We here at PAFA mourn the loss of H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, 88, the philanthropist and civic leader, who died Sunday morning. Gerry and his wife, Marguerite, have been longstanding leaders within the PAFA community and since 2002 Marguerite has served as a member of the Board of Trustees.
Among their generous contributions to PAFA, Gerry offered leadership financial support and partnership that allowed PAFA and the Philadelphia Museum of Art to jointly purchase Thomas Eakins’ masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, to prevent it from leaving Philadelphia, Eakins' hometown. Today the painting resides in the galleries at PAFA and moves back and forth between the two museums every three years.
In 2001, the Lenfests gave $2 million to name the Fisher Brooks Gallery in honor of Marguerite’s mother, Leonie Brooks, and her grandfather, James R. Fisher, who attended PAFA in the late 1880s and participated in several annual exhibitions. Their gift was one of the key contributions that enabled the renovated Hamilton Building to open in time for PAFA’s bicentennial and to consolidate the School and Museum on one campus for the first time in decades. The Fisher Brooks Gallery also provided a greatly needed venue for PAFA’s ambitious temporary exhibition program without having to de-install our important permanent collection for each new exhibition.
In 2008, through his knowledge of PAFA as the oldest American art museum and the budding collection of what became the Museum of the American Revolution, Gerry created a partnership opportunity with PAFA to organize an exhibition to mark the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the agreement which formally ended the American Revolution. This project helped advance plans to develop the Museum of the American Revolution while shining a light on the strength of PAFA’s early American art.
But their generosity didn’t end there.
In 2010, the Lenfests gave $2 million to name Lenfest Plaza, the outdoor plaza constructed in 2011 between PAFA’s Historic Landmark Building and the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building. This new feature closed Cherry Street and unified our two buildings into a cohesive Museum-School campus.
Today, Marguerite serves as honorary chair of the PAFA First Campaign to expand and modernize our campus, facilities, and programs. She and Gerry have generously given $2 million to the campaign to support the next generation of artists.
Gerry and Marguerite also generously supported the Lenfest “Love the Arts” campaign, a campaign touting Philadelphia’s art offerings, which gives free billboard and TV advertising to arts groups, including PAFA. These valuable marketing opportunities have helped to promote landmark exhibitions about Henry Ossawa Tanner, David Lynch, The Artist’s Garden, Norman Lewis, World War I, and this fall, Rina Banerjee.
Remarkably, dozens of colleges, universities, museums, and libraries can tell parallel stories. The Lenfests have provided an extraordinary example of philanthropy to Philadelphia and the nation. Long before Warren Buffett challenged America’s wealthiest citizens to give half their fortune to charities, Gerry and Marguerite committed to donating their entire wealth for the common good.
We are grateful for their leadership example and will miss Gerry’s intelligence, warmth, wit, and sincerity. He was always a kind and generous presence at PAFA and throughout the community.
We will miss Gerry’s leadership and presence and aspire to follow his example.
Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley Hendricks,Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.