Edmund P. Pillsbury

Edmund P. Pillsbury

Died March 25, 2010

After graduating from Yale, Ted Pillsbury spent the summer working as an intern at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. It was the beginning of a brilliant career in the art world that continued until he died in 2010.

Ted entered Yale from St. Paul’s School. A member of Branford College, he majored in history of art, was president of Zeta Psi our junior year, and was a three-year letterman on the varsity hockey team.

Ted continued his art studies at the University of London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, where he earned his Ph.D in 1973. He returned to Yale to lecture on art history; and, in 1975, was appointed curator of European art at the University Art Gallery. A year later, he became the founding director of the Yale Center for British Art, while continuing to lecture as an adjunct professor.

In 1980 Ted was hired as director and C.E.O. of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, TX, a position he held for 18 years before resigning. During Ted’s tenure at Kimbell, he is credited with building it from a small, regional institution to one that Thomas Hoving, former director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, called “ America’s best small museum.”

Eric Lee, Ted’s successor at the Kimbell, said of him, “ Ted was one of the greatest museum directors of his generation and his impact on the Kimbell Art Museum is immeasurable. He was part showman, part scholar. As a connoisseur, he had an unwavering eye and consistently made brilliant acquisitions.” Among the paintings Ted acquired for the Kimbell were Portrait of Don Pedro de Barberana by 17th-century Spanish artist Diego Velazquez, The Cardsharps by Caravaggio from the 1590s, a 1906 Picasso, Nude Combing Her Hair, L’Asie, a 1946 oil by Matisse, and art by Fra Angelica, Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens, Cezanne and Mondrian.

When Ted resigned from the Kimbell, there were reports of a deteriorating relationship with the museum’s board of directors. Ted said publicly, “ It’s important for the institution to have someone with fresh ideas and new leadership. I don’t think I’ve gone totally stale, but I’ve reached a plateau, and this seems like the right moment to leave.”

Ted was only 54 when he left the Kimbell. He later co-founded Pillsbury & Peters Fine Art (1999-2003) and subsequently became director of the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University, a position he held for two years.

In 2005 Ted began working for Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas as director of museum services and chairman of fine arts. Heritage codirector Jim Halperin credited Ted with building the Fine Arts and Museum Departments from scratch. “He was a dynamo, our rock star,” said Halperin. “He was a brilliant, brilliant guy, and very likable – he really had a way with people. Every time he would give a speech, crowds would show up.”

Dallas art consultant, Ashley Tatum, once worked with Ted and called him “a phenomenal orator” whose lectures could really galvanize a crowd. “I’ve never met another human being so eloquent,” she said.

Ted Pillsbury died in Texas on March 25, 2010. His family initially reported that he had suffered a fatal heart attack. Days later, the Dallas County Medical Examiner issued a final ruling that Ted had committed suicide. According to friends and colleagues, he had not seemed under stress in the weeks before he died.

Of the heart attack report, Ted’s cousin, Charlie Pillsbury, said, “ It was the family’s way of trying to deal with the loss, and at that point the police had not made any official determination.” Charlie continued, “ I want Ted to be remembered for his generous soul and the contributions he made to the art world. The Kimbell is one of the great museums in the world, and he helped make it that.”

Ted’s wife Mareille, whom he met while studying in London and married in 1969, died of breast cancer in 2012. They are survived by their children Christine Pillsbury Raniolo and her husband Alessandro, and Dr. Edmund Pillsbury, III (Y ’98) and his wife Kinsey, and three grandchildren.

David Schaff remembers:
I did not know Ted well at Yale – a class and a few meetings at the Art and Architectural Library – then watched his ascendant star as he became one of the top art museum directors of our generation. I would see him in Washington, in Fort Worth, kept in touch after he went his own articulate way in the field. I saw Ted last at the Constable Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. Always genuine, he had an extraordinary sensibility for art and artists, including contemporaries, and a very keen wit. Difficult to know that I shall not hear from or see him again.

Gary Roberts remembers:
A distinguished classmate, well-known as head of the art museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Duncan Sutherland remembers:
A lovely person, with whom I enjoyed many a worthwhile conversation.