Edmund P. "Ted" Pillsbury, director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth from 1980 to 1998 and a major figure on the American art museum scene, died on Thursday. He was 66.
Dr. Edmund (Ted) Pillsbury is pictured with a painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo in 2006.
A spokesman for Dallas' Heritage Auction Galleries, where Dr. Pillsbury had served as chairman of fine arts since 2005, said he died of an apparent heart attack after visiting a client in Kaufman County. According to Pat Laney, a representative for the Kaufman County sheriff's office, the death is under investigation.
"Ted was one of the latter 20th century's most important museum directors," said Richard Brettell, chairman of art and aesthetics at the University of Texas at Dallas and former director of the Dallas Museum of Art. "He was, in some ways, single-handedly responsible for turning the Kimbell from an institution with a great building into one whose collection matched its architecture in quality."
Urbane, outgoing and dapper, Dr. Pillsbury was called "one of the most gifted men in the American museum profession" by New York Times critic John Russell.
"Ted was part showman, part scholar," said current Kimbell director Eric Lee. "He had an unusual combination of qualities that made him just right for the Kimbell at that particular moment."
Janet Kutner, former Dallas Morning News art critic, said, "He had a wonderful eye and was a very hard worker. I can't think of a single person who has had that positive an influence on the art world in Dallas and beyond."
Dr. Pillsbury, who held a doctorate in Italian Renaissance art from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, attracted international attention with acquisitions of important works by Caravaggio, de la Tour, Watteau, Manet, Monet, Matisse and others. He was also responsible for mounting major exhibitions, publishing scholarly catalogues and creating innovative educational programs. He hired an outstanding curatorial staff and made the Kimbell an important force in art conservation.
He helped negotiate the first international loan exhibition from the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, which broke attendance records during its 1994 run at the Kimbell.
"Ted Pillsbury will forever be remembered by the Kimbell, and within the art world," Lee said.. "When I walk through the galleries every day, when I look at the acquisitions he made hanging on the walls, I have such appreciation for what Ted did here.
In 1989, Pillsbury unveiled and promoted a plan by architect Romaldo Giurgola to expand the Kimbell's acclaimed Louis Kahn building, but after an international outcry the project was shelved. Architect Renzo Piano is now refining a new plan for an addition to the museum.
After escalating disagreements with the Kimbell board, Dr. Pillsbury resigned in 1998 and switched over to the commercial side of the art world. He took over the Dallas branch of the Gerald Peters Gallery, which then became Pillsbury & Peters Fine Art.
He then spent two years, from 2003 to 2005, as director of the Meadows Art Museum at Southern Methodist University, helping the museum find its direction in its new home. He left to work with Heritage Galleries and served as "consultative director" of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas.
"He turned down the Getty [Museum] to work for us," said Heritage co-director Jim Halperin. "He started our fine arts department and museum services department almost from scratch.
"He was a dynamo, our rock star. He was a brilliant, brilliant guy and very likable – really had a way with people. Every time he would give a speech, crowds would show up."
A Minneapolis native, Dr. Pillsbury was a great-grandson of the founder of Pillsbury Milling Co., now a division of General Mills. He received a bachelor's degree from Yale University before going on to graduate studies.
Before becoming the second director of the Kimbell, Dr. Pillsbury was director of the Yale Center for British Art. His first position was as a curator of European painting and sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery.
Survivors include his wife, Mireille; son Edmund P. Pillsbury III of Dallas; and daughter Christine Pillsbury Raniolo of Singapore.
Ted Pillsbury: a career in art
1966: The Kimbell Art Museum, designed by Louis Kahn, opens in Fort Worth.
1980: Edmund P. "Ted" Pillsbury, the 37-year-old founding director of the Yale Center for British Art, becomes director of the Kimbell after the death of its first director, Richard Brown.
1981: Thomas Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, in Connoisseur magazine, identifies the Kimbell as "America's best small museum," It acquires Cheat With the Ace of Clubs (late 1620s) by Georges de La Tour. The purchase was begun by Brown but completed during Pillsbury's first year.
1982: Pillsbury buys On the Pont de l'Europe (1876-77) by Gustave Caillebotte, an underappreciated French impressionist whose work has grown in favor.
1984: Four Figures on a Step, (1655-60) by Bartolomé Esteben Murillo, an enigmatic genre work by a Spanish painter known for his religious subjects, is purchased .
1986: Pillsbury finds The Apostle Saint James Freeing the Magician Hermogenes (1426-29) by Fra Angelico (Fra Giovanni da Fiesole), an exquisite panel from an unidentified altarpiece.
1987: The Cardsharps (c.1594) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is one of Pillsbury's greatest scores. 1989: Pillsbury unveils expansion plans that add wings to the Kimbell building, which are quickly abandoned because of protests by architects and Kahn's family.
1997: "Monet and the Mediterranean," consisting of 71 of the French impressionist's paintings, opens. By the time it travels to New York , it is the third-best-attended exhibition in the museum's history.
1998: Pillsbury abruptly resigns as Kimbell director. That same year the Kimbell Art Museum receives the American Institute of Architects' 25 Year Award.
1999: He teams up with gallerist Gerald Peters to form Pillsbury & Peters Fine Art. The union dissolves in 2003.
2003: He becomes director of the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University. This position lasts for two years.
2005: He begins working for Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, expanding their fine art auctions to a $50 million business. He consults on the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas.
2009: Pillsbury alerts new Kimbell director Eric Lee to a Michelangelo painting in play. The Kimbell eventually buys The Torment of Saint Anthony (1487-88), and it becomes the only Michelangelo on exhibit in the Western Hemisphere.