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Shapley, Fern Rusk

    Full Name: Shapley, Fern Rusk

    Other Names:

    • Fern Helen Rusk Shapley

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1890

    Date Died: 1984

    Place Born: Mahomet, Champaign, IL, USA

    Place Died: Cheverly, Prince Georges, MD, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Italian (culture or style)

    Career(s): curators

    Institution(s): National Gallery of Art


    Italian art scholar and curator of paintings, National Gallery of Art, 1947-1960. Rusk was the daughter of Ralph Leslie Rusk (1891-1962), a professor of English at Columbia University, and Anna Lucinda Renner (Rusk). After graduating from the University of Missouri, with an A. B. in 1913, she continued for her master’s degree, 1914, writing her thesis on the Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham. She briefly studied at Bryn Mawr College, 1914-1915. Rusk was awarded a Fellowship for European study in 1915, returning to complete her Ph.D., also at Missouri in 1916. The following year she published and expanded version of her M.A. thesis as her first book. She married another Missouri alum and art historian, John Shapley in1918. Shapley followed her husband to Providence, RI, where he was professor at Brown University. In 1925 she was an assistant professor of art at her alma mater in Columbia, MO, for the summer session. Shapley then became an assistant to Bernard Berenson at his Villa I Tatti in Florence where she worked on a second edition of his corpus of Italian drawings. Her husband, now a professor at the University of Chicago, used his income and connections at the University to publish the three-volume set, The Drawings of the Florentine Painters, for a modest cost. In 1943 she joined the National Gallery of Art, Washgington, D. C., as a research assistant, rising to curator of paintings in 1947. She became assistant chief curator in 1956. In 1960, Shapley was named Curator of Research at the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in New York. In that capacity, she began writing a catalog of the complete Kress collection, then dispersed throughout the United States to art museums in cities which had prominent Kress stores. She retired in 1972, completing the Kress catalogs in 1973 and the catalog of the Italian paintings at the Gallery, 1976. She died of heart disease in 1984.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] The Paragon of Leonardo da Vinci. University of Missour-Columbia, 1916; George Caleb Bingham, the Missouri Artist. Jefferson City, MO: The Hugh Stephens Co., 1917; edited, Berenson, Bernard. The Drawings of the Florentine Painters. [amplified, 2nd ed.] 3 vols. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1938; and Shapley, John. Comparisons in Art: a Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York: Phaidon, 1957;  Later Italian Painting in the National Gallery of Art.  Washington, DC: The National Gallery of Art, 1960;  Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools. 3 vols. London: Phaidon Press/Samuel H. Kress Foundation, 1966-1973; Catalogue of the Italian Paintings:[National Gallery of Art]. 2 vols. Washington,DC: National Gallery of Art, 1979.


    Joyce, Maureen. “Art Historian John Shapley, 88, Dies.” Washington Post September 13, 1978, p. C8; [obituary:] “Fern Rusk Shapley.” Washington Post, November 17, 1984, p. B6.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Shapley, Fern Rusk." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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