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FRAME Mourns the Passing of Its Founding Executive Director

FRAME Mourns the Passing of Its Founding Executive Director

Dr. Richard R. Brettell, 71, the Founding Executive Director of FRAME (1999-2009), passed away on Friday, July 24, 2020. Elizabeth Rohatyn, American Co-Founder and Co-President of FRAME (1999-2013) appointed Dr. Brettell in 1999 to lead the American side of the network and to help her develop her vision for the transatlantic organization, which he did for its first 10 years. During that time, Richard Brettell also forged a deep and lasting friendship with both Elizabeth and Felix Rohatyn.

As one of the leading voices in art history and an internationally acclaimed scholar, Dr. Brettell helped Elizabeth Rohatyn select the nine founding member museums of FRAME in the United States to partner with nine other French museums. Among these prestigious institutions, all of which remain a vital part of the FRAME network were: The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Portland Art Museum, The Saint Louis Art Museum, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in Richmond.

In 2008, at Dr. Brettell’s urging, FRAME extended its reach to Canada, after he proposed to the Board and the General Assembly that the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts should be welcomed into the network. Dr. Brettell’s enthusiastic and visionary leadership contributed to the increase of the FRAME network, growing it from 18 to 24 member museums by the end of his tenure in 2009.

“As the Founding Director of FRAME, Rick Brettell was a true scholar, shaping and promoting FRAME’s esteemed exhibition program. He was also an adept fundraiser, with a wide net of admirers in the field. I was privileged to work with Rick during my tenure as Director and CEO of the Wadsworth Atheneum, and it was Rick who graciously welcomed me into the FRAME network when the Museum became a member. Rick will be remembered by all who worked with him and by those touched by his legacy,” said Susan Talbott, Retired Director, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and Expert Director and Board Member FRAME.

During his leadership of FRAME, Dr. Brettell helped develop 13 world-class exhibitions, starting with American Art 1908-1947: From Winslow Homer to Jackson Pollock, the very first FRAME exhibition which opened in France in the wake of September 11, 2001. As one of the most recognized American authorities on French painting from 1830 to 1930, Rick encouraged the development of the acclaimed exhibition, Impressionism in France and America: Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas… (2007-2008). He also facilitated the organization of a three-year triumphal tour of The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy (2010-2013) in America, the very last exhibition Dr. Brettell fostered as FRAME’s Executive and Scholarly Director.

Dr. Richard Brettell was known as a charismatic person who quickly won the respect of his colleagues. Thanks to his infectious personality and his dynamism, Dr. Brettell developed strong personal relationships among the FRAME network on both sides of the Atlantic. Numerous Museum Directors remember Richard Brettell with great fondness and deep emotion. “Rick Brettell played a decisive role in the creation of FRAME alongside Elizabeth Rohatyn. FRAME has just celebrated its 20th anniversary and for the first half of its existence, the network has benefited from his unmatched energy and his unfailing commitment to French-American cultural cooperation. I knew Rick very well when I was Director of the Musées de France and also the Co-President of FRAME for France. Rick is part of our common history and memory”, said Marie-Christine Labourdette, President of the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris, and also President of FRAME Développement and Honorary Member of FRAME.

In 2010, in recognition of his many contributions to research in art history, and to the cultural and museum cooperation between France and the United States through FRAME, Dr. Richard R. Brettell was elevated to the rank of Commandeur in the Order des Arts et des Lettres by Marie-Christine Labourdette, Director of the Museums of France, French Ministry of Culture.

Aside from his remarkable tenure at FRAME, Dr. Brettell was widely known as an accomplished and influential museum director, curator, administrator, scholar, and professor. He studied art history and held three degrees from Yale University. Dr. Brettell taught at Northwestern University, University of Chicago, Yale University, Harvard University, and at The University of Texas. In 1980, he was hired by James Wood to serve as the Searle Curator of European painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and was later appointed the Eugene McDermott Director at the Dallas Museum of Art from 1988 to 1992. Dr. Brettell joined the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) in 1998, where he was appointed the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies in 2005 and the Edith O’Donnell Distinguished University Chair in 2014. From 2014 to 2019, Dr. Brettell served as the Founding Director of UTD’s Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History (EODIAH).

FRAME extends its sincerest condolences to Dr. Brettell’s wife Caroline, and to the many loved ones whose lives were touched by him, including Pierrette Lacour, the faithful assistant to Dr. Richard Brettell who coordinated the FRAME network during his tenure.

Elizabeth Rohatyn and Rick Brettell, Saint Louis, 2010.