Richard R. Brettell, Ph.D., Founding Director of The Edith O'Donnell Institute of Art History

EODIAH Director 2014 - 2019

Richard Brettell, Founding Director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History (Photo: Randy Anderson for UT Dallas, 2012)

Richard R. Brettell, Ph.D. (1949 - 2020) was among the foremost authorities in the world on Impressionism and French Painting of the period 1830-1930. With three degrees from Yale University, he taught at The University of Texas, Northwestern University, The University of Chicago, Yale University, and Harvard University. He 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.

EODIAH’s formation in 2014 was the result of Brettell’s vision and the unbelievable generosity of UT Dallas friend and civic leader Mrs. Edith O’Donnell, which was then followed by further endowment gifts from the UT system and other benefactors. Brettell was the first director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History (EODIAH) at The University of Texas at Dallas and also held the Edith O’Donnell University Distinguished Chair.

“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.”

Prior to his time at UTD, Dr. Brettell was a nationally and internationally renowned scholar and curator, known for his quick mind and big ideas. In 1980, at the young age of 31, Dr. Brettell was appointed Searle Curator of European Painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. He went on to become the McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) in 1988 where he oversaw major expansions of both the collections and the building.

On leaving the DMA in 1992, Dr. Brettell was involved with the purchase of the M.H.W. Ritchie Collection for the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, directly involved with the building and renovation program of the Portland Museum of Art (Oregon), and spearheaded the Millennium Gift of the Sara Lee Collection, for which the company won the National Medal for the Arts in 1999. During this time, he was Senior Advisor for International Art for the National Gallery of Australia and worked with Professor Stephen Eisenman of Northwestern University to catalogue the collection of 19th and 20th century French Paintings at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

In 1998, Rick was appointed Professor of Aesthetic Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. In 1999, he created CISM, the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Museums, and FRAME, the French Regional American Museum Exchange where he served as American Director until 2011.

Photo by Billy Surface

Rick Brettell Memorial Fund A memorial fund has been established in honor of Dr. Richard Brettell. To make a gift, visit the fund's webpage

In 2005, Brettell was named Margaret McDermott Distinguished Chair of Arts & Aesthetics at UT Dallas thanks to a gift from Mrs. Nancy Hamon in honor of Mrs. Margaret McDermott. That same year, he became a Member of the Cornudas Mountain Foundation to support a site-based project of artist James Magee called "The Hill" situated on 2,000 desert acres 70 miles east of El Paso, a place that he would often refer to as a life changing experience for anyone who visits. His involvement in the Dallas artist scene resulted in the creation of an artist residency at Southside on Lamar, which became CentralTrak in 2007.

Dr. Brettell was also actively engaged with architecture in Dallas, as a board member and founding president of the Dallas Architecture Forum, as a Consultant to Philip Johnson for The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, and as curator of an exhibition devoted to "Five Dallas Modern Architects" for UT Dallas in January/February 2002.

Along with international lecture activities, he was an art critic for the Dallas Morning News from 2013 - 2018.

His work at EODIAH included the Census of French Sculpture in American Collections, in collaboration with the Nasher Sculpture Center, l’Institut d’Histoire de l’Art, le Musée d’Orsay, le Musée Rodin et l’Ecole du Louvre, and the multi-volume Catalogue Raisonné of the artist Paul Gauguin in collaboration with the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc. (WPI) in Paris.

In 2016, with a gift from Mrs. Margaret McDermott, UT Dallas established The Richard Brettell Award in the Arts, which honors a distinguished artist working in or between the visual arts, music, literature, performance, and architecture/design.

Curriculum Vitae: Richard R. Brettell's CV

BRETTELL: An Experience the exhibition catalogue to the show BRETTELL: An Artists' Homage to the Dynamic Influence of Rick Brettell, curated by Greg Metz, September 10, 2021–October 9, 2021, SP/N Gallery at UT Dallas, Richardson, Texas.

Celebration of Life for Richard R. Brettell


Rick Brettell's Last Lecture


The 2016 Getty Museum Distinguished Lectures

Toward a Modern Beauty: Manet, Gauguin, Cézanne

The Getty Gauguin: Is Beauty Terrifying?


The Getty Cézanne: Is Beauty Mystery?


The Getty Manet: Is Beauty Transitory?


The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

In Conversation with Joachim Pissarro and Richard Brettell