Museum director Ted Pillsbury dies at 66

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2010 - 10:29 PM

The longtime head of the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas was lauded for consistently making "brilliant acquisitions."

Edmund (Ted) Pennington Pillsbury was born into the wealth of a famous Minneapolis milling dynasty but made his mark bringing masterworks by such European painters as Caravaggio, Picasso, Poussin and Velasquez to the fledgling Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. In his 18 years as director, he transformed the museum into a world-renowned institution.

He secured valuable pieces from Asia, Egypt and Africa to augment the museum's impressive collection of paintings, established and expanded the Kimbell's innovative programming, and oversaw an ambitious exhibition program. He was named as one of the most gifted men in the American museum profession by the New York Times.

"Ted was one of the greatest museum directors of his generation, and his impact on the Kimbell Art Museum is immeasurable," said Eric Lee, the current director. "As a connoisseur, Ted had an unerring eye and consistently made brilliant acquisitions."

Pillsbury, who headed the Kimbell from 1980 to 1998, died of a heart attack last Thursday in Dallas after having lunch with a consignor. He was 66.

Pillsbury was born in Minneapolis in 1943 and was a great-grandson of Charles Alfred Pillsbury, who founded the Pillsbury Milling Co. that is now a division of General Mills. He earned a bachelor of arts from Yale University in Connecticut in 1965 and later his doctorate degree in Italian Renaissance art from London's Courtauld Institute of Art.

He was named curator of the Yale University Art Gallery in 1972 and four years later took over the Yale Center for British Art. The Kimbell came calling in 1980, and Pillsbury turned it into one of the great museums in the nation by expanding its small collection.

The Kimbell became noted enough that in 1989 the Frick Collection in New York presented "In Pursuit of Quality: 25 Years of Collecting Old Masters," an exhibition of 17 paintings from the museum, most acquired by Pillsbury.

Pillsbury was director of the Meadows Art Museum and professor of art history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas from 2003 to 2005. He also was an adviser to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was the consultative director of the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art at the hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

For the past five years, Pillsbury worked for Dallas' Heritage Auction Galleries. While there he served and was director of museum services and chairman of fine arts.

"He built both departments from scratch, recruiting a world-class team of experts," said Heritage Auction Galleries co-founder Jim Halperin.

Pillsbury is survived by his wife, Mireille, of Dallas; a daughter, Christine Pillsbury Raniolo, of Singapore; a son, Edmund Pillsbury III, of Dallas; his mother, Priscilla Giesen, of Santa Barbara, Calif.; two sisters, Priscilla Gaines, of Santa Barbara, and Joan DePree, of Chicago, and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas.

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