Henry Plumer McIlhenny was a collector, art administrator, and chairman of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Additionally he was an avid world traveller, socialite, and philanthropist.
McIlhenny started his collection with an original Chardin painting given as a present from his mother. While collecting a variety of fields, French paintings remained his main interest.
Early Life and Education
Henry Plumer McIlhenny (1910-1986) was the son of an esteemed businessman and was an acclaimed world traveler, socialite, philanthropist and art enthusiast. As trustee, curator and chairman of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s board he made many significant contributions.
McIlhenny was brought up in a family that fostered civic participation and appreciated art – particularly oriental rugs and decorative art. After graduating from Milton Academy he studied at Harvard, earning himself an award of magna cum laude in 1933.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives contains personal and professional documents that reflect McIlhenny’s diverse interests and accomplishments, such as correspondence, financial records, photographs, clippings and ephemera; fabric samples; drawings; sketches; fabric swatches etc. They have been organized into four series which illustrate his lifestyle as well as any special areas or periods he was interested in.
McIlhenny was an internationally recognized scholar of American art with a distinguished private collection of late-19th-century French painting. Additionally, he amassed one of the nation’s premier early Philadelphia furniture and silver collections which earned national renown through an exhibition.
As an art collector and connoisseur, he was known as an accommodating host whose Philadelphia home served as a gathering spot for many of its social leaders. Additionally, he tirelessly promoted both his collection and Pennsylvania.
The collection is organized into four material-type series and three topical series that reflect areas of Henry McIlhenny’s life for which he was most remembered and best remembered today. These physical properties belong to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives while literary rights are held by them, except material created by Museum staff that has been donated with such rights specifically assigned.
Achievement and Honors
Henry McIlhenny was an esteemed art collector and an integral member of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for over half a century, known for his hospitality and charisma as well as being an experienced horticulturist.
John McIlhenny, president of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, set an enduring tradition of service and generosity that his son carried forward into later generations. Following graduation from Harvard, McIlhenny joined the staff at the Museum as curator of decorative arts – becoming a great friend to Fiske Kimball along the way.
McIlhenny took great interest in Glenveagh’s local culture and published its language. Additionally, he created gardens that have since been recognized among Europe’s premier gardens. Finally, in 1979 he donated Glenveagh to Ireland as part of his generosity.
McIlhenny was born in 1910 and died at age 75 in 1986, leaving his art collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as bequeathing most of his estate in Glenveagh, Ireland to the Museum. This property boasted 18th century Irish furniture and silver alongside Victorian paintings – its gardens were even given high praise in horticultural journals!
He was an integral and dynamic force at the Philadelphia Museum of Art throughout his life and an active and generous patron to local arts organizations as well as an overall philanthropist.
At Harvard, he studied under Paul Sachs who advised him to focus his collecting efforts in one area rather than collecting various items randomly. Following Sachs’ advice, he became an avid collector of 19th century French painting by Toulouse-Lautrec and Matisse.
McIlhenny was recognized during his lifetime as one of America’s premier art collectors. His collection consisted of both gifts from his mother and aunt – who had both served on Philadelphia Museum trustee boards – as well as purchases made directly by himself; these included Degas’ pastel “The Mante FAMILY,” Renoir’s “Lady With Roses,” and Toulouse-Lautrec’s “In The Street.”
McIlhenny left his estate to the Museum in 1986. A passionate supporter of its mission, McIlhenny served as its curator of decorative arts from 1935-1964 and chairman of its board for seven years prior to his death.
Real estate mogul Bart Blatstein recently purchased the long-vacant McIlhenny mansion on Rittenhouse Square through celebrated realtor Barbara Greenfield, and plans on living there himself. According to Barbara, Blatstein will keep it intact while living there as his new home.