About the Anderson Collection

Ellsworth Kelly
Untitled (Hunk, Moo, and Ellsworth), 1990
Photocopies on cardboard
14 3/4"h x 28 7/8"w

Gift to the Andersons from Ellsworth Kelly

The Anderson Collection, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, is one of the largest and most outstanding private collections of 20th century American art in the world. The collection has been built over the last 40 years by Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, affectionately known as "Hunk" and "Moo" and by their daughter, Mary Patricia Anderson Pence, affectionately known as "Putter." It is notable that the Andersons built their collection without the assistance of outside curators or consultants. Over the years, Hunk and Moo spent a great deal of time and energy educating themselves about art history and about the individual artists whose work they collect.

Soon after their move to the Bay Area, the Andersons began collecting art seriously. While in Paris during a 1964 trip to Europe, they visited such great museums as the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. Inspired by what they saw, Hunk and Moo decided that one of their goals in life would be to become knowledgeable and ardent collectors of modern art. Upon returning from their trip, they decided to collect Impressionist paintings, but quickly discovered that most of the great Impressionist works were already owned by Museums or other private collectors. Subsequently, they turned their attention to the Early Modernists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, the German Expressionists, such as Emile Nolde, and the Early American Modernists, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and Arthur Dove. Vestiges of this period of their collecting can still be seen in the Andersons’ drawing and sculpture collections. By 1969, however, the Andersons had made the bold decision to concentrate exclusively on post-World War II American art.

The Andersons like to think of their collection as “a collection of collections” in that it includes groups of artworks representing a variety of time periods and media. The collection is anchored in the work of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and extends to contemporary painters such as Terry Winters, Sean Scully and Vija Celmins. Major post-war movements represented in the Anderson Collection include Color Field Painting, Post-Minimalism, California Funk Art, Bay Area Figurative Art, and contemporary abstract painting. Other “collections” include a group of works by early modern American artists (the circle of Alfred Stieglitz), and a survey of American and European sculpture from Auguste Rodin to Martin Puryear. These “collections” survey a full range of art forms, including paintings, drawings, ceramics, artist-made paper, prints, sculptures, and experiments in plastics.

A large part of the Andersons collecting philosophy rests upon their equal beliefs in "the head and the hands" – meaning that they look for ingenuity as well as masterful craftsmanship in the art they collect. Because conceptual art and media like photography and video often do not showcase the artist's hands-on involvement in their execution, little of that kind of work appears in the collection.

While the collection is an art historical one - that is, we can trace most of the major periods of post-war American art using examples within the collection - it is primarily a collection built around the individual tastes of the Andersons. Over the years, the Andersons have made very personal choices about what to collect based on what they like about contemporary American art. Their collection, like all outstanding private art collections, is a testament to one unique family as much as it is to the contemporary art scene.

Over the years, significant portions of the Anderson Collection have been gifted to Bay Area art museums. With the intention of making a meaningful contribution to the permanent collection at SFMOMA, an important group of Pop Art paintings was gifted in 1992, joining the previously gifted Jasper Johns' Land’s End and Robert Rauschenberg's Collection and establishing a permanent dedicated gallery adjacent to the Clyfford Still Gallery. In 2001 - 2002 the Andersons gifted seven Frank Stella paintings to SFMOMA, ranging in date from 1959 to 1988. These works were joined by a gift from Frank Stella, in honor of the Andersons, of a major painting from 2001.

In 1996, 655 graphic works were given to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, establishing the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection, now at the deYoung Museum, and a Collection Sharing loan program.


As the Andersons consider themselves "custodians" and not "owners" of the art in their collection, the prospect of furture gifting is high.