Anne Poulet, Director of The Frick, Announces Retirement

Posted in exhibitions, the 18th century in the news by Editor on October 10, 2010

Press release from The Frick Collection:

Anne Poulet to Retire in September 2011

Director Anne L. Poulet (Photo: Christine A. Butler)

Margot Bogert, Chairman of The Frick Collection, announces that Director Anne L. Poulet will retire in the fall of 2011, following a remarkable tenure. “The Board of Trustees is deeply indebted to Anne Poulet for her leadership of The Frick Collection and accepts her retirement with enormous regret. Having served the institution with great distinction, commitment, and wisdom, Anne leaves the Frick—both the museum and the library—with a brilliant and multi-faceted legacy and a glowing and solid future. Principal among the long list of achievements associated with her leadership is a strong program of critically acclaimed exhibitions and publications, which provided visitors with new perspectives on artists and media represented in the collection and, in many cases, those complementary to it. Anne made remarkable acquisitions, by both purchase and gift, while maintaining an unwavering focus on the care and interpretation of the Frick’s existing holdings. Building on the strengths of the collection, she added staffing critical to the curatorial, conservation, education, and publications functions, most notably, creating an endowed position for the Frick’s first curator of decorative arts. Anne has directed a sensitive, systematic refurbishment of the 1914 mansion’s galleries and public spaces, a progression of initiatives that has often been cited as a model for museum custodianship. In the coming year, this work continues with the enclosure of the Fifth Avenue portico to create the first new gallery space added to the building in over thirty years. Under Anne Poulet, the Frick Art Reference Library has proactively pursued digitization and collection-sharing initiatives. The library’s mission to serve scholars has been enhanced by the continued development of its holdings and by the initiation of the ground-breaking creation of the Center for the History of Collecting in America. Finally, the overall health of The Frick Collection has been fortified by Anne’s successful fundraising program, through which she has fostered many avenues for support during challenging economic times. These include the formation of the Director’s Circle and a roster of fundraising events ranked highly on philanthropic and social calendars. With our supporters’ confidence in the future of the Frick at an all-time high, we owe Anne Poulet a huge debt of gratitude, knowing that as we move forward in the next year with the search for her successor, the institution is well-poised to make this transition and continue on a smooth and uncompromisingly productive path.”

Adds Poulet, “Upon my retirement in the fall 2011, I will have spent more than eight years working among the devoted board, staff, and supporters of The Frick Collection. To have served at this unique and beloved institution, enriching its offerings while maintaining high standards set long ago by founder Henry Clay Frick, has been deeply rewarding for me. The coming year, my last at the Frick, promises to be richly satisfying, as we present a wonderful calendar of exhibitions and programs while fulfilling further initiatives to care for our collections and building. In early October, we will present to the public a relit and entirely refurbished Boucher Room. Next fall we will open a new gallery, a portico enclosed for the improved presentation of sculpture and ceramics, two areas of our collection that hold particular significance for me as an art historian. Of course, there are many more projects that I would love to pursue, but I feel that I have accomplished a great deal at the Frick and that this is a good moment in the life of the institution to pass the baton to the next director. I plan to spend more time with my family and to pursue research and writing at a more leisurely pace.” The Board of Trustees has formed a search committee, and a firm is being selected to help identify a successor.

