David Rockefeller donates $2.5M to RISD Museum

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The RISD Museum has received a $2.5 million gift from David Rockefeller to fund and expand the museum’s collection of decorative arts and design.

Rockefeller’s pledge includes the endowment of a curatorial position to lead the department and funds to underwrite a named gallery within the museum’s suite of European art galleries. Rockefeller has also made a promised gift of decorative artwork from his estate, including European furniture, porcelain and silver.

Rockefeller notes, “Both sides of my family – Aldriches as well as Rockefellers – have had a long and happy relationship with the RISD Museum. My mother even took a few courses there (at the Rhode Island School of Design) in the late 19th century, before she married my father. When my late wife, Peggy, and I discussed the idea of creating a room to reflect our collecting interests, we thought immediately of RISD. I am very pleased this gift will provide the Museum with a new gallery, but, more importantly, it will complement the innovative educational program the museum has recently established. My family and I are very excited about the gift and its potential impact.”

John W. Smith, director of the RISD Museum, says, “With this generous gift, David Rockefeller continues his family’s nearly century-long relationship with the RISD Museum, once again making important and lasting contributions to the museum and Rhode Island.”

The RISD Museum’s decorative arts and design collection has wide appeal for visitors and is among the most heavily used by faculty and students at RISD, Brown, and other nearby colleges..

The establishment of the David and Peggy Rockefeller Curator of Decorative Arts and Design enables the continued growth of the museum’s exhibition program and interpretative approach, preservation and conservation efforts, and stewardship and collection in this field. Elizabeth A. Williams, who joined the RISD Museum in January 2013 as curator of decorative arts and design, is the first curator to hold this new title, beginning January 2015. This is the museum’s third endowed curatorial position, established just months after a 2014 endowment supporting the Houghton P. Metcalf Jr. Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, a position that chief curator Jan Howard now holds.

The David and Peggy Rockefeller Gallery, to be located on the museum’s floor devoted to European art, will enhance this suite of galleries in important ways – allowing visitors to more fully appreciate the development of European art and craftsmanship from medieval times to the late 19th century. Rockefeller’s support makes possible the renovation of an existing 400-square-foot corner gallery in the RISD Museum’s Radeke building, in preparation of future installation of his promised gifts. Furthermore, it allows the museum to highlight David and Peggy Rockefeller’s connoisseurship and passion for collecting, building upon the rich and compelling narrative of the Rockefeller family’s critical role in developing the museum’s collection.

Rockefeller’s promised gift of about 43 works includes rare furniture and decorative arts from England, silver objects used for dining and entertaining, and figurative and functional European porcelain.

Williams said that the promised gifts from the David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection will significantly enhance the museum’s collection of European porcelain – much of which Rockefeller’s aunt, Lucy Truman Aldrich, donated to the museum in the early 20th century.

“Of particular note is a pair of mid-18th-century soft-paste porcelain River Gods made by the French Vincennes manufactory,” Williams says.” These are extremely rare – possibly one of only two extant pairs – and hold special meaning, as they were obtained by Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller from the collection of David’s aunt, who displayed them in her Providence residence.”

Objects such as the intricately decorated “Rockefeller Service,” collected over many years by Rockefeller’s parents, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, will significantly expand the museum’s existing holdings of Chinese exportware porcelain. The Qing Dynasty Rockefeller Service, which numbers more than 120 pieces, is considered one of the finest examples of famille rose Chinese exportware services.

The promised gift also includes a pair of elaborately carved gilded mirrors in the Rococo style, measuring a monumental height of more than 7 1/2 feet; a pair of George I burr walnut armchairs, each with a tapestry seat and cabriole legs; a pair of brilliantly hued Korean wedding chests with detailed paintings of various animals, representing Daoist, Confucian and folk symbolism; and a Tang dynasty figure of a standing court lady, featuring a rare deep blue glaze. This eighth-century ceramic figure was a prized possession of Rockefeller’s mother.