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Edgell, George Harold

Date born: 1887

Place born: St. Louis, MO

Date died: 1954

Place died: Newport, NH

Harvard Professor of Fine Arts and Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1935-1954. Edgell was the son of George Stephen Edgell (d. 1915), a banker, whose New England lineage traced back to 1636. His mother was Isabella Wallace Corbin (Edgell). Edgell entered Harvard University, receiving his B.A. in 1909 magna cum laude in the new area of history and literature (interdisciplinary studies), focusing on the Renaissance. Appointed an assistant at his alma mater's Department of Fine Arts the same year, he continued for his Ph.D., which he earned in 1913, the first Harvard Ph.D. awarded in the fine arts. Edgell remained on the Harvard faculty. His inaugural year course included the first course in the United States on central Italian painters. In this he followed the writings of another Harvard alumnus, Bernard Berenson. His "Fine Arts 1d" course became a staple at the University. Together with Fiske Kimball, Edgell authored A History of Architecture, with Edgell writing the chapters on medieval architecture. He became Dean of the Architecture faculty in 1922 and full professor in 1925. He joined the board of Trustees in 1927 of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Edgell, an architectural historian of the Renaissance with no practicing architecture experience, became increasing uncomfortable as the architecture school felt the need to incorporate Bauhaus-style modernism. He resigned from Harvard to accept the position of curator of painting at the MFA in 1934. The following year he was named Director, retaining the curatorship until 1938. Edgell received an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 1948. The following year he published his History of Sienese Painting. He died unexpectedly at his summer home in New Hampshire after a brief illness and was succeeded by Perry Rathbone. His papers are held at Harvard. Students whose dissertation he supervised may have included Robert C. Smith.

In his memoirs, Otto Wittmann described Edgell as a brilliant lecturer.

Home Country: United States

Sources: Whitehill, Walter. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: a Centennial History. vol. 2. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1970, pp. 443ff.;  [transcript] Smith,  Richard Cándida, interviewer. Otto Wittmann: The Museum in the Creation of Community. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Trust, 1995, p. 12; mentioned, Wohl, Helmut. "Robert Chester Smith and the History of Art in the United States." in, Sala, Dalton, and Tamen, Pedro, et al. Robert C. Smith, 1912-1975: A investigação na História de Arte/ Research in History of Art. Lisbon: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2000, p. 24; [obituary:] "G. H. Edgell Dead: Head of Boston Fine Arts Had Taught at Harvard." New York Times June 30, 1954, p. 27; Dooley, William Germain. "George Harold Edgell, 1887-1954." College Art Journal 14, no. 2 (Winter, 1955): 165-166.

Bibliography: [dissertation:] The Development of the Architectural Background in the Painting of the Umbrian Renaissance. Harvard University, 1913;

Subject's name: George Edgell