Mrs. Nancy B. Hamon made the donation to create the endowment for the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies in April 2004, and Brettell was appointed to the chair in May 2005. The chair was created to support the scholarly, educational and research activities of an internationally recognized scholar in the area of art and aesthetic studies.
Edith O’Donnell created the chair that bears her name in June 2014, when Brettell filled the position, to support the research and scholarly activities of the director of The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at UT Dallas.
Brettell founded the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Museums at UT Dallas in 1998. His expertise encompasses Impressionism and French painting from 1830 to 1930. His museum experience includes serving as the Eugene McDermott Director at the Dallas Museum of Art and Searle Curator of European Painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Being at UT Dallas has been continuously stimulating for me. From students with a wide range of ages, cultures and educational backgrounds to an atmosphere of reinvention and creative discourse: What’s not to love?
Dr. Richard Brettell is among the world’s foremost authorities on Impressionism and French painting from 1830 to 1930. He has served as an international museum consultant with projects in Europe, Asia and the United States, including the Millennium Gift of the Sara Lee Collection, the largest corporate gift to the arts in American history.
Brettell is the first director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at The University of Texas at Dallas. The position, as well as the Edith O’Donnell University Distinguished Chair professorship to which he also was named, was made possible by a gift from a longtime UT Dallas friend and civic leader Edith O’Donnell.
“The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History will be the first such institute formed in the digital age,” Brettell said. “It will work with the distinguished older institutes … and will add a truly 21st-century dimension to the study of art history.”
Brettell also helped create FRAME (French/Regional/American Museum Exchange), a formal collaboration of museums in the United States and France that serves as a catalyst for cultural exchange. As a result of his work with FRAME, he received a commandeur certificate from the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters). The award is the most prestigious of its type in France. Fellow commandeurs include T.S. Eliot, Clint Eastwood, Marcel Marceau, Bob Dylan and Ray Bradbury.
“I have worked my entire professional life in France, and to receive this honor was a true recognition from a culture I both adore and respect,” said Brettell.
In 2010, Brettell curated the exhibition Pissarro’s People at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. The Impressionist exhibit displayed 92 works, including portraits of artist Camille Pissarro’s family members alongside pictures of artists, neighbors, domestic help and rural workers. The exhibition was reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Brettell published Pissarro’s People, an archival study that included interviews with surviving family members of the artist and research from newly discovered letters.
Brettell also serves as a vice provost of UT Dallas.
He earned his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale University. He has taught at The University of Texas at Austin, Northwestern University, The University of Chicago, Yale University and Harvard University.