Movers and Shakers: The Women Who Built American Institutions

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Deborah Jenner

Deborah Jenner is an American-born art historian; she is also a member of College Arts Association. Residing in Paris since 1990, she has worked at the Ecole du Louvre, the Sorbonne, the Catholic Institute and the British Council. Her Doctorate thesis proved non-western influences in Georgia O’Keeffe’s art. Her publications include catalogue essays for Musée d’Orsay (New York City et l’Art modern) and Centre Pompidou (Les Traces du Sacré), scholarly papers with the research laboratory SARI and Gallery critiques in ArtAsiaPacific, and PerformArts: Artvisuel-Artvivant. She gives public talks, guided walks and museum tours for ex-pat organisations and study-abroad programs and volunteers as an Al Gore Climate leader and JCF Round Table coordinator.

 

George Santayana proclaimed in 1911 that US culture was a feminised backwater presided over by genteel ladies. Henry James in Daisy Miller (1878) had mocked them for their pilgrimages to Europe seeking art. Yet by the 1880s, women were founding associations as patrons of the arts. Isabella Gardner of Boston was the first to create a whole museum with 82 rooms in her own home! Louisine Havmeyer of NYC soon followed suit. Self-appointed art advisor Elsie de Wolfe, who proclaimed the Arts and Crafts movement a moralizing must, would be lampooned in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes and later as Miss Piggy. Yet, thought and mission statements of many angels of culture still guide the large cultural institutions they founded:  Jane Stanford’s museum in San Francisco; Abby Rockefeller for MoMA and Gertrude Vanderbilt for the Whitney. Peggy Guggenheim is a whole other story.

 

Caption: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum interior