Archives of American Art

Oral history interview with Perry Townsend Rathbone

Collection ID:
Rathbone, Perry Townsend, 1911-2000
Cummings, Paul
1975 Aug. 8-1976 Sept. 24
Physical Description:
11 Items
sound tape reels
3 3/4 ips.
277 Pages

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
An interview of Perry Townsend Rathbone conducted 1975 Aug. 8-1976 Sept. 24, by Paul Cummings, for the Archives of American Art.
Scope and Contents
Perry speaks of his childhood in New York City and upstate New York; his parents; his education at Harvard University; his experience taking a museum course with Paul Sachs at Harvard; working in the education department and under William Valentiner at the Detroit Institute of the Arts during the Depression; assisting Valentiner in organizing the 1939 World's Fair art exhibitions; directing the St. Louis Museum of Art; funding strategies and practices for art museums; working for the Combat Artists' Program in the military during World War II; leaving St. Louis to direct the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; initiating museum membership programs and women's committees in St. Louis and Boston; leading the American Association of Museum Directors; traveling to Washington, DC to advocate for art museums during the 1969 income tax reform committee sessions; retiring early from the Boston Museum; assuming the directorship of Christie's in New York; notable acquisitions throughout his career; relationships with museum donors and boards of trustees; and exhibitions including Westward the Way, Mississippi Panorama, Sport in Art, European Masters of the 20th century, Art of Ancient Peru, Gold of Ancient Americas, and Masterpieces of Primitive Art. Perry also recalls Donald Oenslager, Bud Reed, John Mason Brown, Arthur Pope, Paul Sachs, Edward Forbes, William Valentiner, John Newberry, Louis LaBeaume, Lionberger Davis, Meyric Rogers, Curt Valentin, Max Beckmann, Henry McIlhenny, Joseph Pulitzer, Charles Norgle, Lansing Thoms, Etta Steinberg, Richard Weil, Gertrude Townsend, John W. Coolidge, Harold Edgell, W.G. Constable, Henry Rossiter, Gertrude Townsend, Carl Zahn, Hanns Swarzenski, Dows Dunham, Richard McLanathan, Walter Whitehill, Tenley Albright, Maxim Karolik, Nathaniel Saltonstall, Walter Chrysler, George Seybolt, and others.

Biographical / Historical
Biographical / Historical
Perry Townsend Rathbone (1911-2000) was a museum director from New York, N.Y. He was a curator at the Detroit Institute of Art, 1936-1940, director of the City Art Museum of St. Louis, 1940-1955, and director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1955-1972. At the time of the interview, Rathbone was director of the auction house, Christie's USA (1973-1977). He went on to become senior vice-president from 1977-1987, and a consultant beginning in 1987.

Funding for the digital reformatting of this interview in 2007 was provided by the Rathbone Family. Funding for the digital preservation of this interview was provided by a grant from the Save America's Treasures Program of the National Park Service.
Existence and Location of Copies
Transcript is available on the Archives of American Art's website.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
These interviews are part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and others.

Digital Content

More Information
Originally recorded on 11 sound tape reels. Reformatted in 2010 as 20 digital wav files. Duration is 16 hr., 43 min.

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Art, American Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museum directors -- New York (State) -- New York -- Interviews Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sound recordings Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Interviews Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
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Victor Building, Suite 2200
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