The Board of Trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, acknowledges with great sorrow the death, on March 27, of Life Trustee and former Chairman Isabel Brown Wilson, at 80. Mrs. Wilson’s philanthropy had a transformative impact not only on the MFAH but also on the arts, culture and civic life of Houston.
Following the tradition of philanthropic and civic leadership of her legendary family, and in particular that of her mother, Alice Pratt Brown, Mrs. Wilson became an MFAH Trustee in 1979 and was elected Chairman of the Board in 2001. She was the second woman to hold this position; her mother was the first, in 1973, having spearheaded the building of the museum’s Brown Pavilion, which was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1974.
During Mrs. Wilson’s six-year tenure as Chairman, the MFAH collections and programs grew dramatically, with nearly 16,000 works of art acquired and more than 200 exhibitions presented. Over the course of 30 years, she and her husband, Wallace Wilson; and The Brown Foundation, Inc., made possible the acquisition of major works of art by Rembrandt, Jean-Siméon Chardin, J.M.W. Turner, Georgia O’Keeffe and James Turrell as well as significant antiquities. In the 1980s and 1990s, the museum’s endowment grew at an unprecedented rate, largely as a result of the Brown Foundation challenge grant that Mrs. Wilson initiated.
“The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has lost a treasured member of our family,” said Cornelia Long, Chairman of the Board of the MFAH since 2007. “Isabel Brown Wilson’s presence was felt in all of the museum’s activities over the last three decades. Her generosity, both personally and as a Trustee of The Brown Foundation, Inc., is evident in nearly every gallery at the MFAH, from her beloved antiquities to the Wilson Tunnel, the iconic light installation by James Turrell. We are a much greater institution because of her guidance, her passion for the arts and her extraordinary patronage. The MFAH simply will not be the same without her.”
“In my short tenure as Director I have benefitted enormously from Isabel’s counsel, and I was deeply impressed by her dedication and expertise as an essential member of our long-range planning committee, charged with charting the museum’s expansion project to be designed by Steven Holl Architects,” commented Gary Tinterow, MFAH Director since February 2012. “All of us here are profoundly touched by her loss, though her impact at this great museum will be felt for generations.”
“Isabel Brown Wilson was a champion of the first order for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,” said Gwendolyn H. Goffe, Interim Director of the MFAH from late 2010 to early 2012. “Her contributions of time, energy, opinion and resources are legendary, and the museum family mourns her passing with a heavy heart.”
Isabel Brown Wilson attended Smith College (class of 1953) and was, at her death, a member of the Smith College Board of Trustees, as well as a Trustee of The Brown Foundation, Inc., Houston.