Fiske Kimball

In finding out about Henry McIhenny and his time as a curator of the Phildelphia Museum, I have also been finding out more about Fiske Kimball, its long-serving Director, who was appointed by McIhenny’s father, who apparently described him as a ‘Germanic boor’. McIlhenny half-jokingly claimed Kimball to have caused his father’s death.   But he wasn’t German, although married to one.   He was trained as an architect, helped establish the Institute of Fine Arts, and was appointed Director of the Philadelohia Museum in 1925, so was responsible for the installation of all those period rooms.  He wrote a good description of public attitudes to curators in 1935: 

To the unreflective outsider, one fears, museum work consists in guarding and perhaps dusting the objects.   On a little higher plane, the curator is thought of as a man with a long beard who sits in a littered office, occasionally peering through a lens at some old curio, ultimately rendering a verdict on its great age and fabulous value.   The galleries, once arranged, sink gradually into drab stagnation, in which the echoing footsteps of a rare, intruding visitor arouse the resentment of the somnolent guardian.   The museum official might be forgiven if, in a moment of weariness, he wished it were actually so….


2 thoughts on “Fiske Kimball

  1. In Fiske Kimball’s 1943 “The Creation of the Rococo”, published by the Philadelphia Museum, he defines the style as an entirely French phenomenon. German and Central European Rococo is described as a provincial aberration. The reputational damage caused was substantial – based on a resentment against the Germans, who invaded Paris and prevented Kimball from continuing his study of source material in the archives of the city. It was not until Karsten Harries’ 1983 “Bavarian Rococo Church” – another emigre – that the style regained appreciation as the apotheosis of the style. Kimball was not just a ‘German bore’, his anti-German sentiment also made him an art historian of questionable repute…

    • Yes, I knew that The Creation of the Rococo had been invalidated by later research and by his anti-German prejudices, but it’s still a pretty impressive work to have produced as a museum director during the second world war. Charles

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