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Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers

Identifier: ADP

Scope and Contents

As director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), Anne d'Harnoncourt once observed that art museums, particularly those in big cities, are very intense places. For the professionals who work there, she thought it amazing for any to establish a "big life" outside their institution. While the Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers make evident that art to d'Harnoncourt was both a professional and personal passion, this material also reveals that her life outside PMA was indeed big as she involved herself with people and organizations, local, national, and international, to keep all the arts relevant and essential in building and bridging communities. Most of the material traces her professional development in and away from the Museum and consists primarily of correspondence, press clippings, photographs of works of art and events, draft lectures and notes, and a number of certificates, citations and object awards. Several photos and papers pertaining to her husband and Museum colleague, Joseph J. Rishel, are also included. Family papers and photographs and school records comprise d'Harnoncourt's personal papers and collectively suggest how her family and early education provided the groundwork for her interests, convictions and goals. Her father, René d'Harnoncourt, is most prevalent in the family files, primarily as the subject of third-party correspondence and author of a few personal writings.

Arranged in subseries of date spans, Series I, "Correspondence and other materials," begins with a few letters pertaining to d'Harnoncourt's second museum job as an assistant curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, followed by documentation of her 1971 return to PMA that continues through her 25 year tenure at the Museum until her death in 2008. Periodic groups of letters of congratulations indicate significant moments in her career, while other correspondence addresses d'Harnoncourt's contribution of time, advice, and/or funds and other gifts to various cultural institutions and causes. Also made part of the Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers is the significant documentation of the worldwide reaction to her unexpected death on June 1, 2008. Most of that material, comprised of memorial event documentation and condolence cards and letters, is processed as "Condolences and memorials," the last sub-subseries of Series I. Memorabilia, most associated with PMA, and various reference materials make up "Other records."

Based on the documentation of Series II, "Remarks and recognitions," d'Harnoncourt gave nearly 80 talks outside the Museum over a 30-year period, from lectures and symposiums to dinner remarks and college commencements. During the course of nearly a quarter of a century, she also received more than 40 awards and honorary degrees (two given posthumously). Documentation for most of these events consists of the notes d'Harnoncourt prepared for her remarks, correspondence, ephemera, a few photographs that capture the special occasion unfolding, and certificates and objects awarded to her. Most of the photographs and press clippings that comprise Series III, "Photographs and publicity" also chronicle milestones in d'Harnoncourt's career. Photos document PMA and non-PMA events, with snapshots capturing some of the more informal gatherings. Rishel appears with d'Harnoncourt in many photos and is featured in some of the press clippings. Over the course of her career, d'Harnoncourt served as an active member, advisor or trustee to nearly 60 cultural institutions. Series IV, "Professional affiliations" pertains to a significant number of those institutions, which ranged from universities and learned societies to private foundations and museums.

The three subseries comprising Series V. "Personal papers," document d'Harnoncourt's family, primarily her parents and Austrian cousins, and her student years, from grade school to graduate school. Several personal items from her childhood and teenage years are also included. Not surprisingly, the person most prevalent in the family material is her father, René d'Harnoncourt, best known for his 1949 to 1968 tenure as director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. He is included in this collection primarily as the subject of third-party correspondence and author of a few personal writings. The "School records" subseries consist of notebooks, term papers, school bulletins and other materials, documenting her studies from grade to graduate school. Most of that material pertains to her undergraduate years at Radcliffe College. In a separate subgroup, a few poems and drawings by d'Harnoncourt, as well as a children's book printed in German, give an idea to the musings of a young mind.


  • circa 1927-2012
  • Majority of material found within 1951-2008


Conditions Governing Access

These papers are subject to a 15-year closure based on the last year of designated date spans. Accordingly, materials created between 2004-2008 will be open on 2024 January 1.

Longer restriction periods apply to Series IV "Professional Affiliations." See the restriction note at that series level.

Conditions Governing Use

The Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers are the physical property of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. The Museum holds literary rights only for material created by Museum personnel or given to the Museum with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Biographical / Historical

On more than one occasion when talking about art and its museums, Anne d'Harnoncourt (1943-2008) would quote the work of the contemporary artistic duo Gilbert and George. "To be with art is all we ask." To her, the phrase resonated wonderfully with the mission of art museums, and in particular with the work of their curators. As a museum professional of 40 years, Anne d'Harnoncourt considered it her privilege and responsibility to devote herself to art and artists and in doing so, encourage others to discover their own ways of being with art.


Born September 7, 1943, in Washington, D.C., Anne Julie d'Harnoncourt was the only child of René and Sarah Carr d'Harnoncourt. Her father, of Austrian, French and Czech lineage, was born into minor nobility and educated in Graz and Vienna, studying chemistry. Upon his family's financial losses in 1924, d'Harnoncourt moved a year later to Mexico seeking work as a chemist. Finding no such work, he eventually took a job in Mexico City with Frederick W. Davis, a native of Illinois, who dealt in Mexican folk art. Around that time, d'Harnoncourt also met the American Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, and his wife Elizabeth. D'Harnoncourt's career in the arts took off from there. During the 1930s, he curated exhibitions in Mexico and the United States, taught art history at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and managed the Indian Arts and Crafts Board in Washington, D.C. By the time of his daughter's birth, d'Harnoncourt had distinguished himself as a scholar and veritable ambassador of Latin American and Native American arts and culture. Before his daughter's first birthday, the senior d'Harnoncourt had joined the staff of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, where he served as Vice President of Foreign Activities and Director of the Department of Manual Industries. In 1949 he became MoMA's director and served as such until 1968. (The visual arts are not the only arts mastered by the d'Harnoncourt family. Internationally recognized is Anne's cousin Nikolaus Harnoncourt, a frequent guest conductor of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, and one of the first musicians to perform Baroque and Classical-era music on period instruments. Another relative of musical note is the mezzo soprano Elizabeth von Magnus-Harnoncourt, known professionally as Elizabeth von Magnus.)