Fostering the Interpretation and Care of the Collection

In addition to the custodianship of the building, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark at Poulet’s initiative, the ongoing care for and interpretation of the Frick’s collections have been of primary importance to Poulet. Her successes in these areas stem from her ability to foster and prudently expand a talented staff, providing them with the resources and support they require. Her oversight of the Collection has been marked by the growth of many departments, most conspicuously that of the curatorial team headed by Colin B. Bailey, Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator, whose position was endowed under Poulet’s leadership in 2007. Poulet has orchestrated a dynamic and balanced exhibition program of large- and small-scale presentations, with attention focused on all media encompassed by Frick’s interests, from paintings, to works on paper, to sculpture, and decorative arts. Acclaimed exhibitions in the past seven years have included Masterpieces of European Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery (2010), Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze (2008–9), The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, 1710–50 (2008), Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, 1724-1780 (2007–8), Cimabue and Early Italian Devotional Painting (2006), Goya’s Last Works (2006), Veronese’s Allegories: Virtue, Love, and Exploration in Renaissance Venice (2006), Memling’s Portraits (2005–6), and the presentation of Raphael’s La Fornarina (2004). Poulet identified areas for expansion within the Frick’s diverse team, which now includes the museum’s first decorative arts curator, Charlotte Vignon, appointed in 2009 following a successful campaign to raise funds to endow the position. The conservation department has also expanded; critical additions were made to that staff, and the endowment of the Chief Conservator’s position is now the focus of another challenge grant. In 2009, Rika Burnham came from the Metropolitan Museum to further invigorate the Frick’s Education Department. Burnham assembled a talented staff that includes professional educators and Kress Fellows, while initiating a fresh docent training program and dramatically revamping the range of public offerings to include the docent tours, gallery conversations and talks, specialty seminars, and sketching sessions, as well as a thriving monthly night for young professionals.

An expanded Publications Department has produced a well-received series of exhibition catalogues as well as updated volumes on the institution and its holdings such as The Handbook of Paintings (2005) and Colin B. Bailey’s Building The Frick Collection (2006). Forthcoming are a new general guide, a publication on the Fragonard Room, and a group of papers delivered at several symposia organized by the Frick Art Reference Library’s Center for the History of Collecting. Cross-institutional collaborations have resulted in other kinds of publications and materials. Brochures, the Web site, and signage were redesigned to enhance the visitor experience, and in order to reach new audiences with a wider range of information, a popular electronic newsletter was launched along with podcasting efforts, a Facebook page, and the use of Twitter. Furthermore, to commemorate the Frick’s seventy-fifth anniversary in 2010, the institution replaced its seventeen-year-old slide-show orientation with a well-received film shot in high definition.

On her arrival at the Frick in 2003, Poulet initiated a fresh and engaging domestic and international travel program for collectors, supporters, and scholars, to destinations such as Sweden, Switzerland, Argentina, Germany, Spain, Pittsburgh, Palm Beach, California, and Washington, D.C. Each trip is intended to encourage a deeper understanding of the permanent collection, a special exhibition, house museums, the gilded age, and contemporaries of Henry Clay Frick. Poulet’s many years of experience and her association with other museums, curators, and private collectors have provided participants with extraordinary opportunities to learn from experts and to see art and architecture in original contexts.

Key Acquisitions and Loans a Focus

Claude Michel Clodion, sculptor, and Le Paute, clockmaker, "The Dance of Time, Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock," terracotta, 1788

Poulet’s period of leadership has been marked by strong acquisitions and extended loan activity that complement the collection founded by Henry Clay Frick and carried forward by his daughter Helen. Approximately one year after arriving, in November 2004, Poulet proposed the institution’s first art purchase in nearly a decade, one that would suggest a critical area for future acquisitions: sculpture. The Frick acquired Joseph Chinard’s Portrait of Étienne Vincent-Marniola, a magnificent terracotta bust of c. 1809. A focal point of the reinstalled East Gallery, the work by one of the greatest portraitists of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century France has found an appropriate home next to Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of the Comtesse Daru, whom Chinard’s striking subject knew in life. In the spring of 2006, Poulet recommended another important purchase, an undisputed masterpiece both of sculpture and French clockmaking: The Dance of Time: Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock by Lepaute, which features a movement by the firm working for Louis XV and XVI as well as a remarkable terracotta sculpture base by Clodion (1738–1814).

