Former Dixon Gallery and Gardens Director John Buchanan Dies at 58

photo courtesy Portland Art Museum

John E. Buchanan, Jr., the charismatic director of art museums from Peoria to San Francisco, but best known to Memphians as the former head of The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, died Friday from pancreatic cancer. He was 58.

Buchanan served as director of the Dixon from 1986 to 1994, and it's safe to say that he played a major role in transforming the Dixon from a little-known private gallery into one of the South's — if not the country's — premier art centers, with a special focus on Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. During his tenure, the Dixon hosted national exhibitions showcasing important works by Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, and others. He greatly expanded the museum's collection, and oversaw a dramatic enlargement of the gallery space. Most importantly, through his connections with other museums, galleries, and collectors around the world, he set into place future exhibitions, such as the Dixon's recent Forain display, which began with the purchase of a single painting during his stint at the Dixon. 

A graduate of the University of the South and Vanderbilt University, Buchanan began his career in Nashville with the Tennessee State Museum. He served as director of the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria, Illinois, before moving to Memphis in 1986 with his wife, Lucy.

After eight years in Memphis, Buchanan moved to Oregon, where he served as director of the Portland Art Museum from 1994 to 2005. Since 2006, he was director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, one of the most visited collection of art museums in the world.

A memorial service will be held in Nashville on January 4th. Donations in his memory can be made to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 50 Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118.

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