Born in Chicago in 1903, Anne's mother, Sarah Carr, grew up in Wisconsin, returning to the Windy City for private school studies, and then on to Wellesley College, where she earned a B.A. in 1925. For several years, she worked at Chicago's famed department store, Marshall Field and Company, as an editor for the store's magazine, "Fashions of the Hour." It was during this tenure in 1932 that she met her future husband, who having come to Chicago with an exhibition of Mexican art, was at the store signing copies of a children's book he had illustrated. (Elizabeth Morrow, the ambassador's wife who befriended d'Harnoncourt in Mexico several years earlier, was its author.) According to a notice in the New York Times that ran at the time of Sarah's death at the age of 97 in 2001, it was love at first sight. The couple married in May of 1933 and settled in Washington, D.C. where René d'Harnoncourt worked for the United States government's American Indian Arts Crafts Board. With his 1943 appointment to MoMA, d'Harnoncourt relocated his family to New York City. Recalling her parents' relationship, Anne stressed the tacit support her mother gave to her father during his tenure as director of MoMA, as well as the editing skills Sarah applied to some of her husband's more complicated correspondence and talks. Sarah also remained close to MoMA's staff and trustees long after her husband's tragic death in 1968. While walking one August morning on a country road near their summer cottage in Long Island, René d'Harnoncourt was struck and killed by a drunk driver. He had only retired from MoMA three months earlier. He was 67 years old.

In an interview conducted between 2003 and 2004, d'Harnoncourt noted that her earliest memories of the visual arts were the times she spent looking through the many books her parents kept in their apartment on Central Park West in New York City. With her father as director of what is considered one of the most influential museum of modern art in the world, d'Harnoncourt not surprisingly also recalled spending "a fair amount of time" at MoMA. It was there that she encountered the first image to which she was irresistibly attracted and which she claimed remained in her mind forever--Henri Matisse's 1913 oil on canvas, "The Blue Window." Picasso's expansive and explosive "Guernica" of 1937, which was temporarily housed at MoMA between the outbreak of World War II and 1981, as well as Matisse's "The Piano Lesson" (1916) also affected the young viewer.

More significant to d'Harnoncourt's professional development were the lasting impressions of her father at work--his delight in installation design, his interactions with museum staff and artists and his convictions of what a museum should be. The senior d'Harnoncourt's belief in "museums unlocking the potential of art to communicate with people, and people to communicate with the works of art" was not lost on the daughter. Nor was his profound belief in "internationalism and the relationships that museums and the arts could forge between countries, civilizations, and people." In regard to the latter observation, d'Harnoncourt, in a 2006 interview, gave a specific example that she readily admitted to being a great influence upon her. While still at work for the Department of the Interior, René d'Harnoncourt organized the American Indian art exhibition displayed at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, better known as the San Francisco World's Fair. What resonated with d'Harnoncourt was how masterfully her father presented objects to an audience not accustomed to seeing such works, making visitors mindful of the beauty and visual power of such objects, as well as their cultural context. As suggested by one account, Sarah d'Harnoncourt also had a hand in the exhibition's success. Writing to Anne in 1996, John Forbes, who was curator of the fair's European Painting display, recalled, "your parent's [sic] Indian Show was the most exciting and most imaginative exhibition in the whole fair." Although the exhibition was staged four years before Anne d'Harnoncourt's birth, its impact as a real watershed in the acceptance of indigenous art into a world art canon endured long after the fair closed. Another exhibition of her father's that d'Harnoncourt cited as influential was one she saw for herself--MoMA's 1967 retrospective of the sculpture of Pablo Picasso. Soon after the exhibition opened, critical tribute went not only to the works of art, many of which were never before on public display, but to René d'Harnoncourt's installation as well. The impact of the show remained with d'Harnoncourt, specifically her father's strong belief that an installation should bring forth rather than overpower the art or the character and personality of the artist. The art of installation would remain Anne d'Harnoncourt's love. But that would only come well after her adolescent years.

Growing up in New York City, d'Harnoncourt attended the Brearley School, a 12-year preparatory school, from 1949 to 1961. In the summer of 1959, a few months shy of her 16th birthday, she traveled with several other American high school students to Africa to participate in a four-week International Affairs seminar sponsored by the Pomfret School (Pomfret, CT). The program took the young travelers to Kenya, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), and Ghana. In addition to illustrating an article published in the school bulletin about her African experience, d'Harnoncourt served as art editor to the student magazine during her upperclassman years. Like her father, d'Harnoncourt had a penchant for drawing, but in her own style. While the elder often used caricature to illustrate a point, his daughter had a flare for more fanciful, dreamlike figures and animals. Decorating her writings, particularly her notes, with such images remained a lifelong habit of d'Harnoncourt's.

