Obituary – Diane A. (“Dee”) Nixon

The journal’s beloved vice president Diane A. (“Dee”) Nixon––who died peacefully on 25 June 2024––was the honoree at our 2017 Benefit dinner. At that time, I chose for the program four words to describe her character. Top of my list: Passion. Tied for second place: Taste and Generosity. Not to be forgotten: Travel.

Dee, muse and former model for Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci, acquired her first Old Master drawing while traveling in Barcelona in 1993, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta’s Head of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. This commanding, life-size head study, a reflection of her deeply held faith, held pride of place in her yellow guest room, framed––like all her drawings––in an attractive period frame that enhanced its impact. The acquisition marked an auspicious start. In a remarkably short span of fewer than thirty years, encouraged from the beginning by her dear friend the late Charles Ryskamp, she assembled a stunning collection of more than 200 drawings covering most schools and periods. Collecting became the great passion of her life, one that was pursued with intelligence and discernment. And the many friendships she forged along the way––with curators and other museum professionals, dealers, auctioneers, and fellow private collectors––transformed our community into a large extended family for her. For Dee, “friends and family” was not an expression consisting of three words, let alone two separate categories: it was a single, integrated concept that she cherished deeply.

Dee’s tastes and interests were exceptionally wide-ranging, with notable favorites among the early Italians (Fra Bartolommeo, Correggio, Bronzino, Lotto, Vasari), the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French (Watteau, Fragonard, Ingres, Degas), and nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germans (Menzel, Leibl, Kollwitz). Her sense of quality was impeccable. This was true, whether it was a fifteenth-century hand-colored woodcut of the Virgin and Child by Hans Burgkmair the Elder or the Dilapidated Cottages near Cookham by Sir Stanley Spencer, which hung in her British-themed dining room below John Minton’s 1945 drawing of another English cottage in an exuberant garden.

Because these last three works were among her last acquisitions, none was included in either of the important exhibitions through which Dee shared her collection with a broad public: Private Treasures: Four Centuries of European Drawings (National Gallery of Art, Washington, and Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2007) and Drawn to Excellence: Renaissance to Romantic Drawings from a Private Collection (Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA, and Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, 2012–13). Organized by current and former editors and Editorial Advisory Board members of this journal, both of these shows illustrated not only Dee’s close ties with the relevant institutions but also with Master Drawings, on whose board of directors she served from 1997 (as vice president from 2005).

There are few organizations and institutions in the drawings world that did not benefit from Dee’s generosity, directly or indirectly. She served as a trustee of the Morgan and held seats on the visiting committee of its drawings department. She was involved as a supporter of numerous other museums, including the National Gallery of Art’s Trustees Council, the Smith College Museum of Art’s Visiting Committee, the British Museum’s Ottley Group, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Paper Conservation Committee, the Director’s Circle of the Frick Collection, the American Friends of the Royal Academy of Arts, the American Friends of the Louvre, and the Rijksmuseum’s International Circle. She has promised gifts to all these museums, as well as to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and the Albertina, Vienna. Her generosity exceeded conventional philanthropic gestures to cultural institutions. Besides art museums, all three of her alma maters––the Spence School in New York City, Miss Porter’s School at Farmington, CT, and Smith College––benefited from her munificence, as have charitable programs associated with education, music, ballet, the blind, and areas of medical research.

On a personal level, Dee was a generous and hospitable hostess to many of us, especially visitors from Europe or cities outside New York. For many years, January Old Master Sales Week at the “Pensione Nixon” often featured a gaggle of jetlagged European colleagues convening in the early hours in the kitchen, eager to discover if anyone had packed an American hairdryer. In 2015, when the Master Drawings Benefit dinner coincided with the “snow storm of the century” and travel throughout the city was halted at 10pm, Dee’s apartment became the site of a giant slumber party for visiting colleagues as well as locals unable to make it home to the outer boroughs. The next morning, with every public institution closed, more of the previous night’s guests made their way through snow drifts to E. 87th Street for coffee and a chance to admire Dee’s drawings––the only “show” in town.

Dee’s energy, strength, and stamina were legendary. In her many years of travel, the only continent she failed to visit was Antartica; to her great regret, she never saw the penguins. Setting an example to fellow globetrotters, she regularly disembarked from a transatlantic flight, dropped off her bags, and headed straight to her next commitment: an exhibition opening, a lunch, a concert, a day in the office. Until 13 May 2017 (a Friday), when she suffered a severe stroke, she applied her own wide travel experience to an active career at Protravel, making elaborate and meticulous travel arrangements for hundreds of clients, friends, and colleagues.

At no point did Dee’s strength of character become more apparent than during the seven years following her stroke. She worked tirelessly with physical, occupational, and speech therapists, ably encouraged by her nurses, family, and friends, including devoted goddaughter Laura Bennett. Her nurses and therapists learned what we had known all along: she was a passionate, determined, and remarkable human being, an affectionate friend who will be sadly missed by us all.

Jane Turner, Editor

 

Image: Giovanni Battista Piazzetta Venice 1682–1754 Venice God the Father and the Holy Spirit, c. 1742 Black and white chalk on gray paper 15 7/16 x 12 1/4 in.; 392 x 311 mm Private Treasures, cat. 51