Anne d'Harnoncourt, who revivified the Philadelphia
Museum of Art and maintained the intellectual standards of its program
of exhibitions, died on Sunday night at her home in Philadelphia. She
The cause was cardiac arrest, the museum announced. She was director and chief executive at her death.
Ms. d'Harnoncourt leapt to the front rank of the American museum leaders
when she was named its director in 1982, becoming the only woman to
head a museum with an annual budget of more than $25 million. Under her
leadership, the museum presented a number of important exhibitions,
notably retrospectives of Constantin Brancusi in 1995, Paul Cézanne in
1996 and Barnett Newman in 2002.
Ms. d'Harnoncourt also oversaw the reinstallation of the museum's
European collections, the renovation of 20 of its galleries of modern
and contemporary art and the acquisition of a nearby Art Deco building,
which opened in September, to help solve the museum's growing space
As the only child of René d'Harnoncourt, the director of the Museum of
Modern Art in New York from 1949 until he retired in 1968, Ms.
d'Harnoncourt came in contact with art, artists and museum professionals
at an early age. Born in Washington and raised in Manhattan, she
attended the Brearley School and went on to earn a bachelor of arts
degree from Radcliffe and a master of arts degree from the Courtauld
Institute of Art in London 1967.
After working as a curatorial assistant in the Philadelphia Museum of
Art's painting department, she took a position as an assistant curator
of 20th-century art at the Art Institute of Chicago. There she met
Joseph J. Rishel, an assistant curator of European painting, and now
senior curator of pre-1900 European painting at the Philadelphia Museum
of Art. The two married in 1971, and that same year Ms. d'Harnoncourt
was named associate curator of 20th-century art. Mr. Rishel survives
In 1972, she accepted a position as curator of 20th century art at
Philadelphia. A Duchamp specialist, she helped organize a retrospective
of his work in 1973 that traveled to the Museum of Modern Art and the
Art Institute of Chicago. She also helped the museum build a
comprehensive collection and archive of Duchamp's work.
In 1982 Ms. d'Harnoncourt was offered the position of director in
Philadelphia and set about injecting a new sense of life and purpose
into a somewhat sedate institution. A specialist in modern art, she
helped build the museum's contemporary collections, acquiring works by
Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin and others. By breeding and
temperament, however, she was resolutely old-fashioned and provided a
stark contrast to the new breed of wheeler-dealer museum director.
"She was in many ways a model director," Philippe de Montebello, the
director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said on Monday. "She came
out of the curatorial ranks, and she was a scholar. She made bold,
imaginative acquisitions and really put the museum on the map."
Elizabeth Cropper, dean of the Center for the Advanced Study of the
Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and a longtime
friend, said: "She was steered by respect for and love of art. In a very
complex world, she was guided by simple axioms and values."
Standing six feet tall, Ms. d'Harnoncourt had an imposing presence. With
a regal bearing and a vocal delivery that recalled Julia Child, she
exuded "the no-nonsense appearance of a girls' hockey team captain,"
Dinitia Smith wrote in The New York Times. Many found her cool and
aloof, even inscrutable. "I would prefer to say thoughtful and
dignified," Ms. Cropper said.
During Ms. d'Harnoncourt's tenure, the museum won an important court
victory in 1989 allowing it to integrate the more than 1,200 European
paintings left by the lawyer and collector John G. Johnson in 1914 into
its overall holdings, a move that had been prevented by the terms of the
Johnson bequest, which put restrictions on the works' display. That
decision made possible a wholesale reinstallation and a more coherent
presentation of European art from the 1400s to the late 19th century, at
a cost of $12 million.
Ms. d'Harnoncourt led the museum through two capital campaigns, one from
1986 to 1993 that raised $64 million, and a second from 2001 to 2004
that raised $246 million. These campaigns allowed the museum to embark
on an ambitious program of expansion and renovation: the $90 million
acquisition and renovation of the Art Deco office building across from
the museum was the first phase.
As the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, it houses the museum's
collections of prints, drawings and photographs; costumes and textiles;
modern and contemporary design; and library and archives. A coming $500
million expansion by Frank Gehry is to be constructed 30 feet beneath
the Philadelphia museum's east plaza.
Ms. d'Harnoncourt stayed put in Philadelphia despite keen interest from
other top institutions. It was widely reported that she was courted for
the top job at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1990s — "There was strong
interest in whether I would be interested," was the way she put it to a
reporter — and at the National Gallery in Washington. In 1997 she was
named chief executive as well as director of the Philadelphia museum.
One of her recent achievements was a matter of local pride. In the fall
of 2006, Thomas Jefferson University, a Philadelphia medical school,
said that it would sell "The Gross Clinic," an 1875 masterpiece by the
Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins, to the National Gallery of Art in
Washington and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas.
To prevent the sale, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania
Academy of the Fine Arts had 45 days to match the selling price of $68
million. Ms. d'Harnoncourt went into high gear, saying, "It's a painting
that really belongs in Philadelphia — his presence still resonates
In the end she prevailed, in part by selling an Eakins painting and two
oil sketches to the Denver Art Museum and the Anschutz Collection, also
in Denver. (The Fine Arts academy had also sold an Eakins painting from
"We're heaving a deep sigh," Ms. d'Harnoncourt said when the Eakins deal was concluded. "This is it. Now we can celebrate."
By William Grimes
For The New York Times