At this point in her life, however, art was an idle pastime, as d'Harnoncourt chose History and Literature as her major when she entered Radcliffe College in 1961. D'Harnoncourt concentrated on German and English literature and history, writing her thesis on the comparative aspects of the 19th century poetry of Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin and Percy Bysshe Shelley. In the summer of 1962, she had the extraordinary opportunity to return to Africa, in what is now Tanzania, as a member of the volunteer group Project Tanganyika. Sponsored by Harvard University, the program aimed to teach reading and writing to the local population, 80 percent of whom were illiterate. As she learned to read and write in German for her class studies, d'Harnoncourt learned Swahili in preparation of this trip. During her years at Radcliffe, d'Harnoncourt received scholastic recognition. In 1961, she was named an honorary Ann Radcliffe Scholar; in 1964 she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa; and in 1965 she graduated magna cum laude and was awarded the Captain Jonathan Fay Prize. During those same years, d'Harnoncourt, as she recalled nearly 40 years later, rarely visited Boston's Museum of Fine Arts or Harvard's Fogg Museum. Only in her senior year did she take a few courses in the history of architecture and audit a class in Chinese painting. Only then did she realize her "acute deprivation of the visual experiences."

Wanting now to immerse herself in the study of art and art history, d'Harnoncourt pursued her graduate studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. Her first year of study in 1965 focused on European art since 1830. Her second year of specialized research was devoted to the art of Italy, France and Germany between 1900 and 1915. For her thesis, d'Harnoncourt examined the moral subject matter in mid-19th century British painting, with special attention to the Pre-Raphaelite artists. As part of her thesis project, she spent six months at the Tate Gallery, London, preparing catalogue entries to 30 Pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings in the Tate's collection. During her two years of study, d'Harnoncourt became close friends with future art historian and curator Susan Compton. Once, trying to help her American friend relax during exams, Compton invited d'Harnoncourt to her home, asking her to draw on the walls of her young daughter's bedroom. According to Compton's 2008 memorial recollection, by the time d'Harnoncourt laid down her colored felt tip pens weeks later, cartoon cats in all sorts of antics and café scenes covered the walls. Art triumphed over anxiety, and d'Harnoncourt received her M.A. in 1967, graduating with distinction.


D'Harnoncourt returned to the United States that same year eager to find work in a museum. Although her father never pushed her to pursue a museum career, he did telephone several colleagues about his daughter's interest in an entry-level position. While these calls led to interviews in Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago, none of those museums had jobs to offer. Instead, an opportunity came from an art museum whose director her father did not know very well. According to a 1976 newspaper account, d'Harnoncourt met Allen Staley, an assistant curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), while she was working at the Tate and he was there researching Romantic Art in Britain. Impressed by her "industry and knowledge," Staley encouraged d'Harnoncourt to apply for a job at PMA. Apparently heeding his advice, d'Harnoncourt was invited later in 1967 by the Museum's director Evan H. Turner to join the staff as a curatorial assistant in the Painting and Sculpture Department.

In the two years d'Harnoncourt held that position, some of the most remarkable events took place that would set in motion her eventual international reputation as a "leading authority on and interpreter of modern and contemporary art and the preeminent specialist in the art of Marcel Duchamp." Wanting to learn more about Walter and Louise Arensberg, whose significant collection of modern art and pre-Columbian sculpture came to PMA in 1950, d'Harnoncourt, not yet 25 years old, went to New York to interview the 81-year-old avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp advised the Arensbergs on acquisitions for their collection, which would come to include the largest number of his works of art. He was also instrumental in selecting Philadelphia as the permanent home for their collection. D'Harnoncourt conducted her interview on March 25, 1968, spending several hours with the artist. That October Duchamp died in Paris. At the time of their meeting, d'Harnoncourt, along with every other art scholar in the world, was unaware that Duchamp, long thought to have quit making art, had in fact been assembling a life-size three dimensional construction over the last 20 years of his life. (According to Michael Taylor's 2009 exhibition catalogue, the only ones who saw the assemblage prior to the artist's death were his wife "Teeny," his friend and fellow artist William Nelson Copley, Maria Martins--Duchamp's one-time lover and model for the figure incorporated in the piece, and two important figures associated with PMA--Museum President Bernice McIlhenny Wintersteen and PMA Vice President and former painting curator Henry Clifford.) Following Duchamp's death, the Cassandra Foundation, as stipulated by the artist, presented to the Philadelphia Museum of Art the mixed-media piece "Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau, 2° le gaz d'éclairage . . . " Again, d'Harnoncourt found herself in a unique opportunity. Not only was she one of only a handful of people to take part in the permanent installation, she was also the Museum representative who worked closely with Paul Matisse, Duchamp's stepson, on the difficult task of dismantling the work from the artist's New York studio. During the installation, d'Harnoncourt began what would be a life-long friendship with Duchamp's widow, Alexina "Teeny" Duchamp, who in turn introduced the young curator to other leading figures of contemporary art and culture; namely the artist, composer and poet John Cage, painter and printmaker Jasper Johns and English painter and collage artist Richard Hamilton. Over her career, d'Harnoncourt also became close friends with and advisor to Mme. Duchamp's daughter Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, an artist in her own right.

To complement the July 1969 unveiling of "Étant donnés" to the public, the Museum devoted the entire issue of its Bulletin (a double issue of April-June and July-September 1969) to the work. Walter Hopps, respected museum director and curator of contemporary art, was invited to write the essay. He requested d'Harnoncourt be his co-author. She considered their collaboration to be her "real plunging into the art world" as her conversations with Hopps covered not only Duchamp but all modern and contemporary art. D'Harnoncourt was also responsible for encouraging Mme. Duchamp to loan her private art collection to the Museum during the summer and fall of 1969. The temporary exhibition included paintings, works on paper and sculpture by modern masters such as Constantin Brancusi, Joseph Cornell, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy and Jacques Villon, as well as five additional works by Duchamp. D'Harnoncourt also used this opportunity to reorganize the Museum's modern galleries, grouping works by theme or artist rather than by collector. As Michael Taylor, who curated PMA's 2009 "Étant donnés," noted in that exhibition catalogue, d'Harnoncourt's temporary exhibition and gallery makeover would "underline the importance of these figures for subsequent generations of artists."

