Phillip Bruno

Born: January 3, 1930;

Died: September 22, 2023

Phillip A Bruno’s career in the art world spanned 58 years. A passionate New Yorker, he gifted his collection of American art to Glasgow University’s Hunterian Art Gallery in 2019 in celebration of his 90th birthday, his love of Scotland - and of me. We married in 2002 when Phillip was already 72, but such was his joie de vivre and appetite for life that it began our quarter-century transatlantic adventure, a real-life fairytale.

Phillip seemed invincible. Though I've written many Herald obituaries - the first on Christmas day 1983 for Miro - I never foresaw writing one for my beloved, remarkable husband. And he would be delighted!

Art was central to both our lives. While an art history student at Columbia University, Phillip got to know the Van Gogh family. It was the single most important, influential event in his career. In 1949, aged 19, overwhelmed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s historic Van Gogh exhibition, Phillip called on Van Gogh’s nephew at his New York hotel, and invited him to give a talk at Columbia. It was typical impetuous Bruno, leading to a stay with the Van Goghs in Holland, where Willem Van Gogh, founder of the Van Gogh Museum in 1973, showed him some of the painter’s famous letters. Holland was then still not interested in having a Van Gogh museum - unbelievable now! - so the family asked Phillip to help get some American involvement.

Privileged access to works of art and close friendship with artists and collectors continued apace, with early studio visits to famous figures like Brancusi, Giacometti, Matisse, Rothko, Calder, David Smith, De Kooning, Manzù, Louise Nevelson (he drove her across America) Tinguely, Joan Brown (Californian bathing with film star Jane Russell), Leonard Baskin (Phillip commissioned a crucifix), Siqueiros (who he met at his 21st birthday in Mexico City) and midnight sea swimming with Jackson Pollock. At 21 he went to meet Matisse in Paris dressed to impress, hoping for a portrait, but Matisse was not interested, explaining "a woman’s silhouette is always more appealing than a man’s!"

Phillip was a key figure in the New York art world, from 1950 working in historic galleries along Madison Avenue and 57th Street back in the day when the art world was tiny. He also travelled! He went visiting artists in Japan and ventured into Brazil’s tropical Pantanal with the Demonte artists.

By 1955 Phillip was organising exhibitions, his first of the Mexican, Cuevas in Paris, then another in 1957 at the Chateau de la Napoule in Cannes. His father had died when Phillip was 18, but French connections continue to this day.

Phillip was co-director of Manhattan's prestigious Staempfli Gallery for 29 years before moving to the famous Marlborough Gallery on West 57th St for 18 years, retiring in 2007 at age 77. He worried that the art market had become less idealistic, more commercial, and with the rise of auction houses saw the possibility they might take the place of traditional art galleries. It may indeed happen.

Phillip’s link to the tragic Twin Towers took many forms. His friendship with its architect, Yamasaki, included several hard hat visits, while Phillip gave him a solo show in 1967, and was gifted some original drawings.

He became close to many artists, like Red Grooms (he painted our wedding portrait), Milton Avery (now a mega auction star) Jimmy Ernst (son of Max), Fritz Koenig (whose globe sculpture survived the Twin Towers tragedy,) Bertoia (of the iconic chairs), George Rickey (three important mobiles in Scotland), Richard Estes (we stayed in his wonderful Mount Desert Island guesthouse in Maine), Bill Jacklin RA, Vincent Desiderio, Bob Parker, Morton Kaish and Manolo Valdes, especial favourites along with Japanese sculptor Nagare whose work, arranged by Phillip, still graces the Lincoln Center’s facade, with the red granite model now in the Hunterian Collection.

Phillip’s good looks, charisma, beautiful voice and remarkable ability to connect with people on an intense personal level was a huge advantage in the contemporary art world - indeed anywhere! He was totally unpretentious, a natural storyteller and always an optimist. He had a magic knack of actually always looking on the bright side, even when he was ill. He was also very demanding, with a knack of having his own way, getting people to do things for him, and being the centre of attention. No wonder his university nickname was The Baron.

Phillip's tales of events from 60 years ago were always lively, so that it seemed only yesterday that he was dining with Peggy Guggenheim at her Venetian Palazzo, meeting Hollywood stars in LA, selling works by Francis Bacon and Max Ernst to clients such as Joseph Hirshhorn, Roy Neuberger and Crosby Kemper; organszing an exhibition of artists shown at the Brussels World Fair in 1958 at World House, driving Louise Nevelson to the Carnegie International in Pittsburg, selling Salvador Dali jewellery made by Carlos Alamanni to Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy Magazine, and staying with iconic 1960s dress designer Marimekko in Finland.

In 1961 he wrote "Collecting is a vital part of my life. To me it's one of the great passions and one of the few romances left to us today.” He kept his word. Over the last half century he donated over 250 art works to 28 American art galleries, most recently to the Morgan Museum. Then came the magnanimous Hunterian Glasgow gift of 75 works of art.

Steph Scholten, Hunterian director, said, "Phillip was a longstanding friend of The Hunterian. We will miss his keen eye and his deep knowledge. Phillip’s career brought him into close contact with artists, collectors and their network across the whole world. Thus from Phillip we have acquired works by Gaston Lachaise 1882-1935, Manolo Valdes who represented Spain at the 1999 Venice Biennale, as well as an initiation puppet from the Pacific island of Vanuatu plus a Northern Yena mask from Papua New Guinea.”

The latter used to be a handy item in our Manhattan living room where I merrily hung my necklaces from its arms, never anticipating how happy the Hunterian would be to get it.

He was above all a people person. I used to joke that you could put Phillip on the moon and he would find interesting people. Any train or plane journey resulted in new friends. He had a magic touch. He was much loved.

He is survived by me, his wife Clare Henry, his sons Clarke and Will Bruno, his stepson Damian Henry, his step daughter Zara Green, grandchildren Alex, Sophia, Nicholas and Andrew Bruno, Elliot and Nina Green.