Henry Ford II

Detroit, 1917—Detroit, 1987

Henry Ford II was an American businessman, industrialist, and head of Ford Motor Company as well as an art collector with residences in Detroit and Grosse Pointe, Michigan and other locations in the United States and abroad. Between the 1940s and the late 1960s, Ford, primarily together with his first wife Anne McDonnell Ford (later Johnson), amassed a wide-ranging collection of European art and furniture. Their extensive holdings included examples of fifteenth-century wood sculpture, French Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and early twentieth-century art as well as Louis XV armchairs, cabinets, and desks among other furnishings.

Born in 1917, Ford was the eldest son of Edsel Bryant and Eleanor Clay Ford. Heir to the automobile empire Ford Motor Company, founded by his grandfather and namesake Henry Ford, he served as the company’s executive vice president before becoming its president in 1945. Henry Ford II’s tenure modernized, reorganized, and revitalized the business of the ailing automaker. After leaving the post of president in 1960, Ford continued to serve as the company’s chief executive officer until he retired in 1979. However, he remained chair of the board of directors and chair of the finance committee until his death in 1987.

Ford came from a family of art patrons. His grandfather collected art and his father financed the twenty-seven-panel fresco Detroit Industry Murals that the Mexican painter Diego Rivera produced on the subject of the Ford Motor Company at the Detroit Institute of Arts between 1932 and 1933. The core of Ford’s collection was assembled during the years of his marriage to Anne, from 1940 until their divorce in 1964. Anne, who came from an affluent New York family, had a keen interest in art; according to one biographer, it was under her influence that her husband became interested in collecting. During their first years together, the couple traveled throughout the United States and abroad, and it is likely that they made some of their art acquisitions during these trips. They purchased other works at various auctions. In 1956, Anne and Henry made their initial gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts: an oil-on-oak-panel painting entitled A Woman Weeping (mid-to-late 1640s), now attributed to the circle of Rembrandt van Rijn. Numerous other donations—including the museum’s first work by Pablo Picasso, a Cubist portrait of the artist’s friend Manuel Pallarés (1909), which the couple gave to the museum in 1962—followed thereafter. Anne was also actively involved with other art institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where she became one of the first women to be elected to the Museum’s board of trustees. An occasional and discreet collector, Henry continued to acquire art up until the late 1960s, at which point the art market’s growing prices discouraged him from making further purchases. Among the most coveted objects from Henry’s collection were Vincent van Gogh’s The Poet’s Garden, Arles (1888; private collection; Hulsker 1996, no. 1601) and Paul Cézanne’s Man in a Blue Smock (ca. 1896–97; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas), both of which fetched record prices during an auction in 1980. Picasso’s Cubist sculpture The Absinthe Glass (1914; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection), which also sold at auction in 1990 as part of his estate, was another work in the collection.

For more information, see:

Hayes, Walter. Henry: A Life of Henry Ford II. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990.

Hulsker, Jan. The New Complete van Gogh: Paintings, Drawings, Sketches: Revised and Enlarged Edition of the Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of Vincent van Gogh. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub. Co., 1996.

Lasky, Victor. Never Complain, Never Explain: The Story of Henry Ford II. New York: Richard Marek Publishers, 1981.

Lewis, David H. Ford Country. Sidney, Ohio: Amos Press, Inc., 1999.

How to cite this entry:
Mahler, Luise, "Henry Ford II," The Modern Art Index Project (October 2018), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://doi.org/10.57011/TIAJ7421

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The Absinthe Glass, Pablo Picasso  Spanish, Painted bronze and perforated tin absinthe spoon
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Malaga 1881–1973 Mougins, France)
Wax original: Paris, spring 1914; Bronze cast: Foundry Florentin Godard, Paris, made to order for Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler by April 16, 1914