Coming on the heels of such accomplishments was "Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957: A Retrospective Exhibition." Organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the exhibition came first to Philadelphia, opening in September 1969. D'Harnoncourt and Associate Curator John Tancock curated the show, which was heralded as the most comprehensive exhibition ever held of Brancusi's work, consisting of more than 70 pieces of sculpture, along with drawings, watercolors and architectural elements. In January 1970, after a two-month run at the Guggenheim, the Brancusi exhibition headed for the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). Just a few months earlier, so did Anne d'Harnoncourt.

Joining AIC in September 1969 as an assistant curator of 20th-century art, d'Harnoncourt worked with A. James Speyer, whom she considered, outside of her father, to have most directly influenced her. According to d'Harnoncourt, Speyer, an architect by training, had a "unique sense of the installation of an exhibition as a spatial whole as well as a visual sequence of ideas and images." Like her parents' chance meeting, d'Harnoncourt also met her lifetime partner in Chicago. At that time, Joseph J. Rishel was an assistant curator of European painting at AIC. The couple married in New York on June 19, 1971. By the end of that year, d'Harnoncourt returned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as Associate Curator of 20th-century Painting--a position created specifically for her. She became a full curator in 1972. Rishel joined the Museum slightly earlier in 1971 as Associate Curator of Painting before 1900. Overseeing the department since its inception in 1973, Rishel is now the Museum's Gisela and Dennis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900, and the Senior Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection and the Rodin Museum.

Back in Philadelphia, d'Harnoncourt once again made Duchamp a priority, putting into action an exhibition she began planning while at the Art Institute of Chicago. With 292 works on display, "Marcel Duchamp" was an important retrospective jointly organized by d'Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine, curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). After a three-month showing at PMA in 1973, the exhibition traveled to MoMA and AIC, where it closed in April 1974. For the PMA show, d'Harnoncourt had the opportunity to feature two of Duchamp's most important works of art--"Étant donnés" and "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)." Because the pieces are permanently installed and therefore immoveable, d'Harnoncourt centered the exhibition in the galleries that house the two works. She also reinstalled many of the works from the Walter and Louise Arensberg Collection in the Museum's special exhibition space, as a complement to the exhibition. D'Harnoncourt and McShine co-edited the exhibition catalogue, which included essays, reminiscences and appreciations of fellow artists, a "comprehensive selection" of Duchamp's work (rather than a catalogue raisonné) and nearly 400 photographs. According to New York Times art critic Roberta Smith, d'Harnoncourt's contribution to the catalogue "remains one of the best introductions to Duchamp's work and personality."

Other exhibitions organized or co-organized by d'Harnoncourt during her curatorial tenure include "Recent Acquisitions: 20th-Century Art Department" (1973 and 1974-1975), "Violet Oakley" (1979), "Eight Artists" (1978), "Futurism and the International Avant-Garde" (1980), and "John Cage: Scores and Prints" (1982). During her curatorial tenure, d'Harnoncourt also championed the Museum's commitment to strengthen its contemporary art holdings, bringing in major works by Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Elizabeth Murray, Claes Oldenburg, and others.


Having received local and national recognition throughout her 14 years as curator, the 38-year old d'Harnoncourt was named the George D. Widener Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on July 1, 1982. She succeeded Jean Sutherland Boggs, who had served as director since 1979, and was leaving to head the Canadian government agency overseeing new construction for two of the country's national museums. According to local news accounts, the Museum originally offered the director's position in 1979 to d'Harnoncourt. She declined, explaining that "she was devoted to working directly with the art itself." By 1982, she changed her mind, rationalizing that "one doesn't lose one's field, one gains a museum."

With d'Harnoncourt's appointment as director, the Museum's Board of Trustees also adopted a new form of management. As director, d'Harnoncourt would be responsible for the art and professional aspects of the museum. Fiscal and administrative issues would be overseen by a newly created position--that of a full-time salaried president and chief executive officer. Robert Montgomery Scott, who had been the Museum's volunteer president since 1980, was selected for the job. At the time of her appointment, d'Harnoncourt identified three areas as critical to the Museum's success. First was the need to redefine the spaces within the building. As she observed at that time, the 500,000 square feet of interior space "seems enormous until the 170,000 square feet of total exhibition space is measured against the roughly 500,000 objects in the collection." Next was the Museum's relationship with the city of Philadelphia. (As a government entity, the city owns the Museum's main building and provides certain operating revenue.) D'Harnoncourt thought Philadelphia an exciting place, with many cultural institutions that afforded the Museum opportunities for collaboration. Last but not least was the Museum's permanent collection, which to d'Harnoncourt was what distinguished PMA from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. According to the new director, "We have a collection that is at once national and international and regional." She was hopeful that new publications and exhibitions would increase public awareness of the variety and quality of the Museum's holdings and attract more visitors. Over the course of her career as PMA's director, d'Harnoncourt never lost sight of these and other issues that would transform the Museum.

