Joseph Herman Hirshhorn (August 11, 1899 – August 31, 1981) was an entrepreneur, financier and art collector. Born in Mitau, Latvia, the twelfth of thirteen children, Hirshhorn emigrated to the United States with his widowed mother at the age of six.
Hirshhorn went to work as an office boy on Wall Street at age 14. Three years later, in 1916, he became a stockbroker and earned $168,000 that year. A shrewd investor, he sold off his Wall Street investments two months before the collapse of 1929, realizing $4 million in cash. Hirshhorn made his fortune in the mining and oil business. In the 1930s, he focused much of his attention on gold and uranium mining prospects in Canada, establishing an office in Toronto in 1933.
In the 1950s, he and geologist Franc Joubin were primarily responsible for the "Big Z" uranium discovery in northeastern Ontario and the subsequent founding of the city of Elliot Lake. Hirshhorn Avenue, a residential street in that city, is named after him. By 1960, when he sold the last of his uranium stock, he had made over $100 million in cash from the uranium business.
His business dealings in Canada were not without controversy. He was investigated by the Ontario Securities Commission, convicted twice of breaking Canadian foreign exchange laws, deported from Canada for illegal stock manipulation (which he later appealed and won by having himself declared a landed immigrant), and fined for an illegal securities sale and illegally smuggling cash out of Canada.
From 1961 to 1976, Hirshhorn lived in a three-story Norman chateau in a 22-acre (89,000 m2) estate at the summit of Round Hill, a 550-foot (170 m) rise in north-central Greenwich, Connecticut, with a view of the Manhattan skyline.
When Hirshhorn began to make money, he began to buy art, both paintings and sculpture. He amassed a collection of paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries. Applying himself seriously to the study of art, he would question dealers, critics, and curators, and visit artists in their studios. He made quick decisions on buying a piece. "If you've got to look at a picture a dozen times before you make up your mind", he once said, "there's something wrong with you or the picture".
Hirshhorn graced his Greenwich mansion with paintings by Willem de Kooning, Raphael Soyer, Jackson Pollock, Larry Rivers, and Thomas Eakins, and the grounds outside with sculptures by Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder, and Henry Moore. He allowed many nonprofit groups to use tours of his sculpture garden for fundraising.
In 1966 Hirshhorn donated much of his collection, consisting of 6,000 paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20h centuries (and constituting one of the world's largest private art treasures), to the United States government, along with a $2 million endowment. The Smithsonian Institution established the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., in 1966 to hold the collection; the museum opened in 1974. At Hirshhorn's death in 1981, he willed an additional 6,000 works and a $5 million endowment to the museum.
- Smithsonian biographical sketch
- Freund, Thatcher, 1993, Objects of Desire, New York: Pantheon. ISBN 0679421572
- Freund, op. cit., p. 100
- Burnham, Sophy, 1973, The Art Crowd, New York: David McKay Company.
- Nova, Susan, "Many rooms, skyline views: Chateau atop Round Hill is for sale", article in the Real Estate section of The Advocate of Stamford, Connecticut, page R1, March 2, 2007
- Freund, op. cit., p. 104
- Hyams, Barry, 1979,Hirshhorn, Medici from Brooklyn: A biography. Dutton, ISBN 0-525-12520-5
- World History.org
- The New York Times