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McIlhenny, Henry P.

    Full Name: McIlhenny, Henry P.

    Other Names:

    • Henry McIlhenny

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1910

    Date Died: 1986

    Place Born: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, USA

    Place Died: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): decorative art (art genre)

    Career(s): art collectors and curators


    Art collector and curator of the decorative arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, from 1935 to 1963. McIlhenny was the son of a former president of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, John D. McIlhenny (1866-1925) and the Frances G. Plumer (McIlhenny). His grandfather had been an Irish immigrant who invented the gas meter, bringing the family an immense fortune. The younger McIlhenny attended the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia and Milton Academy in Boston, before graduating from Harvard as a Phi Beta Kappa in 1933, where he studied under A. Kingsley Porter. McIlhenny completed a graduate degree in art history at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, under Paul J. Sachs. His prominence as a collector in Philadelphia led to an appointment as curator of the decorative arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a post for which he accepted a salary of $1 a year. McIlhenny served the museum between 1935 and 1963, with four years’ service in the United States Navy during World War II. During the 1930s, McIlhenny developed one of the finest private collections of French late-19th-century painting in the United States. His acquisitions included the 1936 purchase of Degas’ masterwork “Interior” 1868-69. In 1937 he purchased the mansion in Ireland, Glenveagh, owned by his former Harvard art professor, Porter. As curator, he was also instrumental in organizing the important Degas exhibition in 1936, collaborating with his Fogg mentors Paul J. Sachs and Agnes Mongan. Other exhibitions included one on Daumier in 1937, and “Philadelphia Silver” in 1956. After his resignation from the Museum he was elected a trustee in 1964 serving as vice president from 1968 to 1976, and as the chairman of the Philadelphia Museum’s board of trustees from 1976 until his death. He died after undergoing heart surgery. His art collection, valued at $100 million at his death, was left to the Philadelphia Museum. The collection included Ingres’ 1812 portrait, “Countess of Tournon,” Jacques-Louis David’s “Pope Pius VII and Cardinal Caprara,” 1805, four Delacroix paintings (including a small version of “The Death of Sardanapalus,” 1844), van Gogh’s “Rain,” 1889, three Toulouse-Lautrecs (including his self-portrait of 1896 and his “Dance at the Moulin Rouge,” 1890), Renoirs, Matisses and Cézanne’s portrait of his wife (1883-87). A fairly open homosexual (for the time), McIlhenny was one of the more knowledgeable collector’s of his art, thought not a scholar.

    Selected Bibliography

    and Howe, Thomas Carr. The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture: an Exhibition Sponsored by Patrons of Art and Music at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, San Francisco. San Francisco: The Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1962.


    Rishel, Joseph J. The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection: an Illustrated History. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1987; Lord, James. “One Joyful Millionaire: Henry McIlhenny.” in A Gift for Admiration: Further Memoirs. New York : Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1998, pp. 3-42; [obituary:] Russell, John. “Henry McIlhenny, Head of the Philadelphia Art Museum.” New York Times May 13, 1986, p. 26;


    "McIlhenny, Henry P.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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