The first project under d'Harnoncourt's directorship to address the issue of space was the reinstallation of its exceptional collection of European art. Completed in 1995, the project was the Museum's most ambitious to date, consisting of gallery construction and renovation, object conservation and reinstallation, and the development of new interpretive materials, such as gallery and object labels, acoustiguides and brochures. The project encompassed 95 galleries situated on 55,000 square feet of exhibition space and thousands of objects that included painting, sculpture, decorative arts and architectural elements dating from 1100 to 1900. Funding for the project was afforded by the Museum's Landmark Renewal Fund, which was the first major fundraising campaign d'Harnoncourt oversaw as director. The goal of the campaign, which began in 1986, was to raise $50 million for endowments, building improvements and a bridge fund for temporary operations support. To provide for the reinstallation project, the goal was increased an additional $10 million. The campaign concluded successfully in 1993, raising more than $64 million. With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Museum's Women's Committee, the Rodin Museum also underwent interior renovations and reinstallation. Managed by the Museum and not half a mile away, the Rodin reopened in 1989.

The Museum's permanent collection was significantly enhanced soon after d'Harnoncourt's appointment when, in 1983 and 1985, it acquired thousands of drawings and prints by European old masters and artists of the 19th century. With funding provided by Museum trustee Philip Berman and his wife Muriel, the transaction was also a collaboration between two of Philadelphia's venerable cultural institutions as PMA purchased the works from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). The acquisitions not only established PMA as a major repository for European works on paper, but also, as d'Harnoncourt often noted, allowed these works, all of which came to PAFA as bequests from three prominent Philadelphia families, to remain in the city. More than a decade later, Philadelphia's most prominent adopted son would also find a home at the Museum when in 1996 it acquired Jean-Antoine Houdon's "Bust of Benjamin Franklin" (1779).

During d'Harnoncourt's first 15 years as director, the Museum looked beyond Europe to expand its holdings. Like a survey of American history, acquisitions ranged from the monumental wood sculptures of "Comedy" and "Tragedy" carved by William Rush in 1808, acquired in 1985; to "Mr. Prejudice" (1943) by African American artist Horace Pippin, acquired in 1984; followed by Cy Twombly's suite of paintings "Fifty Days at Iliam" painted in 1977-1978 and acquired by PMA in 1989. From other corners of the world came an array of acquisitions, in seemingly complementary pairs, such as: a Japanese jar of the Momoyama Period (16th century) purchased in 1993 and a covered stoneware box designed in 1976 by the Japanese artist Hamada Atsuya given in 1992; a Noh robe of silk stamped with gold and silver of early 18th century Japan and a contemporary woman's kimono of painted silk, given as gifts respectively in 1988 and 1995; as well as a 13" carving of "Narasimha" from 1st century A.D. India purchased in 1987 and the 4-foot high stone figure of "Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion" from 5th century A.D. India, which came to the Museum in 1994 as a bequest from its long-time curator of Indian art, Dr. Stella Kramrisch.

One of the earliest major exhibitions of this period was "Marc Chagall" (1985), an exhibition PMA co-organized with the Royal Academy of Arts, London. For the exhibition, d'Harnoncourt teamed with former Courtauld classmate Susan Compton to visit the 97-year old artist at his home in the French village of Saint-Paul de Vence and gain his approval of the show. Other important shows include "Japanese Design: A Survey Since 1950" (1994); "Constantin Brancusi" (1995); and "Cézanne" (1996). The latter was in every sense of the word a "blockbuster" of a show, generating $122.5 million in tourism for the city. The attendance of 548,000 visitors exceeded original estimates two-fold, giving good cause for Phlash, the city's tour bus, finally to include the Museum on its route. As Edward Rendell, then Mayor of Philadelphia recalled, "Anne really taught us the potential value of the museum to the city." While such exhibitions relied on loans of works of art, the permanent collection, as d'Harnoncourt hoped for, was well-documented through several major publications: "British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Century" (1986); "Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art" (1988); "Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art" (1994) and "Handbook of the Collections" (1995). So pleased was d'Harnoncourt with the handbook that in September of that year she mailed a copy to her mother, noting, "Dearest Ma - I'm so proud of this! It took years of work but I really think it looks like a labor of love. And ONLY $14.95!!"

Securing the support of city officials, as d'Harnoncourt did with the "Cézanne" exhibition, was always a critical task for a PMA director considering the Museum's ongoing financial relationship with the city. D'Harnoncourt's tenure was no exception. In fact, during the time the Museum was preparing for the Cézanne exhibition, the city announced that there would be funding cuts for the 1996 fiscal year, which translated to a $2 million loss for PMA. Only after protracted negotiations and a detailed study of the Museum's earned income potential did the city relent on its proposed budget trimming. Furthermore, by 1995 the Museum's endowment grew to more than $100 million, a remarkable gain from its 1982 assessment of $21 million, which was one of the lowest in the country for art museums. Such accomplishments afforded Robert Montgomery Scott, after more than 30 years of service, an opportune time to announce his retirement and leave the Museum on a positive note.


With Scott's retirement in 1996, the Board of Trustees once again approved a change in management, giving d'Harnoncourt the additional responsibilities of Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Instead of a president, the Museum would have a Chief Operating Officer (COO) who would work with d'Harnoncourt and senior staff in a variety of areas, such as strategic planning, finance, building operations, membership and marketing. In 1997 the new structure took effect with d'Harnoncourt assuming the dual position of director and CEO, and Gail Harrity joining the Museum as COO. Local media, in support of d'Harnoncourt's expanded role, noted her qualifications, namely her intellect, expertise in 20th-century art, international connections, and her being "the force behind [PMA's] new prominence in the international art scene." During her partnership with Scott and at his encouragement, she also became more involved with the business aspects of a museum and more adept at soliciting funds, an art in itself. Her dealings with the Mayor's office also grew during those years, supposedly giving a fresh start to what at times had been referred to as a "prickly" relationship between the Museum and city.

