Edward W. Redfield (1869-1965) The Upper Delaware, c. 1918, Oil on canvas, 38 x 50 inches, Gift of Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest.

In 1999, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest generously gave 59 Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings to the Michener Art Museum. For a young museum this was an important gift that established the Michener as the finest collection of the art of Bucks County. In 2010, the Lenfests gave another major donation but this time it was a collection of Modernist works. Together the works included in these donations created the foundation of the Museum’s collection.

Who are these generous individuals? Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest started their life together in 1955. They spent time in New York while Marquerite worked as an elementary school teacher and Gerry attended law school and then practiced law. The couple moved to Philadelphia in 1965 when Gerry accepted a position as associate counsel at Walter Annenberg’s Triangle Publications.  In 1974, Gerry purchased two cable companies from Walter Annenberg—Suburban and Lebanon Valley— with two partners, and founded Lenfest Communications. Over the years the couple built up the cable company so that by the end of the 1990s, the company had more than 1.2 million subscribers and had become the region’s largest cable operator. In January 2000, the Lenfest family sold Lenfest Communications to the Comcast Corporation. After the sale of their company, the Lenfests decided to devote their time and energy to philanthropy. Rather than placing their money into a foundation to exist in perpetuity by giving out grants each year, the Lenfests chose to spend the entire endowment. The result was the growth of hundreds of recipient institutions over the years.

After Gerry Lenfest’s death in August 2018, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement: “Gerry and his wife, Marguerite, took their incredible success and offered the full energy of their lives in service of their fellow citizens and the city and state that they loved. There is likely not an organization or charity in Philadelphia that didn’t benefit from the Lenfest family’s generosity in some way.”

The exhibit Impressionism to Modernism: The Lenfest Collection of American Art displays the complete donation of works by Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest. It honors the generosity of the Lenfests and their wish for this incredible collection to be seen by the general public. Included in this exhibit are almost 100 works of art dating from the late 1890s to the late 1950s. The exhibit is laid out so that the viewer can follow along through the years and discover how many artists remained consistent in their style, such as William L. Lathrop and Edward Redfield, while others drastically changed, such as Charles Rosen or Charles Ramsey.  This allows the viewer to see that  20th century American art did not move in a direct path towards modernism.  The diverse styles represented reveal impressionistic and realist modes of representation occurring simultaneously as innovative experiments with abstraction were taking place. Impressionist and modernist artists lived, worked, and exhibited in the same communities, even as they approached their work in very different ways. Impressionism to Modernism: The Lenfest Collection of American Art is on display until March 1, 2020.

 

Would you like to learn more? Click on the links below for suggested family activities to do during your visit.