A stalwart of the Dallas art community has died after a long battle with cancer. Dr. Richard R. “Rick” Brettell was an educator, museum administrator, internationally known Impressionism scholar, and lauded fundraiser for expansions within the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) and University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). Dr. Brettell held the the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies and the Edith O’Donnell Distinguished University Chair at UTD, and also served as Vice Provost there. He passed away Friday, July 24, 2020, at age 71, according to a post by the University of Texas at Dallas Office of Media Relations.
Dr. Brettell’s career began before his tenure as Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, a role he held from April 1988 to December 1992. Born in Rochester, New York in 1949, Dr. Brettell earned his undergraduate and doctorate degrees from Yale University. At the time of his appointment as at the DMA, as the first director hired after the museum’s relocation to the Dallas Arts District in 1984, he was the Searle Curator of European Painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Under Dr. Brettell’s directorship, more than 3,000 objects were acquired into the DMA’s holdings. Via a statement from the DMA:
“More than a dozen major and nearly 100 focus exhibitions were presented at the DMA during Brettell’s tenure, including Georgia O’Keeffe 1887-1986 (1988), the third most-attended exhibition in the DMA’s history.
“Brettell oversaw the construction and installation of the DMA’s Nancy and Jake Hamon Building extension, completed in 1993. The Hamon Building added 140,000 square feet to house educational and temporary exhibition spaces, the newly endowed Mildred R. and Frederick M. Mayer Library, and, most notably, a visionary installation of the DMA’s Arts of the Americas.
“From 2014 to 2019, Brettell served as the Founding Director of UTD’s Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History (EODIAH), a center for innovative research and graduate education in art history, which includes an ongoing partnership with the Dallas Museum of Art, spearheaded by Brettell. It comprises research and teaching by UTD and DMA staff that focus on artworks held in the DMA’s collection.”
A respected scholar of Impressionism and French painting from 1830 to 1930, in 2010 Dr. Brettell received a “Commandeur” certificate from the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for hiswork on FRAME (French/Regional/American Museum Exchange).
Greg Metz, artist and Clinical Associate Professor of the Arts And Humanities and Gallery Director of SP/N University Gallery at UTD, had this to say of Dr. Brettell (from Metz’s Facebook page):
“His influence has been immense and far reaching — whether a small gesture such as creating the ‘Wilcox Space‘ celebrating an unsung Dallas artist that died of AIDS to creating FRAME, a collaborative cultural alliance between the French and American museums… Anyone who has known Rick has experience his brilliance — not just as an innovator, lecturer, art writer, art historian, book author, Curator and educator, entertainer and all else — but also as a Friend to all he meets and a Humanist, who has used his influence to champion the under served, cross class divides, along with new ideas and initiatives that might not have a way forward otherwise.”
To read a recent review by Dr. Brettell on the paintings of Marjorie Schwarz, please go here.
As information on a service or celebration of Dr. Brettell’s life becomes available, we will update this post.