taught artists, a large group of paintings and works on paper by some of the most notable figures in this genre. Nancy Karlins has promised a gift of 30 paintings and works on paper by Justin McCarthy, William Hawkins, Bill Traylor, and Nellie Mae Rowe, among others; and the late Derrel DePasse has bequeathed 45 drawings, including works by Joseph Yoakum, Martin Ramirez, and Bill Traylor.
- From the artist and Henry S. McNeil, Jr., Location of a Circle, 1973, a seminal wall drawing by Sol Lewitt (American, b. 1928).
- From Mr. and Mrs. David N. Pincus, Glossalia Adagio, a 1984 sculpture in chrome aluminum, the first work to enter the collection by the sculptor John Chamberlain (American, b. 1927).
- The Deposition, by the African-American figurative expressionist Bob Thompson (American, 1937-1965). A masterwork by the artist, who was the subject of a 1989 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, it is the first painting by Thompson to enter the collection, purchased with funds to be raised in honor of the anniversary.
These most recent additions join a distinguished group of gifts that have entered the collection since the winter of 1996-97, including the rare, 27-foot-long handscroll decorated with gold and silver woodblock designs of ivy, grasses and wisteria by the great 17th-century Japanese artist Honami Koetsu; Basket of Fruit, 1882, the first still life painting to enter the collection by Edouard Manet (French, 1832-1883); the splendid 1773 portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin by John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1813), the artist's only painting of Philadelphians; the most powerful and fully-realized portrait of Benjamin Franklin, a marble bust of 1779 by Jean-Antoine Houdon (French, 1741-1828); the superb Alvin O. Bellak collection of Indian "miniature" paintings spanning the period from the 16th through 19th century; and 20th century masterworks such as Birthday, the 1942 surrealist painting by Dorothea Tanning.
Among these important acquisitions are special purchases with great resonance for Philadelphia. The Museum continues to seek funds to fulfill the drive initiated through the generosity of Trustee Fitz Eugene Dixon, Jr., and his wife, Edith, which will secure for Philadelphia in perpetuity the Copley portrait of Pennsylvania's first governor after Independence. In October 2000, the purchase of Houdon's compelling portrait of Franklin was successfully completed thanks to a gift from the Barra Foundation, which launched the purchase in 1996 with a grant matched by donors and the Museum.
From the Museum's beginnings, in 1876, when the great Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia encompassed some 450 acres in Fairmount Park and contributed to the growth of the young nation's cultural identity and aspirations, gifts of works of art have ensured the Museum's promise. Some of the works displayed in the Exposition's Fine Arts Gallery at Memorial Hall were among the earliest birthday presents to the newly-chartered Museum and were placed on exhibition when its doors first opened to the public as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art on May 10, 1877.
Renamed the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1939, the Museum today is one of the world's finest encyclopedic art institutions. Among its distinctive features is the dramatic "Walk Through Time" offered by its impressive installations of monumental architecture and period rooms on the second floor that count as milestone acquisitions in the museum's history. A mere handful of the Museum's collections-transforming acquisitions over time include the early purchase, in 1899, through the W. P. Wistach Fund of The Annunciation, by the African-American master Henry Ossawa Tanner; the bequest to the city of Philadelphia in 1917 of the John G. Johnson collection of European paintings that later came to the Museum; the purchase of Paul Cézanne's Great Bathers in 1937; the gift in 1950 by Louise and Walter Arensberg of European and American modernism, including works by Brancusi, Duchamp, and Picasso and a collection of Pre-Columbian art; the bequest of Carl Otto Kretzchmar von Kienbusch's collection of European arms and armor in 1977, considered one of the finest in the western Hemisphere; and the bequest in 1994 from Dr. Stella Kramrisch of her superb collection of sculpture and painting from the subcontinent of India.
As the Museum moves forward with plans to install new galleries, collection study centers, the Library and Archives, and other functions in the handsome, newly-acquired Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue, it will undertake the first expansion of its footprint since the current Museum building opened in 1928. As it prepares to embrace a new generation of visitors in the changing environment of the 21st century, the Museum looks to benefactors and civic leaders to help it preserve the collections and enhance the "Walk Through Time" experience for future generations to enjoy.