Scholar of classical art and director of both the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (1902-05) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1910-31). Robinson was the son of Edward A. Robinson and Ellen Coburn (Robinson). After graduating from Harvard in 1879, he pursued additional study in archaeology at the university of Berlin, spending time in Greece. After returning to the United States, he married Elizabeth Gould in Boston in 1881, and assembled a study collection of classical and renaissance casts for the Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich, CT. Robinson was appointed curator of classical antiquities for the Boston Museum of Fine Art in 1885. He lectured on classical antiquities at Harvard University 1893-94 and again 1898-02. In 1902 he was appointed director, using his position and the assistance of the famous antiquities procurer John Marshall (1862-1928) to amass much of the classical objects the museum owns today. Robinson hired Gisela M. A. Richter to assist them. When Luigi Palma di Cesnola, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, died in 1904, Robinson was briefly considered to replace him. The job went to Caspar Purdon Clarke of the South Kensington Museum, with the proviso that Robinson would become Assistant Director. When Robinson took the job in 1905, he again hired Richter for a temporary assignment to write the catalog the newly acquired Greek vases. He made her position permanent the following year. Robinson and Marshall added heavily to the ancient collection, aided with the newly established Rogers Fund. He was assigned coordination of authenticating the Cesnola Cypriote collection, which was in the midst of controversy. When Clarke resigned as director in 1910, Robinson succeeded him, retaining the title of curator of classical antiquities until 1925, when he appointed Richter, the first time a woman held a full curator rank at the Metropolitan. Though Robinson took a generally positive view toward modern art, he turned down Gertrude Whitney's offer to donate her collection of modern American art to the Metropolitan in 1929. Whitney, together with Juliana R. Force founded the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1930. Robinson presided over major American museums at a time when their conception was fundamentally changing. Although he amassed plaster cast "study collections" for both Boston and New York, he also invested heavily in original classical objects. His dubious honor of having rejected Gertrude Whitney's donation of modern American art reflects the conservative conception of art museums of the era as much as a lack of insight on his part. His reorganization of the Metropolitan into units based upon material (as Purdon Clarke had done) but on historic periods, modernized the museum. His acquisitions of the Morgan, Havemeyer and Altman collections demonstrated his broader interests in art, although he remained at heart a Greek scholar. He died at his home after an extended illness.
Fairbanks, A. "Edward Robinson as Curator of the Classical Department." Bulletin, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 29 (June 1931): 51-2; National Cyclopedia of American Biography 23: 8-9; Tomkins, Calvin. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2nd. ed. New York: Henry Holt, 1989, pp. 113- ; [obituaries:] Revue Archaologique 5 (May 1931): 318; Pantheon 7 (June 1931): 272; Connoisseur 88 (July 1931): 113; "Edward Robinson, Art Director, Dies. Metropolitan Museum Official for the Last Two Decades Succumbs at Age of 72." New York Times April 19, 1931, p. 1