In memoriam, May 2017


Magdalena Abakanowicz, one of Poland’s best-known artists, died on 21 April, aged 86. She is most famous for her crowds of headless bronze figures, a recent example of which was installed in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2006. Born in Falenty, near Warsaw, in 1930, she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sopot (now Gdansk) and Warsaw, which was then under pressure to conform to the rules of Soviet Realism. There she was required to take textile classes, which came to have a profound influence on her work. Abakanowicz attracted the attention of the international art world in the 1960s, with her huge three-dimensional fibre works called Abakans. In the 1970s, she began creating figurative sculptures made of sackcloth; metal became her preferred medium in the 1980s. Her works are in major collections worldwide, including the Tate, which recently acquired her sculptural installation Embryology (1978-81).

Anthea Brook, the art historian of 17th-century Florentine sculpture and senior librarian of the Witt Library at the Courtauld Institute of Art, died on 31 March, aged 71. She worked at the Witt Library between 1987 and 2009, and was thereafter an independent scholar specialising in 17th-century Florentine sculpture.

Terence Coventry, the British artist described by the novelist John Le Carre as a “natural born sculptor”, died on 20 April, aged 79. He studied at the Stourbridge School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art in London, but left after he was not allowed to switch his focus from painting to sculpture. He joined the RAF and then enjoyed success as a pig farmer in Cornwall before deciding to make art his full-time job. And although he switched careers, his time on the farm continued to influence his artistic practice. He is renown for his sculptures of animals.

Barkley L. Hendricks, the African-American artist known for his realist and post-Modern portraits of black men and women, died on 18 April, aged 72.Born in Philadelphia, he studied art at Yale University, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s. His love of Old Master portraiture was cemented during a trip to Europe in the 1960s, the same time as the Black Power movement was gaining ground in the US. This led to his decision to portray black sitters in the style of the Old Masters. Although his influence can be seen in the work of several artists, including Kehinde Wiley and Rashid Johnson, it was not until the exhibition Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, which debuted at the Nasher Museum in North Carolina in 2008, that the art world stood up and took notice.

Anthony Reeve, the long-serving picture restorer at the National Gallery, London, died on 3 December 2016, aged 70. Reeve was the fourth generation of a family of picture restorers. After attending the Chard School, Somerset, Reeve joined the National Gallery’s restoration department at the age of 16. He remained at the gallery until his retirement 43 years later. His special expertise was structural conservation, notably relining large format pictures that were in danger of tearing through tiny movements. Among the works he restored were Rubens’s Peace and War. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the low-pressure conservation table, which permits relining without disturbing the paint and brushstrokes, and is now used worldwide.

William Simpson, professor emeritus of Egyptology at Yale University and curator of Egyptian and ancient Near Eastern art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, died on 24 March, aged 89. He became the professor of Egyptology and Near Eastern languages and literatures at Yale in 1958, where he remained until his retirement in 1991. He was also for 20 years the curator of Egyptian and ancient Near Eastern art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and substantially increased the collections and reinstalled the galleries. He led the Pennsylvania-Yale expedition to Egypt to rescue the monuments threatened by the construction of the Aswan Dam (1960-76).