Minnesota-born, New York-based art dealer and scholar John Driscoll was known for both his intelligence and friendliness. Originally from the small town of Clarkfield, Minn., he kept a container of soil from his hometown in a desk drawer.
The scholar and art dealer, who owned Driscoll Babcock Gallery in New York City, died April 10 in Putnam County, New York, due to complications from COVID-19. He was 70.
Driscoll, the son of Paul H. Driscoll and Vida Driscoll, attended the University of Minnesota, Morris for his undergraduate degree and went on to earn a master’s and Ph.D. in art history at Penn State. He worked at several museums before opening his own gallery in Boston. In 1987, he acquired Babcock Galleries in New York. He renamed it Driscoll Babcock in 2012. The gallery, one of New York’s oldest, focuses on American and European masters. Driscoll lived in New York City and had a residence in Garrison, N.Y.
His connections to Minnesota remained strong throughout his life. He represented Warren MacKenzie, the internationally renowned, Stillwater-based ceramist, and also worked with Minnesota artist Harriet Bart, who recently had a retrospective at the Weisman Art Museum.
Minnesota Marine Art Museum co-founders Mary Burrichter and Bob Kierlin, founder of the Winona-based industrial supply company Fastenal, credit Driscoll for transforming the Winona museum into an art destination. They worked with Driscoll as a key adviser for 10 years.
“We would get comments from guests like, ‘This museum belongs on the East Coast or West Coast; why is it in a small town of 27,000 and not in a major city?’ John just loved that feedback,” she said.
Driscoll persuaded a private dealer who for 35 years had lent his famous 19th-century painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” to the White House to sell it to Burrichter and Kierlin for the museum.
It is one of the two surviving versions of this painting; the other is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
“He was a person you felt you could trust right at the beginning,” said Burrichter.
Bart, who had four exhibitions with Driscoll Babcock Gallery, remembers him as a smart man who “had a passionate interest in art and a great sense of humor. He was a man of his word,” she said.
Driscoll and his ex-wife, Jeanne Baker Driscoll, donated E. Ambrose Webster’s 1914 painting “Brook in Winter” to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
“The artist was important in his time but is a largely undervalued figure despite his innovations,” said Bob Cozzolino, curator of painting. “That championing of someone from the past, reclaiming and seeing them truly is something John and I bonded over.”
Driscoll also facilitated the gift of three works of art, including a large-scale painting by artist Marylyn Dintenfass, who is also Driscoll’s wife. Last year, he donated 140 American works of art on paper to the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State.
Lyndel King, director of the Weisman Art Museum, recalled Driscoll as “really gentle, not your high-pressure art dealer — he was a real scholar; he knew about art.”
Driscoll is survived by his wife; daughters Emily Driscoll and Gillian Driscoll; stepchildren Robert Katz, Marc Katz, Sharon Katz and Elana Amsterdam; brothers Charles Driscoll and Robert Driscoll, and five grandchildren. A memorial will be held in the future.