The Art & Influence of a St. Andrews Patron: Edward Harkness

By Caroline Croasdaile

Edward Harkness and I were both born in Cleveland, Ohio. But, that is where the comparisons stop, because unlike me, Edward Harkness was richer than God during his lifetime from (1874-1940), and a celebrated philanthropist who contributed to greatly to the art collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and educational institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Exeter, and even the University of St. Andrews. If you’ve ever chanced to walk into the Butts Wynd building to access the 24-hour computer room, because you have a 4,000 word essay due in the morning that needs starting (which I most certainly never have) you will see Harkness’s portrait hanging there, imperiously, from atop the stairs.

Frank Salisbury,  Edward Stephen Harkness , 1933. Oil on canvas, University of St Andrews.

Frank Salisbury, Edward Stephen Harkness, 1933. Oil on canvas, University of St Andrews.

It was when Edward and his wife Mary Harkness visited Egypt for their honeymoon that the couple began a life-long passion with the antiquities of Ancient Egypt. Harkness became an enthusiastic patron of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Egyptian Department, and in 1913 obtained the entire Tomb of Perneb, which was shipped and installed in its complete form in the Met. Harkness was also responsible for donating the blue faience hippopotamus from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period, which has since become the unofficial mascot of the Met Museum. Over the next decade Harkness contributed handsomely to the purchase of the Carnarvon Collection, which was assembled by the Earl of Carnarvon, famed for being one of the members of the team that discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun, and the real-life inhabitant of Highclere Castle, better known to some as Downton Abbey.

Harkness’s influence, and support of intellectual pursuit can still be felt on our own campus at the University of St. Andrews. He was the primary benefactor for our iconic St. Salvator’s Hall, which he had built on the Oxbridge model between 1930-1933. Within the classroom, the familiar “Harkness Table” method is still employed in certain St. Andrews seminars. This method has its roots in Harkness’s $5.8 million dollar donation to the American boarding school Philips Exeter, which aiming at collegiality, capped class numbers at 12 students- all of whom shared a large common table to facilitate discussion with their peers and professor.

Edward Harkness is not as well-known as other mogul philanthropists such as Carnegie or Rockefeller because of his penchant for anonymity when it could be provided, and a dislike for showmanship. His sister-in-law is noted to have once said to him, “You really would prefer to be under the sofa than anywhere else, wouldn’t you?”.Despite this shyness, he continued a passionate and likely exhausting involvement in the organization of countless institutions aimed at the betterment of mankind. On his death in 1940 The Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art published the following memoriam; “With characteristic modesty, he shrank from the public eye, but his great benefactions touched unnumbered thousands in both the United States and Great Britain. His gifts for research, for the alleviation of human suffering, for education, brought light into dark places and brought untold solace and illumination into the world, which he so wisely and unselfishly served”.



Martin Morse Wooster."Edward Harkness." N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Aleksandr Gelfand."This Weekend in Met History: October 28 2012." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Blog. The Metropolitan Museum, 26 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

"St Salvator's Hall." University of St. Andrews. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Lewis Perry. "Edward and Mary Harkness." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10.2 (1951): 57-59. Web.

"In Memoriam: Edward Stephen Harkness." The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 27.3 (1940): 31-32. Web