Courtney Donnell, a curator of twentieth-century painting and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, died of complications from multiple sclerosis on September 27, writes Bob Goldsborough of the Chicago Tribune. She was diagnosed with the disease in 1975.
Donnell earned her bachelor’s degree in art history at Wellesley College and her master’s degree in architectural history at New York University. She was hired by the Art Institute in 1974 as a curatorial research assistant. She rose through the ranks during her time there: In 1990, Donnell was named associate curator of twentieth-century painting and sculpture. She organized the catalogue for painter Ivan Albright’s 1997 retrospective, an exhibition which eventually traveled to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She also oversaw the acquisition of Alice Neel’s painting Ginny with the Yellow Hat, 1971, for the museum’s permanent collection, and became an expert on the art collector, artist, and painter Frederic Clay Bartlett, who donated Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte1884, 1884/86, among other early modern works, to the museum in 1926.
“There was something wonderful watching Courtney, the museum professional, the human with the sense of humor, talking about famous paintings and then an hour later laughing with the donor about being pelted with acorns by a squirrel on an oak tree. It’s a wonderful dichotomy, and that was really her whole approach to life,” said John Craib-Cox, a longtime friend of Donnell’s.