Considering her new role, d'Harnoncourt said her biggest concern was that the Museum "not lose momentum," and continue to capitalize on the accomplishments of the preceding decade. "We've reinstalled 90 galleries; we have 110 more we need to think about." As Edward J. Sozanski, art critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, remembered the 1997 transition, "D'Harnoncourt hit full stride... [taking on] both sides of the museum operation." Building on the issues she identified in 1982 as critical to the Museum's success, d'Harnoncourt, over the next decade, oversaw the continued expansion and renovation of display and office space, a continued expansion of the permanent collection, and a continued effort to make the Museum ever more significant to its community.

To realize these goals, the Museum used the occasion of its 125th year in 2001 as the impetus for a major capital campaign, the second to be led by d'Harnoncourt. Launched in December 2000, the "2001 Fund 125th Anniversary Campaign" exceeded its $200 million goal by nearly $50 million when it concluded in 2004. The campaign's success allowed the Museum to finalize the purchase and renovation of an Art Deco style building completed in 1927 for an insurance company. Named after Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman, whose $15 million gift made the acquisition possible, the new space gave the Museum added galleries, offices, object storage and conservation facilities, as well as a state of the art library, which the public could now visit without appointment, and expanded archives research and work areas. The campaign also funded the implementation of new technologies to enhance education, research and conservation programs, while most of the money raised went to securing endowed positions in the curatorial, conservation, library and education departments. Such improvements made all the more reason for more art, which the campaign also afforded--adding approximately 4,000 works of art, including some in fields previously unrepresented in the Museum's permanent collection, such as African art. (A separate capital improvement project carried out in 2000 was the renovation of twenty galleries of modern and contemporary art in the main building.) Still keeping the momentum in 2006, d'Harnoncourt and Board Chairman H.F. Lenfest, announced that the firm of the critically acclaimed architect Frank O. Gehry would take on the ambitious long-range project to expand and restore the Museum's main building, a spectacular neoclassical design and long an icon of the city's skyscape. With those plans in development, the finishing work of Gluckman Mayer Architects continued across the street on the Perelman Building. It opened to the public on September 15, 2007, with much fanfare as d'Harnoncourt hoisted a pair of giant scissors and cut the ribbons crossing the building's entrance. While envisioning such expanses, d'Harnoncourt never lost sight of her staff in whose custody the art resided. Again, it was art critic Edward J. Sozanski who observed that d'Harnoncourt "expanded the curatorial ranks significantly, at a time when other museums were cutting back... "The fact that curators continued to be influential at [PMA] was something that became more evident--and unusual--as the years passed." While more and more directors were heeding business plans and bottom lines, d'Harnoncourt chose "the higher road...In her museum, "pandering to popular or commercial taste was discouraged."

During d'Harnoncourt's tenure as director and CEO, acquisitions, exhibitions and publications also continued to flourish. Works of art of note include two 1999 acquisitions--"Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin" (1773) painted by ex-patriot John Singleton Copley and an early 17th-century handscroll by the Japanese master Hon'ami Koetsu "Poems from the 'Shinkokin wakashu'." Other important acquisitions include: a 70-piece collection of Italian Renaissance maiolica given in 2000; more than 2,000 early modern and surreal photographs belonging to the renowned art dealer Julien Levy, acquired in 2001; "Mermaid" (1896), an oil painted on a trapezoidal canvas by Edvard Munch, acquired in 2003; and the monumental marble carved by Augustus Saint-Gaudens depicting the "Angel of Purity (Maria Mitchell Memorial)" (1902), a 2005 acquisition. Perhaps the most publicized acquisition was the one in 2006 for which PMA once again collaborated with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. With the financial support of the city's philanthropic institutions and a national grassroots effort, the two institutions were able to counter an offer made by museums out of state and raise $68 million in less than two months to purchase jointly the "Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic)." Painted in 1875 by Thomas Eakins, the work was a true treasure to Philadelphia--created by one of America's most important 19th century artists who studied and taught in Philadelphia and portraying one of the city's pioneering surgeons. As to exhibitions, the Museum continued to present shows of broad appeal, such as "The Splendor of 18th century Rome" (2000); "Salvador Dalí" (2005); and "Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic" (2006). Under d'Harnoncourt's direction, museum goers were also introduced to the arts of peoples and times lesser known through exhibitions such as "'Shocking!' The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli" (2003-2004); "African Art, African Voices: Long Steps Never Broke a Back" (2004-2005); "Tesoros/Treasures/Tesouros: the Arts in Latin America, 1492-1820" (2006); and "Ike Taiga and Tokuyama Gyokuran: Japanese Masters of the Brush" (2007). In addition to well-received exhibition catalogues, the Museum continued to publish surveys showcasing its permanent collections, such as: "The Fine Art of Textiles (1997); "Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art" (2000); "Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art" (2002); and "Italian Paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art" (2004). In 1997, a richly photographed history of the Museum's main building entitled, "Making a Modern Classic: the Architecture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art," was also published.