Jean-Antoine Houdon, "Madame His," marble, 1775

Supporters have shown great confidence in the institution by making important gifts to the collection during the past seven years. Of particular note is an exquisite marble bust of Madame His by the great French sculptor of the Enlightenment, Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), given to the Frick by Eugene V. Thaw in 2006. This subtle and sensitive portrait preserves Houdon’s original luminous surface treatment. The fact that the provenance of Madame His is known from the time the bust was carved by Houdon is also of significance. The marble is very much at home at the Frick among other works great by this artist. A rare terracotta, Soldani-Benzi’s Pietà with Two Putti Angels was given to the Frick that year as well by The Quentin Foundation.

The Enamels Room, the location of numerous important Renaissance paintings as well as approximately twenty-five decorative arts objects, became home in 2008 to a mid-sixteenth-century maiolica charger from the Fontana workshop. The gift of Dianne Modestini in memory of her late husband, Mario Modestini, it was once part of the important collection formed by Adolphe de Rothschild. Filling a significant gap in the Frick’s holdings, it is now a centerpiece of the Enamels Room and inspired an acclaimed dossier presentation and publication in the fall of 2009. In October 2008, the first painting by Gabriel Saint-Aubin (1724–1780) to enter a New York City museum collection was given to the Frick by Irene Roosevelt Aitken, a longtime supporter of the institution who was inspired by the fall 2007 exhibition on that artist in which the small, gemlike canvas was a highlight.

Extended loans to the institution have also been an important aspect of the curatorial program under Poulet’s leadership. These have included works of sculpture and decorative arts as well as paintings, in each case complementing the institution’s holdings. In the fall of 2005, Houdon’s virtuoso marble relief of The Dead Thrush (La grive morte) from The Horvitz Collection, Boston, was placed on view near other works by this artist. Paintings by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and Francesco Guardi (1712–1793) were lent from private collections in 2008, as were a pair of imposing late-fifteenth century Florentine panel paintings from the Mari-Cha Collection. An important large-scale ceramic avian figure was placed on loan from the collection of Henry Arnhold in 2009, having been the centerpiece of an exhibition of that family’s holdings in early Meissen porcelain earlier that year. A focus on presenting the decorative arts continues this month in the Dining Room where visitors can see a stately pair of early eighteenth-century Hanoverian silver fountains and basins.

A Celebrated Course of Refurbishment and Renovation Continues

Since coming to the Frick in 2003, Poulet has prioritized bringing the physical condition of the entire house up to the highest standards. Over the past five years, the institution has renovated or improved a significant number of its galleries and public spaces. In the summer of 2007, the Fragonard Room was relit and refurbished for the first time in sixty years, an award-winning initiative followed in 2008 by a similar endeavor in the central Living Hall. In 2009, the limestone in the Garden Court received its first cleaning since the museum’s opening in 1935, and that fall, the East Gallery was relit, renovated, and dramatically reinstalled according to a fresh plan, which, in turn, inspired a series of well-received changes in display throughout the museum. The course of such improvements continued, with the comprehensive relighting, repainting, and reinstallation of the Boucher Room and Octagon Room currently underway and an upgrade of the system of illumination in the West Gallery. Most importantly, the Frick soon will be breaking ground on a project to enclose the portico facing the Fifth Avenue Garden. Its creation coincides with an increased focus at the Frick on the improved display of sculpture and the decorative arts, and is expected to open in the autumn of 2011.

Frick Art Reference Library Serves Scholars and Expands Collections and Initiatives

The Frick Art Reference Library is well regarded internationally, not just for its rich resources, but for the very proactive approach the institution has taken in light of the changing universe of libraries. Under Poulet’s leadership the Frick played an expanded role in exploring such important ventures as digitization and collection sharing. In April 2007, the New York Art Reference Consortium was established. The collaboration, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has allowed the libraries of the Frick, the Brooklyn Museum, and The Museum of Modern Art to unify their online catalogs in an integrated system. The resulting joint catalog known as ARCADE was launched in the winter of 2009. The Watson Library of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is also a founding member of this group, which has grown into a multi-faceted collaboration. In 2006, under the guidance of Poulet, the Frick Art Reference Library launched its Center for the History of Collecting in America. This groundbreaking initiative sponsors a range of programs—including symposia and colloquia, fellowships, academic courses, the hosting of scholars in residence, the publication of research tools, and a book prize—with the goal of fostering growth in this emerging and important field of study. Furthermore, throughout Poulet’s tenure, the Library’s rich and vital program of acquisitions continued. Highlights include a cache of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century auction catalogues sold by the Paris-based Heim Gallery Library in 2005, as well as purchases of rare materials documenting art movements in Russia, Scandinavia, and Australia, all of which reaffirm the Library’s reputation as a research facility responsive to new areas of inquiry in art scholarship.

