Abby Rockefeller, Lillie Bliss, Mary Quinn Sullivan: the major force behind the creation of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
The Museum of Modern Art owes a large share of its success to women. The Museum was the idea and creation of three women, and from those founders of 1929 to the associate director and president of the Museum today, women have been instrumental in the development of the institution's mission, program, and collection. This essay highlights a few of the innumerable contributions they have made to the Museum over its more than eighty-year history—as curators, administrators, scholars, artists, patrons, and activists. While meant to be informative, it is partial and by no means comprehensive. Organized alphabetically, it presents a selection of brief biographical and historical notes, with an emphasis on the Museum's early years. The goal is to highlight significant achievements and innovations by women, often linked with the establishment of programs that MoMA and many other museums now take for granted. —Michelle Elligott, Archivist
ABBY ALDRICH ROCKEFELLER (1874–1948)
With her contacts, her knowledge of art, and her family's vast wealth, Rockefeller was able to offer the critical financial backing necessary to create a new museum, and in 1929 she, Bliss, and Mary Quinn Sullivan founded The Museum of Modern Art.
When a purchase fund she had established was used to acquire Picasso's etching Minotauromachy (1935), she suggested, "Let's label this: purchased with a fund for prints which Mrs. Rockefeller doesn't like."2 After her death, in 1948, Barr wrote to Nelson, "Few realize what positive acts of courage her interest in modern art required. . . . She was the heart of the Museum and its center of gravity."3
Lillie P. Bliss (born Lizzie Plummer Bliss, April 11, 1864 in Boston; died March 12, 1931 in New York City) was an American art collector and patron. At the beginning of the 20th century, she was one of the leading collectors of modern art in New York. One of the lenders to the landmark Armory Show in 1913, she also contributed to other exhibitions concerned with raising public awareness of modern art. In 1929, she played an essential role in the founding of the Museum of Modern Art. (wikipedia)
|the Lillie Bliss collection, MOMA|
Bliss herself died on March 12, 1931, when the Museum was not yet two years old. At that time she owned twenty-six works by Paul Cézanne, including The Bather (c. 1885), in what was considered one of the most discerning privately held groups of Cézannes in the United States, as well as works by Honoré Daumier, Davies, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, André Derain, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Odilon Redon, Pierre-August Renoir, Henri Rousseau, Georges Seurat, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Her collection was valued at nearly $1.14 million and, in a complete surprise to staff and trustees at the Museum, including Rockefeller and director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., it was revealed after her death that she had bequeathed the largest and most important part of it to MoMA.2
In 1917 Mary Quinn, an art teacher, married prominent lawyer Cornelius Sullivan (a noted collector of art and rare books).1 She began to form her own collection a few years later, acquiring important works by Paul Cézanne, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and in 1929, with Lillie P. Bliss and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, she founded The Museum of Modern Art.
In 1917 she married Cornelius Sullivan, an attorney and collector of rare books and paintings. Mary Quinn Sullivan herself began collecting art. Works by Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rouault, and Picasso formed the beginnings of her collection. femilogue.blogspot.com