Statement from the Dallas Museum of Art on the Death of Richard R. Brettell

Former Director Enriched Dallas’s Arts Landscape 

DALLAS, TX, July 25, 2020 – The Dallas Museum of Art greatly mourns the loss of its former director Dr. Richard R. Brettell. Rick Brettell served as Director of the Dallas Museum of Art from April 1988 to December 1992. A brilliant and passionate scholar, curator, professor, and writer, he inspired countless colleagues, students, and citizens during the more than three decades that he lived and worked in Dallas. 

Brettell was an internationally recognized authority on Impressionism and French painting from 1830 to 1930. He obtained bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from Yale University. Brettell joined the curatorial staff at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1980 and was the Searle Curator of European Painting at the time of his appointment to the DMA in 1988. He was the first director hired after the Museum’s relocation to the downtown Dallas Arts District in 1984. 

Admired for his scholarly expertise, his tenure at the DMA was equally defined by efforts to create what he called “a truly public art museum” that was inviting to the local community and that celebrated its global permanent collection. Brettell oversaw the construction and installation of The Nancy and Jake Hamon Building extension, completed in 1993. The Hamon Building added 140,000 square feet to house educational and temporary exhibition spaces, the newly endowed Mildred R. and Frederick M. Mayer Library, and, most notably, a visionary installation of the Museum’s arts of the Americas.  

More than a dozen major and nearly 100 focus exhibitions were presented at the DMA during Brettell’s tenure, including Georgia O'Keeffe 1887-1986 (1988), the third most-attended exhibition in the DMA’s history; Images of Mexico: The Contribution of Mexico to 20th Century Art (1988); NOW/THEN/AGAIN: Forty Years of Contemporary Art from the Dallas Museum of Art's Permanent Collection (1989); Impressionists and Modern Masters in Dallas: Monet to Mondrian (1989); and Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art (1989). The first exhibition devoted to Camille Pissarro’s cityscapes, The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series was co-curated by Brettell and the artist’s great-grandson Joachim Pissarro and opened at the DMA in 1992.  

Over 3,000 objects were acquired by the DMA during Brettell’s directorship, including Chris Burden’s All the Submarines of the United States of America, the Charles R. Masling and John E. Furen Collection of silver, Thomas Cole’s The Fountain of Vaucluse, Jean Antoine Théodore Giroust’s Oedipus at Colonus, a Bamileke elephant mask (mbap mteng) and feather hat, important early paintings by Jerry Bywaters, and a group of 90 works by Otis and Velma Dozier. 

Brettell was an ardent supporter of contemporary artists and Texas artists during his time at the DMA and after. He was closely involved with the artists coalition DARE (Dallas Artists Research & Exhibitions), formed in 1989, and he helped form an Artists Advisory Committee at the DMA. On December 1, 1989, for the first ever “A Day Without Art,” the DMA hosted interventions by local artists in response to the AIDS crisis and to honor its victims. Brettell oversaw the establishment in 1990 of a Texas Art Purchase Plan to acquire works by local artists. The Otis and Velma Davis Dozier Travel Grant was also established in 1990 to benefit Texas artists. From 1992 to 1995, the DMA’s Concentrations exhibition series—launched in 1981 to present new work by emerging artists—was replaced by Encounters, a series that paired international artists with Texas artists.  

Following Brettell’s tenure at the DMA, the Richard R. Brettell Lecture Series, endowed by Museum benefactors Carolyn and Roger Horchow in Brettell’s honor, was inaugurated at the Museum in 1994. The series brings notable scholars of 19th- and 20th-century European art to present new research and fresh interpretations of the DMA’s modern masterworks. A publication inspired by the series, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism at the Dallas Museum of Art, was published in 2013.  

Brettell also helped create the French/Regional/American Museum Exchange (FRAME) and served as the organization’s Founding Director from 1999 to 2009. The consortium of 32 museums, including the DMA, promotes cross-cultural exchange between France and North America. Three exhibitions co-organized by the DMA and partner institutions have been made possible through FRAME. For his work with FRAME, Brettell received a prestigious commandeur certificate from France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. 

Brettell joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) in 2000, and in 2005 he was appointed to the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies, a position endowed by Nancy Hamon. He was also appointed to the Edith O’Donnell Distinguished University Chair in 2014. From 2014 to 2019, Brettell served as the Founding Director of UTD’s Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History (EODIAH), a center for innovative research and graduate education in art history, which includes a groundbreaking, ongoing partnership with the Dallas Museum of Art, spearheaded by Brettell. It comprises research and teaching by UTD and DMA staff that focus on artworks held in the DMA’s collection. The O’Donnell Institute is housed in offices at the University of Texas at Dallas and in a unique research center at the Dallas Museum of Art, serving the next generation of art historians. The Richard Brettell Award in the Arts at UTD was established in 2017 with a gift from Mrs. Margaret McDermott, the single largest benefactor in the DMA’s history.  

“Rick was an incredible and visionary leader for the Dallas Museum of Art and a beloved and deeply influential figure in the arts community in Texas and beyond. I knew him even before joining the DMA, and he was a wonderful colleague with a huge personality that matched the breadth of his talents and intellect. He demonstrated immense enthusiasm for scholarly collaboration in every aspect of his life and career. His contributions have permeated so many aspects of the arts landscape in Dallas over the past three decades in ways that will continue to have a permanent and profound impact. Generations of citizens will benefit from his leadership in building Dallas into the great center for the arts that it is today,” said Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. 

For additional information, please contact:
Jill Bernstein
Dallas Museum of Art