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Seymour H. Knox, Jr.

Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1959. Image courtesy of the G. Robert Strauss, Jr. Memorial Library, Gallery Archives.

Described by some as “the dean of American art patrons,” Seymour H. Knox, Jr., relied on business affiliations, family fortunes, and common sense to reinvigorate the notion of philanthropy. After graduating from Yale in 1920, and for most of his adult life, Knox, Jr., directed several prominent corporations—Marine Midland Bank, the F. W. Woolworth Company, New York Central Railroad, and the American Steamship Company—at the same time he dedicated himself to art matters. Confidence coupled with poise became his calling card to the cultural world, in and beyond Western New York.

Shortly after being elected as president of The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy Board of Directors in 1938, Knox, Jr., and other members of the Knox Family provided the inaugural donations for the Room of Contemporary Art, a semi-autonomous exhibition space within the museum which allowed its founders to showcase some of the most radical art of the time. Administered by a committee of five (including Knox, Jr.; Robert Tyler Davis; Anna Glenny Dunbar; Director Gordon J. Washburn; and Philip J. Wickser), The Room’s immediate yield included masterworks by Paul Cézanne, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Amedeo Modigliani, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, and Chaïm Soutine.

Following his appointment as director of the Albright Art Gallery in 1955, Gordon M. Smith worked in close collaboration with Knox, Jr., to acquire cutting-edge art and to expand the museum so that the fruits of their collaboration could be properly presented. Exploratory trips, mainly to New York, were a critical part of the process. Smith kept Knox, Jr., informed of his every step, while he took the lead, making initial visits to galleries, setting up viewings with Knox, Jr., and then, if a work passed muster, facilitating its shipment to Buffalo. Among the many works brought into the Collection through this process were Arshile Gorky’s The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb, 1944; Jackson Pollock’s Convergence, 1952; Franz Kline’s New York, N.Y., 1953; Adolph Gottlieb’s Frozen Sounds II, 1952; Sam Francis’s Blue-Black, 1952; and Mark Rothko’s Orange and Yellow, 1956—all of which were accessioned on a single day as gifts through funds provided by Seymour H. Knox, Jr. Other gifts included signature works by Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Hans Hofmann, Robert Irwin, Jasper Johns, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Roy Lichtenstein, Marisol, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Bridget Riley, David Smith, Clyfford Still, and Andy Warhol.

Gordon Bunshaft; Seymour H. Knox, Jr.; and Gordon M. Smith study a blueprint of a floor plan for the new addition, December 14, 1961. © Albright-Knox Art Gallery Media Collection.

In order to properly display this influx of new acquisitions, the Buffalo-born architect Gordon Bunshaft, senior partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, was selected to design an addition for the museum in 1958. The addition was completed by 1962, and dedicated by New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller on January 19. The museum was renamed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in honor the generosity of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., and his family.

Related Exhibitions

The Long Curve:
150 Years of Visionary Collecting at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery

November 4, 2011–March 4, 2012 

The Impermanent Collection: The Room of Contemporary Art, 1939–1971
November 4, 2011–March 4, 2012