Taylor, Francis Henry

Full Name: 
Taylor, Francis Henry
Date Born: 
1903
Date Died: 
1957
Place Born: 
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Place Died: 
Worcester, MA, USA
Home Country: 
USA
Gender: 
male
Overview: 

Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 1940-1955. Taylor was the son of Dr. William Johnson Taylor, an orthopedic surgeon and previous president of the College of Physicians and president of the Library Company in Philadelphia, and Philadelphia socialite Emily Buckley Newbold. He attended the Kent (preparatory) School before graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1924. Taylor traveled to France to teach English at the Lycée de Chartres 1924-1925. He quite the following year and entered the Sorbonne where he met the medievalist art historian Henri Focillon. He was Focillon's first American student and the two kept in contact all their lives. Returning to the United States, he enrolled in graduate school at the Graduate School of Princeton, spending the 1926-1927 year in Europe as a Carnegie Fellow. He returned to the United States in 1928, married Pamela Coyne, and left Princeton without completing his degree to become curator of medieval art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art under Fiske Kimball. During the Philadelphia years he edited the museum's publications, made major installation of medieval art in the new building, and smoothed hurt feelings by Kimball's quick temper and tongue. In 1931 he left to become the Director of the Worcester Museum of Art, Worceter, MA. The Worcester museum had a long relationship with school education, which Taylor continued to build. He also sought to fill in gaps in the permanent collection, purchasing among other masterpieces, Piero di Cosimo's Discovery of Honey and Quentin Massy's Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Other innovations at Worcester included placing book in galleries and establishing public reading rooms for every museum department. Most visionary, Taylor was one of the first to mount temporary exhibitions in the art world in order to entice new visitors to the museum. In 1939 he succeeded the famed Egyptologist Herbert Eustis Winlock as director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Taylor was a capable administrator, if eccentric. He watched as the opportunity to fold the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art into the Metropolitan slipped through his fingers. This was partially due to his low opinion of modern art. He frequently referred to the fledgling Museum of Modern Art as "that whorehouse on Fifty-third Street." A poor fundraiser, he was jealous of curator James Rorimer and Rorimer's relationship with the Met's major benefactor, John D. Rockefeller. Taylor distained academic scholarship and any art that seemed to need it for appreciation. His distain for archaeology was well-known, perhaps because the barrel-waisted Taylor had once been denied access to a dig. He termed Metropolitan's Greek vase collection, "vases de nuit" (chamber pots) (Tompkins). When a medieval font was mistakenly delivered to the Cloisters instead of the intended Philadelphia Museum of Art, Taylor refused to exchange the two because of a perceived sleight by its director. (The font remains at the Cloisters to this day). He disparaged popular notions of museum esthetics, summarized in his 1945 book Babel's Tower. His tenure he greatly increased the size of the education department of the Met. He resigned in 1954 to return as director of the Worcester Museum. He died unexpectedly at age 54 after kidney surgery.

Selected Bibliography: 
Taste of Angels: A History of Collecting from Rameses to Napoleon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1948; Babel's Tower; the Dilemma of the Modern Museum. New York: Columbia University Press, 1945.
Sources: 
Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 122 mentioned; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 89 cited; [amusing quips in] Wilson, Edmund. The Fifties: from Notebooks and Diaries of the Period. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986, see January 1954; Gross, Michael. Rogues' Gallery: the Secret History of the Moguls and the Money that Made the Metropolitan Museum. New York: Broadway Books, 2009, pp.250; [Obituaries] Museums Journal 57 (March 1958): 293-4; Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin NS 16 (January 1958): 145-6; Art News 56 (January 1958): 23; [reminiscences by A. H. Mayor] Art News 79 (February 1980): 6; New York Times November 23, 19'57, p. 19.