Poulet Leaves the Frick in Strong Financial Health

Today, the Frick’s financial health—a strong and successful focus for Poulet throughout her tenure—is in sound shape, despite the economic fluctuations which have impacted every cultural institution. Having the confidence and backing of a devoted Board of Trustees and staff behind her, Poulet’s fundraising endeavors have been a resounding success, bringing to the institution more than $55,000,000 in operating and endowment support.

The value of the endowment in 2003, prior to Poulet’s appointment was $180 million, and today—two years following the economic crisis—it is valued at $220 million. The earnings resulting from these funds continue to support half of the institution’s annual operating budget ($17 million when Poulet arrived and now, to meet the needs of its expanded and acclaimed programming, $20.6 million). The balance of funds needed to provide for these efforts comes from revenue produced by admissions, the Museum Shop, membership, and—most importantly—by a thriving fundraising program with Poulet at its helm. Obtaining exhibition support has been a particular focus, and during the past three years, all of the shows have been fully funded, which is unusual among museums, particularly in such challenging times. Indeed, Poulet has been able to cultivate support for exhibitions on a wide range of topics, among them lesser known artists such as Renaissance bronze sculptor Andrea Riccio. As a result of her connections and abilities in this regard, the intellectual rigor of the Frick’s exhibition program has been sustained, as has the quality and size of the staff.

In 2004, Poulet established the Director’s Circle, a group of highly engaged supporters, now forty-four in number, who provide an important source of annual unrestricted funds. Proceeds raised by the annual Autumn Dinner have at least doubled under Poulet’s leadership. Additionally, the Young Fellows program is thriving, and its winter ball remains one of the most coveted tickets of the New York social season. In 2008, the institution hosted its first Summer Garden Party, an event that has quickly become another highlight of the fundraising calendar. In addition, the Frick’s membership offerings foster healthy corporate support and individual giving, through which further unrestricted money is raised.

About Anne L. Poulet

Anne Poulet joined The Frick Collection as Director in October 2003. For two decades she ran the department of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, of which she is currently Curator Emerita. While at the MFA, she was responsible for a number of important acquisitions for the collection and was instrumental in bringing to the museum the Firestone Collection of French silver; the Frits and Rita Markus Collection of European ceramics and enamels; the William A. Coolidge Collection of European paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts; and the Edward Pflueger Collection of European ceramics. In addition, eight catalogues of the permanent collection were published under her direction. Poulet was co-author of the important catalogue Clodion (1738–1814), published in conjunction with the exhibition held at the Louvre in 1992. More recently, she has received great recognition and praise as a curator and author of the 2003 exhibition and catalogue Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828): Sculptor of the Enlightenment. For The Frick Collection, she organized with guest curator Maureen Cassidy-Geiger The Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain, 1710–50.

Poulet received her Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, from Sweet Briar College in 1964 (and is today a Trustee of the institution), and a Masters degree from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in 1970. She was the recipient of a Ford Foundation Grant in Museum Training, was a Kress Fellow at the National Gallery of Art, and received a certificate of graduation from the Museum Management Institute, Berkeley, California, in 1993. In 2000, she received the Iris Foundation Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Decorative Arts. Poulet is co-founder and former vice chairman of the board of the American Foundation of The French Heritage Society. She was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006 and was decorated as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture in 2007.

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