Throughout her career, d'Harnoncourt continued to contribute to scholarly studies. In addition to her writings on Duchamp for the 1969 PMA Bulletin and 1973 exhibition catalogue, she wrote essays for two other Duchamp exhibition catalogues published in Tokyo (1981) and Barcelona (1984), as well as the prefaces to the publication of Duchamp's notes, translated and arranged by Paul Matisse and to PMA's printing of the manual of instructions for "Étant donnés." Both works were published in 1987, marking the centennial of Duchamp's birth. Joseph Cornell, John Cage, Jackie Matisse and the art movement of futurism and the international avant-garde were other subjects d'Harnoncourt examined in several writings published between 1978 and 1983, as were the modern art collectors A.E. Gallatin and Walter and Louise Arensberg in her 1974 essay published in the journal "Apollo." As director, d'Harnoncourt also wrote introductions and forwards to numerous PMA publications.

Throughout her career, d'Harnoncourt nurtured the traits she so admired in her father. Like him, she thoroughly enjoyed the different narratives one created when arranging and rearranging works of art. (Despite her enjoyment, d'Harnoncourt--limited in time and confident in her staff--did not take a hands-on approach with special exhibition installations.) Like her father, she respected contemporary artists and took an active interest in their work and lives. Among the artists she championed and counted as personal friends were John Cage, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Jackie Matisse, Dorothea Tanning, Cy Twombly, and Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. D'Harnoncourt also characterized her father as someone who enjoyed people enormously and who loved solving problems and building consensus. As local press and colleagues observed at the time of her death, the same could be said of the daughter. To those she met, d'Harnoncourt was as much a "persuasive and effective diplomat" as she was an art historian. According to Edward J. Sozanski, "If she hadn't become a museum director, she would have made a splendid secretary of state."

Where d'Harnoncourt seems to have surpassed her father was her commitment in developing programs that spoke not only to the diversity of the Museum's art collection but to the diversity of the Museum's audience and community as well. No stronger evidence of this commitment is the expansion of the Museum's educational programs during her directorship. In 1982, the Division of Education coordinated public programs in Western and Eastern art as well as school programs and a student center. By 2007, the department consisted of 50 full and part-time staff offering programs addressing accessibility (special needs), distance learning, public programs in Western, Asian and Islamic and American Art, as well as concerts and performances, Latino outreach, family and community programs, studio programs and a number of teacher workshops and school programs that engage 75,000 students each year.


Institutions across the country and abroad sought d'Harnoncourt's advice. She served on at least 24 boards or visiting committees, participated in 34 advisory, selection, nominating or review panels, and was an active elected member to seven other organizations, two of which were learned societies. Her museums associations ranged from long-term to project-specific. For more than 20 years, she advised the Fabric Workshop and Museum (Philadelphia, PA), serving as an honorary guest curator in 2002 to mark the Workshop's 25th anniversary. For a dozen years she sat on the Board of Trustees of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. With other museums, her tenure was shorter but no less attentive. She served on the architect select committee when the J. Paul Getty Trust was planning to build its museum in Los Angeles in 1983, and ten years later was invited to join the museum's visiting committee. In 1999, she served on the architect select committee for the new Muse´e du quai Branly in Paris and that same year began her tenure on the International Advisory Board to the State Hermitage Museum. For the latter she made at least two trips to Russia. From approximately 1993 to 2000, she was a member of the Supervisory Board to the Van Gogh Museum Foundation in Amsterdam. Other affiliations to take her overseas included the International Exhibition Organizations Conferences (IEOC) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM). As a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), d'Harnoncourt traveled across the United States regularly for annual and midwinter meetings.

D'Harnoncourt's frequent commutes to Washington, D.C., as well as her affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution, went beyond her tenure with the Hirshhorn Museum. Between 1975 and 1983, she served three terms on the advisory panel of the Smithsonian Council, and in 1996, with the approval of the U.S. Congress and President, d'Harnoncourt joined the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution as a citizen member. As a Regent, she sat on several committees and panels, and participated in the searches for the eleventh and twelfth secretaries--the Institution's highest office. D'Harnoncourt was also instrumental in saving the general post office building between 7th, 8th, E and F Streets NW, in the nation's capital, earning the thanks of fellow Regent Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In a 1996 letter written in true Moynihan style, the senator notes, "We have a practice up here of writing to thank colleagues who vote in support of one of our bills. I have not had overmuch occasion to do this of late, and lest a pleasant civility lapse into desuetude, I write to thank you for supporting the Motion...for rescuing the Old Post Office." The building still stands although probably not as the Regents envisioned. In 2002, it opened as the Hotel Monaco. D'Harnoncourt remained an active Regent through 2007. She was bestowed the honor of Regent Emeritus the following January.

Other memberships of note include d'Harnoncourt's election in 1988 to the American Philosophical Society, the internationally recognized scholarly organization founded in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin. A few years later she joined the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Award, which is one of the city's most prestigious honors, and in 1997 she was chosen its co-recipient. In 1995 she was elected a fellow to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. D'Harnoncourt was also an active board member to the John Cage Trust, Fairmount Park Art Association of Philadelphia, Graduate School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania (also known as PennDesign), Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, NJ), Henry Luce Foundation and Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation.


As a museum professional for four decades and as a trustee or advisor to numerous cultural institutions, Anne d'Harnoncourt inspired people around the world to look at, think and talk about art. The momentum she inspired seemed unstoppable. Until June 1, 2008. Recovering from minor surgery, d'Harnoncourt died unexpectedly that night at home from cardiac arrest. She was 64 years old.

