- Vastly More Than Brick and Mortar: Reinventing the Fogg Art Museum in the 1920s
Vastly More Than Brick and Mortar describes how Harvard's Fogg Art Museum came into being. When officially opened with great ceremony on 20 June 1927 it was 'the largest purpose-built structure for the specialized [End Page 373] study of art' in the United States and would become the blueprint for many other such establishments throughout North America, not to mention London's fabled Courtauld.
The Fogg is such a successful institution, and has been around for so long, that it's hard to believe that it was ever quite different. But of course someone had to imagine it as it now is, and devise its means of implementation. Kathryn Brush tells the story of two men, Edward W. Forbes and Paul J. Sachs, whose combined vision, drive, and relentless energy transformed a dull and modest university gallery into the Fogg Art Museum we know today. Forbes was the Fogg's director from 1909 to 1944 and Sachs was first assistant, and later associate director from 1915 to 1944.
Forbes and Sachs accurately foresaw that the passion for collecting then gripping the American upper classes (think of Isabella Stewart Gardiner and J. Pierpont Morgan, both significant donors to the Fogg) would give rise across the United States to many new museums, both public and private. They also understood that a properly trained and fully professional cadre of museum directors, curators, and conservators would be needed to staff them. They wanted to see art history accepted as a serious, academic discipline with rigorously applied methods of research using the latest available technology; in short, to emulate the methods and achieve the status of kunstwissenschaft, or art history, as developed by German scholars and established in German universities since the 1880s. The new Fogg was conceived as the ideal site to implement such a training program. It brought together purpose-built galleries, seminar and lecture rooms, book, slide and photography collections, laboratories for conservation and x-radiography, and studios where students learned drawing and painting in order to understand specific techniques of creation. All were housed under one roof, which also sheltered the remarkable art collections, including outstanding Asian and other non-Western art - areas where, again, the Fogg led the pack. As Brush observes, 'in no other academic institution at that time could one attend lectures on such artists as Simone Martini and Fra Angelico, compare original paintings by their hand, consult the relevant scholarship, engage in technical study of the works, and explore new ideas by organizing an exhibition focusing on them.' As planned, the new facility also attracted brilliant faculty members - the great medievalist Arthur Kingsley Porter - and important visiting lecturers, notably Adolph Goldschmidt.
Forbes and Sachs were nothing if not systematic. They articulated a vision and set to work. Harvard was initially unenthusiastic. But Forbes and Sachs couched their descriptions of the future Fogg in terms familiar to the university hierarchy, emphasizing parallels with the sciences through descriptions of laboratories and technological breakthroughs. Having obtained the grudging approval of the university, they set about raising the two million dollars necessary to erect the desired building and [End Page 374] to create an endowment sufficient to insulate the museum against adverse financial conditions (especially farsighted, given the stock market crash of 1929). Their fundraising techniques remain a template for what universities now call 'advancement.' They produced brochures, wrote letters, wangled introductions, cultivated prospective donors, and created the Fogg Visiting Committee (a kind of 'Friends of the Fogg') to drum up support from those with deep pockets.
Brush underscores why the union of Forbes and Sachs was a match made in heaven: Forbes was a Boston Brahmin of old, East Coast stock. Sachs was the scion of an extremely cultured and wealthy New York German-Jewish family, founding partners of the Goldman-Sachs financial institution. Sachs would not have been accepted in the stuffy, provincial, and WASP environment of 1920s Harvard...