The Philadelphia Museum of Art felt funereal yesterday, hollow and somber and suffused with the heavy scent of peonies. Tuesday afternoons are not normally busy times, but the galleries seemed particularly empty. For long intervals, no one climbed the main staircase, on both sides of which stood great urns filled with enormous flower arrangements, tall and thick as hedges.

Throughout the exhibit halls, the few visitors generally were unaware that the place was in mourning.

Among them, a visitor from Paris admiring the impressionists. An art student sketching Rodin's

The Thinker

. Two actors wandering through the contemporary art wing. And a mother from Yardley, who had brought her two young sons to see the medieval armor as part of a home-schooling lesson.

None of them knew of Anne d'Harnoncourt's death. Nor her life.

In a way, that anonymity surely would have tickled her. She wanted nothing more than for the public to come to her museum and love its art as much as she did. As director and chief executive officer, her work had always been to pull the strings behind the scenes.

High above the main entrance, Alexander Calder's wan mobile

Ghost

turned listlessly.

"It doesn't always move," Jessica Sharpe, director of visitor services, said. "But yesterday - man, it sure was moving."

Sharpe and the rest of the museum staff had gathered on the staircase Monday to console one another over d'Harnoncourt's sudden, almost surreal death.

"Her voice was always present in the grand hall," Sharpe said. "At every gala. Every opening, you would hear her. Now, there is a void."

She and several colleagues yesterday could be found in the empty cafe, half-heartedly going over plans for the coffee - Illy - that will be introduced next week. It was difficult, they said, for them to picture the museum's future without the leader who had come to embody the institution.

"I never imagined this place without her," said Jenny Profy, a 30-year-old graphic designer who came to the museum straight out of Philadelphia University, and who, to her surprise, found it impossible to leave. "There's a certain fabric here, and she was part of it. I always felt that if the building exists, if the collection exists, Anne exists."

They found themselves telling Anne stories yesterday. "Like the glove," Profy said. "She was walking across to the Perelman Building and found a glove in the street, so she picked it up and brought it back to the sidewalk. 'Its owner might have an easier time finding it here,' she said."

Or the advice she gave Sharpe, whose 5-year-old daughter takes art classes at the museum. "She told me, 'It's really important, Jessica, that you continue to be excited about your daughter's love of art because as parents get older, they want their children to become doctors and lawyers."

Sharpe wept, recalling the conversation. "I will always remember that. And I will do that, forever," she said. "Forever."

At the back entrance, security guards Dee Tucker and Wilma Waller remembered boogeying down with their boss at the staff party after the Salvador Dali exhibit closed in 2005.

"We taught her the electric slide," Tucker said. "I'm going to miss her. Really miss her. She always took time to say hello. And once, when we had a new baby in the family, she stood there looking at all the pictures."

When the museum opened yesterday, one of the first visitors was a man who asked to make a donation in d'Harnoncourt's memory, a spokesman said.

He gave the museum a check for $22.

Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.