Of Austrian, Czech, and French descent, Count Rene d'Harnoncourt was born in Vienna, the son of Count Hubert d'Harnoncourt and his wife, the former Julie Mittrowsky. Although he showed an interest in art as a child, he received a technical education. After his family suffered severe financial losses, he moved to Paris in 1924, and went to Mexico in 1926. D'Harnoncourt initially eked out a minimal living as a commercial artist, but quickly acquired a reputation for his knowledgeable advice to American antique collectors.
In 1927, d’Harnoncourt went to work for Frederick W. Davis, who operated one of the most important antiquities and folk art shops in Mexico City. Davis was among the first to collect, display and sell the work of the emerging Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and Rufino Tamayo; others who frequented the shop included Miguel Covarrubias and Jean Charlot. D'Harnoncourt assisted in buying and selling antiques and contemporary works and also organized displays and exhibits in the showroom.
In 1929-30 d'Harnoncourt organized an exhibit of Mexican fine and applied arts that was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and then traveled to other American cities. D'Harnoncourt left Davis’s shop in 1933 and moved to the United States. That year, he married Sarah Carr (1903-2001) and became host of the radio program Art in America. Among many others, Margaret Lefranc was a guest speaker several times during 1934-1935, educating listeners on American and European art. He briefly taught at Sarah Lawrence College. In 1936, d'Harnoncourt became the general manager of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB), a New Deal agency created to revive Native American arts and crafts. To promote Native American craftwork, d'Harnoncourt, along with Frederic Huntington Douglas, developed an exhibit of Native American arts and crafts for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. Its success led to an even larger show at New York's Museum of Modern Art, the influential Indian Art of the United States exhibition that opened in January 1941.
D'Harnoncourt was appointed to the Museum of Modern Art in 1944; he proved to be an expert exhibit installer and notable collector. In 1949 he was appointed Director of the Museum, a position he would hold until 1967. He was responsible for a series of significant exhibitions over the course of his tenure as Director, including Lipchitz (1954), Rodin (1963), and Picasso (1967). D'Harnoncourt was also an advisor to Nelson Rockefeller. In 1965 he was appointed to a commission to choose modern art works for the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection in Albany, NY. He was a tireless advocate of modern art.
D'Harnoncourt retired from the position of Director in 1967. He was killed on Long Island by a drunk driver roughly a year later.
- Hellman, Geoffrey T., "Profiles: Imperturbable Noble," New Yorker 35 (7 May 1960).
- Lynes, Russell, Good Old Modern: An Intimate Portrait of the Museum of Modern Art, Athenaeum, New York 1973 pages 264-283.
- Schrader, Robert Fay, The Indian Arts & Crafts Board: An Aspect of New Deal Indian Policy, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1983, pages 124-128.
- New York - Volume 1 - Page 81 1968 "René d'Harnoncourt (1901-1968): The death, on August 13, of René d'Harnoncourt, retired director of the Museum of "
- The Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Art Collection and Plaza Memorials. Rizzoli International Publications. May 3, 2002. p. 11. ISBN 0847824551.
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
1944-1949 - job was handled by the chairman of the museum's Coordinaton Committee and Director of Curatorial Department
| Directors of the Museum of Modern Art