Monday, February 13, 2012

John Gage

Charlotte Klonk has written the first of what will surely be a brace of obituaries for the late John Gage, whose death occurred last Friday, February 10, at the age of seventy-three. He was one of the kindest, gentlest, most unassuming but distinguished, encouraging, stimulating, delightful, and good-mannered historians of art that I have ever had the good fortune to meet and get to know. It was a matter, also, of much pride to many of my compatriots and me that in the last decades of his life John should have turned his massive intellect to the visual culture of Aboriginal Australia, and that this should have pleased and sustained him so deeply. Professor Klonk writes: “The title of his 1987 book on Turner, A Wonderful Range of Mind, might describe his own intellectual personality. He was a pioneer of many themes that would become prominent in art history towards the end of the twentieth century―exploring the relationship between art and science, the material conditions that determine artistic creation as well as the history of perception. His first major publication, Colour in Turner: Poetry and Truth (1969) already raised all of these issues. Yet he resolutely refused to be fashionable. It is perhaps partly for this reason that his ground-breaking later books, Colour and Culture (1993) and Colour and Meaning (1999) were also huge public successes, finding a readership well beyond the confines of academia. They will in all likelihood remain the standard reference works on the history of colour for generations to come…With his boundless curiosity and great love of art John Gage was a truly inspiring teacher as well as a brilliant researcher. In recognition of his outstanding contribution to art history he received many prizes, among them the prestigious Mitchell Prize for Art History in 1994. A year later he was also elected as a Fellow of the British Academy. Yet he believed in the study of art history for its own sake, and held considerations of career, status, and professional advancement in the deepest contempt. His dry sense of humour and subtle irony would bring this home to those who worked with him, while his kindness, generosity, and good nature encouraged students to follow in whatever direction their curiosity would lead them. He was one of the freest and most independent minds that Art History has seen in recent decades and he will be sorely and bitterly missed.” Amen to that.

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