MFA Boston Acquires Howard Greenberg Collection of Photographs through Major Gift from the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust

BOSTON (September 27, 2018)—The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has announced the acquisition of the Howard Greenberg Collection of Photographs, funded by a major gift from the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust. Carefully assembled over more than three decades, the collection comprises 447 photographs by 191 artists, including rare prints of modernist masterpieces and mid-20th-century classics. Social history and the human experience form an important thread of the collection, presented through documentary photography and photojournalism. Major works from between the wars in Europe, among others, also trace the evolution of photography as an art form. The acquisition substantially enriches the MFA’s collection, introducing a significant number of works by more than 80 major photographers not previously represented in the Museum’s holdings. One of the most notable aspects of the Howard Greenberg Collection is the rare nature of so many of the prints—whether it is the earliest or first print ever made of the image, the only print ever made, or the best existing example. The historical and unique importance of these particular works reflects the unprecedented access that Greenberg had to artists’ estates, archives and collections over the years in his professional role as a gallery dealer.

The Howard Greenberg Collection includes iconic European masterpieces from the 1920s and 1930s as well as a wide range of socially conscious works—powerful visual testimonies of Depression-era America, politically engaged street photography, exceptional examples of wartime photojournalism, and poignant depictions of African American life from the 1930s through the Civil Rights movement. Integrating these photographs into the MFA’s collection allows the Museum to explore fresh narratives, bring new insights and perspectives to current issues, and celebrate photography as an art form as well as a social, cultural and political force.

“The acquisition of these extraordinary works enriches a collection of art across time and cultures, at the highest level,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “Howard is a visionary collector, and we will be proud to display these transformative images throughout the Museum’s galleries. We’re extremely grateful for the generosity of the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust, a true partner in our goal to elevate appreciation of the art form of photography.”

Phillip Leonian (1927–2016) was an innovative photographer who specialized in advertising and editorial work in New York from the 1950s through the 1980s. Together, he and his wife Edith Rosenbaum Leonian (1938–2013) ran a photography studio in New York City for 30 years. In 2010, the Leonians created the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation to raise awareness of and appreciation for photography and photographers. The Phillip and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust, established in 2016 following Phillip Leonian’s death, carries on the vision of Phillip and Edith Leonian, with Jacques Aaron Preis serving as Trustee.

“The unique quality and significance of the Howard Greenberg Collection presents a perfect complement to the MFA’s existing world-class photography collection. Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian would have been thrilled by the essential role that the Trust, bearing their names, has played in securing Howard’s extraordinary collection for the Museum,” said Preis.

An exhibition of works from the Howard Greenberg Collection will open at the MFA on August 11, 2019 and remain on view through December 16, 2019. The display will feature highlights of the acquisition: classic black-and-white images demonstrating the breadth of photographs assembled by Greenberg. The accompanying publication will include illuminating essays by Anne Havinga, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Chair, Department of Photography, and Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Curator of Photographs, along with an interview with the collector.

“I am truly thrilled and delighted to have the MFA as the recipient of my personal collection of photographs,” said Greenberg. “Assembled over 35 years and reflecting the unique access I’ve had to so many treasures of 20th-century photography, the MFA will be a perfect resting place for the collection. Their enthusiasm for the results of my efforts has been unrelenting. The collection will be married to what is already a world-class museum collection, formed expertly and intently over a long period of time. My collection will be an important addition in that it completes certain aspects of mid-20th-century photography, and improves what already exists, including the period between the wars. Especially gratifying are the MFA’s plans for exhibition, publication and programming around the collection. This will enable me to continue a lifelong mission of education and a deeper comprehension of photography as art and a special medium.”

Among the strengths of the Howard Greenberg Collection is its depth of photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the Great Depression. Complementing the modernist images already in the MFA’s collection by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams, iconic photographs such as Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother (1936), Arthur Rothstein’s Dust Storm, Cimarron County (1936) and Walker Evans’ Negroes’ Church, South Carolina (1936) provide context into the social upheavals of the era. Additionally, the collection features socially engaged photography by members of the Photo League—including Sid Grossman, Sol Libsohn and Jerome Liebling—who documented life in New York City. Their work captures scenes of everyday life beginning during the New Deal and extending into Postwar America—urban stories told from multiple perspectives through an important group of humanist photographs.

