In the Company of Art:

A Museum Director's Private Journals

A vivid, firsthand account of daily life as a major museum director, a man the Boston Globe called “perhaps the most remarkable museum director of his generation.”

Over the course of his thirty-two-year career at both the St. Louis Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Perry T. Rathbone kept a journal. These are his unguarded and spontaneous expressions, not meant for publication—at least not in his lifetime.

Alone in his study at the end of a day, Rathbone wrote in a large, unlined sketchbook, unloading whatever was fresh on his mind. Whether a meeting at the museum, a business trip, or a party he had just returned from, he wrote about whom he met, what he thought of them, the ambiance, the conversation, the art, the wine, and the food.

Rathbone’s journals provide a window onto an era of seismic cultural change seen through the eyes of an art czar and a tastemaker. There are meetings with artists such as William de Kooning, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Isamu Noguchi, and Alexander Calder, men of letters such as T.S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley. There are observations of the collectors he courted, entertained, and forbore, such as Peggy Guggenheim and Joseph Pulitzer, and of the eccentric Boston Brahmin families with historic ties to the MFA—the Lowells, Lambs, Warrens, Coolidges, and Codmans. And of course he writes of the thrill of assisting Jaqueline Kennedy in the early 1960s with loans from the MFA to adorn the private quarters in the White House.

In the Company of Art includes journal entries from the end of Rathbone’s time as director of the St. Louis Art Museum in the early 1950s and through his finest years, his seventeen years at the MFA in Boston. “Many of the museum’s great acquisitions,” the Boston Globe wrote, “can be credited to Perry Rathbone, the legendary director of the MFA from the early ‘50s to the mid ‘70s.”

The journal concludes in the 1970s though the greatest concentration of entries focuses on the 1960s, during the banner years of Rathbone’s directorship of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (the meteoric “Rathbone Era”). There he began to enjoy the rewards of his achievements at the museum with new acquisitions, renovated galleries, rising attendance and membership.

Rathbone won renown as the dean of museum directors in the United States, rightly celebrated for his ability to transform museums from quiet repositories of art into vibrant cultural centers. This is a unique record of what he thought along the way.

Perry T. Rathbone (1911–2000) was one of the leading American art museum directors of the twentieth century. After organizing the “Masterpieces of Art” exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, Rathbone was appointed director of the St. Louis Art Museum in 1940. In 1955, he became director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston until his retirement in 1972. During his more than three decades at the MFA, Rathbone expanded the museum by 80,000 square feet, doubled its staff, and directed the renovation of 57 of its 189 galleries. He staged exhibitions of Rembrandt, Matisse, Modigliani, Cezanne, van Gogh and Courbet. Rathbone transformed the museum from a quiet repository of art to a vibrant cultural center.