Jefferson Harrison earned his B.A. degree in English literature (with honors; Phi Beta Kappa) and the Ph.D. degree in the history of art from the University of Virginia, where he completed his doctoral dissertation on the paintings of the 16th-century Netherlandish painter Maerten van Heemskerck. His dissertation research was facilitated by fellowships from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in New York, which allowed him to study at the Art History Institute at the University of Amsterdam in 1976-78, and by the David E. Finley Fellowship, National Gallery of Art, Washington. D.C. (1979-82).
Bringing art into the daily lives of community members gets them focused on a larger world,” Harrison said. “It can only have positive and long term effects. It can spur individual interest in the arts as well as in the community.”
Harrison began work at the Chrysler Museum of Art in 1982, when he was hired to research its European collection. He was made the Museum’s research curator in 1986 and its curator of European art in 1989. From 1993 he served as the Museum’s chief curator, and in 2014 he was named the Irene Leache Curator of European Art. He organized and curated scores of exhibitions during his 33 years at the Chrysler, from Rembrandt and the Golden Age to Norman Rockwell — and he published numerous books and articles on the Museum’s permanent collection and on 16th-century Netherlandish art. His most recent publication, American Art in the Chrysler Museum, appeared in 2005, and in 2008 he completed the reinstallation of the Museum’s Joan P. Brock Galleries of early 19th-century American and European art. Harrison was part of the team leading the expansion and reinstallation of the Chrysler, which reopened in May 2014.
Harrison retired from the Chrysler in June 2015 with the title of Chief Curator Emeritus.