The Howard Greenberg Collection includes a number of original prints used for publication in Life magazine, which released its first issue in 1936 and quickly gained millions of subscribers. Among these are famous wartime photographs such as Robert Capa’s Death of a Militia Soldier, Cerro Muriano (1936) and Normandy Invasion on D-Day (1944) as well as Eddie Adams’ General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing Viet Cong Officer (1968), which present new opportunities for the MFA to tell stories that bear witness to human conflict. Notable examples of photojournalism in the Howard Greenberg Collection also include 20 images by Weegee, who became one of New York’s most prominent newspaper photographers in the 1930s and 1940s. Working mainly at night, he captured candid images of crime scenes and catastrophes around the city, tipped off by a short-wave police radio installed in his car.

“The Howard Greenberg Collection dovetails perfectly with the MFA’s holdings. It allows for many new themes of study and presentation, and will provide important opportunities for strategic partnerships in public programming, visitor engagement, publications and teaching,” said Havinga. “This will make the MFA a top collection for photography, befitting our standing as the major encyclopedic museum for greater New England.”

Significant photographs depicting African American life in the Howard Greenberg Collection include evocative portraits of jazz musicians by W. Eugene Smith and Roy DeCarava as well as somber images of the Civil Rights movement by Charles Moore and James Karales. These works depicting civil unrest and resistance will resonate with today’s audiences. The collection also includes important images by renowned photographer Gordon Parks and a work by under-recognized photographer Consuelo Kanaga, which emphasizes her dedication to capturing black America and victims of virulent racism.

Other highlights of the Howard Greenberg Collection are a group of key photographs—including Madrid, Spain (1933)—by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who championed the concept of capturing the “decisive moment,” as well as works by Robert Frank, Leon Levinstein, Ralph Eugene Meatyard and James Van Der Zee. The collection also holds major works by master photographer Edward Steichen, including his striking 1924 portrait of Gloria Swanson draped with a lace veil. In addition to classic works by prominent American photographers such as Diane Arbus, Bruce Davidson, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model and Margaret Bourke-White, the acquisition contains powerful photographs by Mexican, Czech and Hungarian artists Manuel Álvarez Bravo, André Kertész, Josef Sudek, Jaromir Funke and Imre Kinszki.

Of the 191 photographers represented in the acquisition, more than 80 are new to the MFA’s holdings, including renowned artists such as Leonard Freed, Sid Grossman, Frances Benjamin Johnston, James Karales, Charles Moore, Inge Morath, Ruth Orkin, Jacob Riis, Peter Sekaer, David “Chim” Seymour, Ben Shahn and Roman Vishniac, among others.

“This acquisition, with its superb and rare prints, will enable us to present stories of the human experience and spirit through the magic of photography as an art form and as a social, cultural and political force. We believe that the photographs in the Howard Greenberg Collection will inform, illuminate and inspire our visitors for generations to come,” said Gresh.

Photography at the MFA

The MFA possesses a pioneering photography collection, initiated in 1924 when Alfred Stieglitz donated 27 of his photographs to the Museum. Through purchase and by gift, the collection has grown to approximately 15,000 photographs, spanning the entire history of the medium from the 1840s to the present. Special strengths of the collection include more than 100 19th-century daguerreotype portraits by the Boston firm Southworth and Hawes; sublime large-scale 19th-century American landscapes; turn-of-the-century Pictorialist photographs; platinum and gelatin silver prints by Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand; a significant group of photographs by Imogen Cunningham; early 20th-century European modernism and experimental photography; and collections of record of Edward Weston, Charles Sheeler, Ansel Adams, Josef Sudek, Yousuf Karsh and Herb Ritts. A major recent acquisition of the celebrated Lane Collection brought extraordinary strength to the MFA’s American modernism holdings, and the Museum continues to develop the collection’s depth in international photography, adding works from the Middle East, Japan and Latin America. The MFA has consistently displayed photography from its collection in special exhibitions, bringing these foundational works and the investigation of contemporary American and international photographers to the Museum’s visitors in Boston and to wider audiences through high-quality illustrated books and popular traveling exhibitions.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its collection, representing all cultures and time periods. The Museum has more than 140 galleries displaying its encyclopedic collection, which includes Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia; Art of Africa and Oceania; Art of Ancient Greece and Rome; Art of Ancient Egypt, Nubia and the Near East; Prints and Drawings; Photography; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–5 pm; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–10 pm. Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger. Wednesday nights after 4 pm admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25), while five Open Houses offer the opportunity to visit the Museum for free. The Museum’s mobile MFA Guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. For more information, call 617.267.9300, visit or follow the MFA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.



Karen Frascona