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Pillsbury, Edmund

    Full Name: Pillsbury, Edmund Pennington

    Other Names:

    • Edmund P. Pillsbury
    • Ted Pillsbury

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 28 April 1943

    Date Died: 01 April 2010

    Place Born: San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA

    Place Died: Kaufmann, TX USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): museums (institutions)

    Institution(s): Kimball Art Museum


    Director of the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, 1980-1998; masterful acquisitions assembler.  Pillsbury’s father was Edmund Pennington Pillsbury (1913-1951) and his mother Priscilla Adele Keator (Pillsbury) (1915-2011).  He was the child of two major American industrial families, great-grandson to  Charles Alfred Pillsbury (1842-1889), founder of the Pillsbury Flour and through his mother the to Deere machinery fortune.  Pillsbury, graduated from Yale University where he was a noted athlete.  He received his M.A., and Ph.D, both from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of  London and both on the topic of the Renaissance artist Jacopo Zucchi.

    Pillsbury was appointed curator of European painting and sculpture at his alma mater, the Yale University Art Gallery.  When Paul Mellon (1907-1999) funded the project for what would become the Yale Center for British Art in 1966, Pillsbury was appointed its first director, beginning 1977.  At the 1980 death of another first director, Richard Brown, of the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX, Pillsbury became its second.  At the Kimball, he built his own and the Museum’s reputation.  He completed Brown’s negotiations to acquire Georges de La Tour’s Cheat With the Ace of Clubs (late 1620s).  This began his success in buying masterworks for the small museum.  These included On the Pont de l’Europe (1876/1877) by Gustave Caillebotte, then a relatively unknown artist to the public, 1982, The Apostle Saint James Freeing the Magician Hermogenes (1426-29) by Fra Angelico, 1986, The Cardsharps (c.1594) by Caravaggio, 1987, the acquisition for which he is perhaps best known. His skill at acquiring skills were so distinguished that in 1986, the National Gallery in London offered him the director position, the first non-Briton.  It caused a furor in the United Kingdom, Pillsbury declined, and the position was given to Michael Levey..

    In 1989, Pillsbury announced a plan to build an addition onto the Louis Kahn museum building with architect Romaldo Giurgola. An international outcry arose–including the architect’s family– and the project was revised to be an adjacent building, this one to be designed by architect Renzo Piano.  By 1998 Pillsbury and the Museum Board found themselves in major disagreements and he resigned. He collaborated with the Dallas branch of the Gerald Peters Gallery, renamed to be Pillsbury & Peters Fine Art.  The partnership dissolved in 2003;  Pillsbury accepted the directorship of the Meadows Art Museum at Southern Methodist University in its new building. In 2005 he declined an offer from the Getty Museum to instead join Heritage Galleries as “consultative director.” There he created a fine arts- and museum services department. At Heritage he expanded their art auctions into a $50 million business. His final position was director of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas.

    Pillsbury always remained close to the Kimball; in 2009 he alerted then director Eric Lee (b.1965) to an early Michelangelo painting on the market, The Torment of Saint Anthony (1487), which Lee acquired.  It is the only Michelangelo in the United States.  He died of a heart attack after visiting a client in Kaufman County, TX.

    The art historian Richard Brettell described Pillsbury as “one of the latter 20th century’s most important museum directors . . . He was, in some ways, single-handedly responsible for turning the Kimball from an institution with a great building into one whose collection matched its architecture in quality.”  He declined many offers of positions, including editor of the Burlington Magazine.  He published no monographs; the exhibition catalogs he contributed to were always with others.

    Selected Bibliography

    • [theses and dissertation:] Jacopo Zucchi: New Paintings and Drawings. M.A., Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, 1967;
    • Jacopo Zucchi: His Life and Work. PhD, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, 1973;
    • Drawings by Vasari and Vincenzo Borghini for the Apparato in Florence in 1565.” Master Drawings 5, no. 3 (Autumn, 1967): 281-283, 330-331;
    • “Three Unpublished Paintings by Giorgio Vasari,” Burlington Magazine 112 no .803 (1970): 94–101;
    • “Ammannati and the Villa Medici in Rome: An Unknown Letter.”Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 19. Bd., H. 2 (1975), pp. 303-306;



    • [obituaries:] Lee, George T. “In Memoriam: Edmund ‘Ted’ Pennington Pillsbury: 1943–2010, B.A. 1965.”Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin  (2010), pp. 24-25;
    • Nixon, Diane A and Whitney, Wheelock. Master Drawings 48 no. 2 (Summer 2010): 261-262;
    •  Fox,  Margalit.  “Edmund P. Pillsbury, Director at Kimball, Dies at 66”  New York Times March 31, 2010;



    "Pillsbury, Edmund." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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