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Gear, William | Grier, Capt. Harry D. | Hall, Ardelia R.

Grier, Capt. Harry D.  

Major, Army Counter Intelligence Corps (ACIC), Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA)

Harry D.M. Grier graduated with an architecture degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1935 and continued his graduate studies in the Department of Art and Archeology at Princeton from 1935 to 1938. Grier was a field assistant in the Princeton excavation at Antioch, in present day Turkey and also spent the summer of 1936 at the Institut d’Art et d’Archeologie at the University of Paris. In 1938, Grier joined the Department of Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he was involved in the first television programming presented by the museum. In 1941 he was granted leave from the Metropolitan to join the Army.

Grier worked with the Army Counter Intelligence Corps during World War II, and participated in the Normandy invasion. After the war he served with Lt. Col. Mason Hammond and Maj. L. Bancel LaFarge and became acting chief of the MFAA in Berlin from 1945 to 1946. He is credited with reaching an agreement between all four occupying countries in Germany as part of the Allied Control Commission concerning restitutions of artworks. For his service, Grier received a Bronze Star with Oak-Leaf cluster, and was made an Officer of the Order of Leopold II by the Belgian government.

Upon his return to the U.S. in 1946, Grier joined the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as Assistant Director. While in Minneapolis, he implemented an education program, TV and radio programming, gallery talks and studio courses. In 1951 he returned to New York and commenced a two-decade long career at the Frick Collection. Grier was named director in 1964, and remained in that post until his death in 1972. While at the Frick, he co-authored the first two volumes of the collection catalogue in 1968 and oversaw important acquisitions for the collection, such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Three Soldiers and Hans Memling’s Portrait of a Man. Grier also strove to maintain the residential character of the museum by renovating the building and refusing to charge an admission fee.

Grier served as president of the Association of American Museum Directors (1968–1969), and was a trustee of the International Exhibition Foundation as well as the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth, Texas. He also served as Director of the American Friends of Attingham and Chairman of the Museums Council of New York City. Grier died in a traffic accident in 1972 at the age of 58.

Below are two tributes to Mr. Harry Grier, both extracted from the Harry D. M. Grier Memorial Loan Exhibition Catalogue published by the Frick Collection. These two passages provide a more detailed account of Mr. Grier’s contributions to the Frick as well as a testament to his personal character.

Resolution Adopted by the Board of Trustees
of the Frick Collection
October 19, 1972

The Trustees of The Frick Collection wish to record their sorrow and deep sense of loss in the death of Harry D.M. Grier on May 30, 1972.

Harry Grier was engaged by the Frick Collection on May 15, 1951, as Assistant to the Director, Franklin M. Biebel, who had recently succeeded Frederick Mortimer Clapp as the Collection’s second Director. Mr. Grier was named Assistant Director on January 14, 1954. Ten years later, following Mr. Biebel’s retirement, he was appointed Director on May 14, 1964.

During his early years at the Collection Mr. Grier aided the Director in his administrative and curatorial functions. Increasing museum attendance in this country and the deepening the public interest in art encouraged the Collection to broaden its staff lecture program and to participate in the radio and television media. To these activities Mr. Grier contributed valuable experience. He also helped supervise the production of a variety of publications, ranging from reproductions of paintings to color postcards, greeting cards, an inexpensive illustrated Guide to the Galleries, a new summary catalogue of the paintings (1963) and the first monograph devoted to a painting in The Frick Collection— Millard Meiss’s Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis (1964). In addition, Mr. Grier aided the authors compiling the volumes of the folio Illustrated Catalogue, which was printed in the 1950s.

During Mr. Grier’s Assistant Directorship a number of major paintings considered for purchase by the Trustees, and of those, two were acquired: Jan van Eyck’s Virgin and Child, with Saint’s and Donor (1954) and Claude Lorrain’s The Sermon on the Mount (1960). Mr. Grier assisted Mr. Biebel in studying these paintings and planning their installation in the galleries.

As Director after 1964, Mr. Grier reorganized the staff, securing generous benefits for them, and he created the Collection’s first curatorial department. A comprehensive system of inventory numbering was established, conservation in the field of the decorative arts was extended to a degree commensurate with that of the paintings, and the well-being of works of art in The Frick Collection was strengthened through modernized security systems and refinements of temperature and humidity controls.

During the years of his Directorship, Mr. Grier devoted much of his time to an expanded program of publications. With the completion of the final volumes of the limited-edition folio Illustrated Catalogue, it had been felt desirable to make its scholarly contents available to the broadest possible audience. To this end Mr. Biebel had already engaged young art historians to adapt and supplement the earlier material. By 1965 a quarto Catalogue in nine volumes was projected, and Mr. Grier was successful in engaging as its authors outstanding scholars in the various fields represented in the Collection. Mr. Grier contributed an Introduction to Volume I of the Catalogue, dealing with the history of Mr. Frick’s collecting, the first documented publication on this aspect of his life. At the time of Mr. Grier’s death, four volumes of the new Catalogue had been published and received with high praise in this country and abroad.