During her lifetime, Anne d'Harnoncourt received more than 35 awards and six honorary degrees. Her honors included the Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres given from the Republic of France in 1995 and in 2007 the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle. In the weeks following her death, city, state and federal officials issued resolutions honoring her life. On June 4, 2008, the flag of the United States was flown over the United States Capitol in her memory. Later that month a memorial service was held on the Museum's east terrace, and in September nearly 2,000 people filled Philadelphia's Academy of Music to attend a celebration of her life and legacy.

At six feet tall, Anne d'Harnoncourt truly had a commanding presence. With her throaty voice, bright flowing scarves, bold jewelry and a tendency to express her delight with a "WEEE" or a "WOW," d'Harnoncourt stood out in a crowd. But never away from one. Never so aloof that she would not stoop down to retrieve a scrap of paper discarded on a gallery floor. Or at special celebrations join staff members in dance on the Museum's terrace. She was never too busy to call a member of her PMA family who was recovering in a hospital or recuperating at home. Nor too distracted not to stop and listen as a Museum educator talked with school children.

In 2006, gallery director and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist asked d'Harnoncourt to describe her utopian museum. To her, if all museums across the country could afford not to charge the public, that would be ideal. Free access. What better way to be with art when that is all one asks.

A chronology of the life of Anne d'Harnoncourt is included in the finding aid to the Anne d'Harnoncourt Records, which can be accessed through the link referenced below.

Works Consulted

  1. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Includes family papers and school records. Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers. Personal papers series
  2. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Includes press clippings. Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers. Photographs and publicity series
  3. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers. Professional affiliations series
  4. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Anne d'Harnoncourt Records. Exhibitions series
  5. Finding aid at Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. "Anne d'Harnoncourt Records." Historical note. Chronology, 2011
  6. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Anne d'Harnoncourt Records. Names and subjects series
  7. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Archives. Includes Anne d'Harnoncourt files of clippings and ephemera. Archives Reference Files. Biographical file series
  8. 3 December 2008. Courtauld Association. Courtauld Institute of Art. Compton, Susan"Memories of Anne d'Harnoncourt."
  9. 22 October 1967, 29 August 2001. Historical Newspapers database. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library. New York Times.
  10. Zurich: JRP/Ringier, 2008 Obrist, Hans Ulrich"Interview with Anne d'Harnoncourt." In "A brief history of curating."
  11. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Oral History Program; interview with Anne d'Harnoncourt, 2003-2004
  12. Academy of Music program, 7 September 2008. Philadelphia Museum of Art"Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Anne d'Harnoncourt."
  13. In Annual Report, 2005. Philadelphia Museum of Art"Report of the Chairman."
  14. Finding aid at The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. "Rene d'Harnoncourt Papers." Biographical note, 2002
  15. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2009. Taylor, Michael R."Marcel Duchamp: Étant donnés."


31.5 linear feet

Language of Materials



Art to Anne d'Harnoncourt (1943-2008) was both a professional and personal passion. Best recognized for her twenty-five year tenure as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, d'Harnoncourt collaborated with local, national and international individuals and organizations, to keep art relevant and essential in building and bridging communities. Most of the material comprising the Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers traces her professional development in and away from the Museum and consists primarily of correspondence, press clippings, photographs of works of art and events, draft lectures, notes, ephemera and a number of certificates, citations and object awards. Several files of photos and papers pertain to her husband and Museum colleague, Joseph J. Rishel. Family papers and photographs and school records comprise her personal papers. Also made part of the Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers is the significant documentation of the reaction to her unexpected death on June 1, 2008. Materials consist of condolence messages to the Museum and to Rishel, obituaries and other writings, posthumous honors, as well as working papers and ephemera pertaining to the various memorial services and later tributes. An audio recording of one of the 2008 services and a video recording of a long-time friend's recollections recorded in 2009 are also included.


Series I through IV consist of documentation pertaining to d'Harnoncourt's professional activities and affiliations. There are two subseries to Series I, "Correspondence and other materials": "Names and subjects" and "Other records." Series II, "Remarks and recognitions" consists of two subseries; namely, "Awards and honors" and "Outside lectures and other remarks." A number of oversized documents account for the seemingly large size of this series, 13.25 linear feet. As indicated by its title, Series III, "Photographs and publicity," consists of two subseries: "Photographs" and "Press clippings." Series IV, "Professional affiliations," consists of files alphabetically arranged by name of institution. The fifth and final series, "Personal papers," is comprised of three subseries: "Family papers and photographs;" "Student records;" and "Other material."

Throughout this finding aid and within folder titles, the abbreviation "PMA" refers to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In folder titles, "AdH" refers to Anne d'Harnoncourt. For purposes of preservation, photocopies were made during processing to replace post-it notes. Photocopies were made on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, and folded around or clipped to the document on which the note was affixed.

Custodial History

Gift of Joseph J. Rishel, 2011.


Condolence correspondence and memorial materials from J. Rishel's office transferred in 2014-2015.

Separated Materials

Transferred to the family. A folder level inventory of book titles is available in the Museum Archives. Personal library of Anne d'Harnoncourt, circa 1957-1962

Processing Information

These materials were arranged and described by Bertha Adams with the assistance of Phoebe Kowalewski, Jeanne Pond and Leigh Urbschat. Funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.



Guide to the Anne d'Harnoncourt Papers
Finding aid prepared by Bertha Adams with the assistance of Phoebe Kowalewski, Jeanne Pond and Leigh Urbschat.
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note
Funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Edition statement

Repository Details

Part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives Repository

Philadelphia Museum of Art
PO Box 7646
Philadelphia PA 19101-7646 United States