Review by Proprietor Gerald W. R. Ward
For more than fifty years, the Dietrich American Foundation of Pennsylvania has played an important role in the world of early American art and material culture. Established in 1963 by H. Richard Dietrich Jr., the collection now contains some 2,385 outstanding examples of early American furniture, silver, paintings, Chinese export porcelain, books, manuscripts, and maps, as well as specialized holdings of Pennsylvania German folk art and objects associated with whaling. This catalogue covering the collection was prepared by ten outstanding scholars under the direction of Deborah Rebuck, the foundation’s curator, and H. Richard Dietrich III, the collector’s son. Over the years, the Foundation generously has placed objects from its collection on loan to more than one hundred museums and institutions, and they continue this practice.
Although the catalogue contains many outstanding objects and documents, the majority are related to the Middle Colonies, especially Pennsylvania. One important exception of intensely local interest is a rare dressing table of ca. 1735-45 signed by Joseph Davis of Portsmouth (cat. 2.5, pp. 110-11). It is a companion piece to a high chest now in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the United States Department of State. Although this dressing table has been published before, here we see it in a full-page color photograph taken by noted photographer Gavin Ashworth.
Richard Dietrich Jr. inherited his father’s interest in the Luden’s candy and cough drop business. Over time, he expanded his business enterprises to the point where he could afford to indulge his passion for collecting on a grand scale, a process discussed in detail here. He did so with sensitivity and taste, expanding his initial interest in acquiring historical documents into a more wide-ranging appetite for works of high aesthetic quality. This major catalogue tells both Mr. Dietrich’s personal story as well as chronicling the objects he acquired to share with the nation.
Richard Dietrich III and Deborah M. Rebuck, eds. In Pursuit of History: A Lifetime Collecting Colonial American Art and Artifacts. Philadelphia: Dietrich American Foundation in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2019. 303 pp.; 215 color illus., timeline. Distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
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