In 1970, during the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of the Collection, a general book, Masterpieces of The Frick Collection, was produced for a less specialized readership. The plates and text in translation had first appeared as a special issue of the Swiss review du. Mr. Grier revised his Catalogue Introduction for this book and added illustrations. Apollo devoted its May, 1971, number to The Frick Collection, including articles by members of the Collection’s staff and by some authors of the Catalogue. A Handbook of Paintings intended for gallery visitors was published in 1971, and subsequent handbooks dealing with sculpture and the decorative arts were planned. The existing illustrated Guide to the Galleries was revised and published in four languages.

Mr. Grier was remarkably successful in the area of acquisitions for the Collection, securing Bruegel’s The Three Soldiers in 1965, followed shortly by Drouais’ The Count and Chevalier de Choiseul as Savoyards (1966). Gentile da Fabriano’s Madonna and Child, with Saints Lawrence and Julian (1966), Hans Memling’s Portrait of a Man (1967) and Antico’s bronze Hercules (1970), a gift from a member of the Founder’s family. He also extended the range of acquisitions beyond paintings and sculpture to include miniatures, prints, porcelains and furniture, as well as important studies for paintings already in the Collection and related drawings and prints of historical significance.

Publications and acquisitions were featured during the Fiftieth Anniversary, but Mr. Grier was equally concerned with restoring for this occasion the interior and exterior of the building to a state comparable to that in which it had been left by the Founder. The exterior lighting installed in 1956 revealed the beauty of the building to nocturnal passers-by but was equally important as a safety precaution. As Assistant Director Mr. Grier had advised on the restoration of elements of the Fragonard Room and on the new installation of the East Gallery; later he supervised the replacement of draperies and carpets with historically accurate reproductions in the Diving Room, Living Hall, Library and elsewhere. Practical modifications of the building were effected as well: among them, the cleaning and restoration of the limestone exterior and the adjacent pavements and the addition of a small service wing, essential to daily operations though invisible to the public. Amenities such as fresh flowers in the galleries and a newly designed planting of the Garden Court enhanced the Collection’s special residential character, which Mr. Grier was especially concerned to preserve and which is so appreciated by visitors.

Mr. Grier took particular pleasure in offering hospitality and professional assistance to numerous guests: distinguished national and foreign visitors, scholars from museums and universities throughout the world, students, artists, and collectors. In 1970 a group of these friends interested in supporting the Collection’s program of cultural activities were brought together as the Fellows of The Frick Collection. For this organization Mr. Grier arranged a number of educational and social functions.

Mr. Grier represented the Collection and defended its role and that of other privately funded museums in discussions with the government over the Federal Tax Reform Act of 1969, which threatened to limit through taxation The Frick Collection’s long-established program of free educational activities and cost-priced publications. To obtain evidence of public support, visitors were encouraged for the first time to contribute financially to the Collection; their reaction was enthusiastic and generous.

For those who worked with him, on all sides, Harry Grier’s most special contribution was the communication of his own love for the Collection. This enthusiastic devotion was shared equally with the entire staff and with the Trustees as well.

His talents, loyal service and personal charm will not be forgotten.

Resolution Adopted by the Association of Art Museum Directors
at Their Meeting in Fort Worth, Texas
June 14-16, 1972

The life of our friend and distinguished colleague, Harry Dobson Miller Grier, was always filled with such a radiant optimism and reassuring steadiness of purpose that it gave courage and a large measure of faith to us all. His gentleness, courtesy and charm were so unwavering that sometimes these gracious qualities were taken as only a matter of manners. But we who knew him so well realized that they stemmed from a deep and sincere compassion, generosity and thoughtfulness. Those who sought his companionship, therefore, as well as his intelligent advice and help, were legion and worldwide.

Harry is remembered as among the brightest and most alert students at Princeton and the Institute of Fine Arts in New York; as a hard-working and stimulating member of the “dig” at Antioch; a brave and loyal comrade during World War II; the splendidly and precociously well-organized, diplomatic museum administrator in Minneapolis; and finally, and happily for us and the world, the ideal director for so long of that institution which sets so many high standards for our profession, The Frick Collection. In the areas of acquisitions, publications, improvement of physical facilities, and both scholarly and public education programs Harry enlarged and bettered an already exemplary tradition. Whatever was worth doing was done with quiet effectiveness and a deliberate, informed refinement of taste and elegance difficult to match. He was a perfectionist. The result always had style, no mean achievement in a world where lack of style has become the style, to the decrease of life’s potential richness.

Indeed, his life itself was refined and composed as a work of art, to refresh all who were fortunate enough to participate in it. Personally and professionally, our loss is immeasurable in Harry’s untimely death; and we share this loss, in deep and heartfelt sympathy, with this brother and cousin, his niece and nephews, and with all the trustees and staff of the Frick Collection who loved him so much. Let us take some comfort, however, in the knowledge that deeds in the realm of art last a long, long time, and the world can still partake of the fruits of this warm and dynamic life.

[1] Harry D.M. Grier Loan Exhibition Paintings and Drawings related to Works in the Frick Collection, The Frick Collection, New York, November 14-26, 1972.


Copyrighted by Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art