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Passings | Anne d'Harnoncourt

Executive led art museum's growth

June 03, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Anne d'Harnoncourt, 64, the longtime chief executive of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and one of the art world's most influential women, died Monday at her Philadelphia home of natural causes, museum spokesman Norman Keyes said. He said her death was unexpected but did not elaborate.

D'Harnoncourt joined the museum in 1967 as a curatorial assistant. She became museum director in 1982 and was named to replace Robert Montgomery Scott in 1997 as the museum's chief executive.

"She broke ground and she just kept growing," said Derek Gillman, executive director of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. "On all the three continents I've worked, the art world is very much dominated by men. . . . Anne was not only impressively credentialed but massively respected."

Under her directorship, the Philadelphia Museum of Art saw a period of expansion, including the purchase of a closed Art Deco landmark near the museum that added 173,000 square feet of restoration, research and gallery space. An upcoming $500-million expansion by Frank O. Gehry will be constructed 30 feet below the Philadelphia museum's east plaza.

She also led the charge to raise tens of millions of dollars to keep Thomas Eakins' masterpiece "The Gross Clinic" in the city after learning of its impending sale to a group that included Wal-Mart Stores Inc. heiress Alice Walton.

D'Harnoncourt was born Sept. 7, 1943, in Washington, D.C., the only child of Rene d'Harnoncourt, art historian and director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, and Sara Carr, a fashion designer. She had a master's degree from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

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