Patrick Joseph Kelleher (1918-1985)
Art historian and museum director Patrick Joseph Kelleher was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He received an A.B. degree in Classics from Colorado College in 1939 and an M.F.A. in art and archaeology from Princeton University in 1942. His promising career in the arts was placed on hold with his entry into World War II.
Kelleher enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1942. He served with the Initial Troop Equipment Division at the New York Port of Embarkation before seeing active duty in Germany as a field officer with U.S. Fifteenth Army. Kelleher was selected by the Roberts Commission for assignment to the MFAA as early as 1943, but could not secure the proper clearance. He was finally assigned to the MFAA in Germany with the Office of Military Government (OMG) for Greater Hesse in 1945. During his service with the MFAA, he participated in the restitution of thousands of looted works of art and other cultural objects to the countries from which they were stolen. Kelleher worked at the Central Collecting Points in Marburg and Wiesbaden alongside Monuments Men Capt. Walker K. Hancock, Capt. Walter Farmer, and Sgt. Kenneth Lindsay, among others. As the head of the MFAA Branch, OMG Greater Hesse, he interviewed and selected German art specialists for assignment to the various collecting points.
Among the countless art treasures recovered under Kelleher’s leadership was St. Stephen’s Crown, a jewel-encrusted crown used to coronate the kings of Hungary for over one thousand years. In May 1945, during the retreat of the Hungarian Army, the crown was placed in the care of the U.S. Army for safe-keeping. It was first carefully guarded by Kelleher at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, and later, because of political unrest in Hungary, transferred to Fort Knox. The crown remained a source of fascination for Kelleher: it was the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton in 1947, and of his book, The Royal Crown of Hungary (1951). Before the crown was ceremoniously returned to Hungary in January 1978, Kelleher was called upon to inspect it one last time.
Upon his return home to the United States, Kelleher completed his Ph.D. in art and archaeology at Princeton. A recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize, he spent two years studying art at the American Academy in Rome. In 1949 he began an exemplary career as a museum curator and director which included positions at such prominent American institutions as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.
In 1960 he succeeded fellow Monuments Man Ernest T. DeWald as Director of the Princeton University Art Museum. During his twelve year tenure as both Director of the Museum and a professor of art and archeology, he acquired for the museum some of its most popular works of art, including Artemisia by Gerrit von Honthorst, Venus and Cupid by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and the panels The Israelites Crossing the Red Sea and The Meeting of Jacob and Esau, both by Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem. He was also influential in the selection of works for The John B. Putnam, Jr. Memorial Collection at Princeton, which featured sculpture by such artists as Picasso, Henry Moore, and David Smith, among others. His handbook for the collection, Living with Modern Sculpture, was published in 1982.
Joe Kelleher died in New Jersey on June 16, 1985.