Obituaries: Clive Wainwright

He was a great lover of new technology, with a kitchen full of the latest gadgets alongside a dining room with furniture by Pugin

CLIVE WAINWRIGHT was a major figure in furniture studies whose loss will be felt throughout the world of furniture and design history.

He was based for more than 30 years at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and was a generous scholar with a great breadth of outside interests. He loved the V&A with a deep and abiding passion for giving him the opportunity to work closely with its great library, to write and research, and to develop, as he did, into a formidable and polymathic authority on many different aspects of design and the decorative arts, above all as a specialist on 19th-century furniture and collections, but also with a great knowledge of many other subjects, as knowledgeable about Ettore Sottsass, the contemporary Italian designer, as he was about Romanesque book production.

His magnum opus was The Romantic Interior: the British collector at home 1750-1850, published by Yale University Press in 1988. The book demonstrated his strengths as a scholar with an astonishingly wide range of knowledge of early-19th-century collections and an interest more in provenance and the appetites of early collectors than in the physical appearance and the making of furniture. It led to appointments of which he was enormously proud, including, for example, an invitation to lecture at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa and his appointment as a Visiting Professor at Birkbeck College, London University.

Born in Langport in Somerset in 1942, Wainwright was the son of a gardener and, although he was the least rural person imaginable, he was proud to have risen from a relatively humble background. Educated at Huish's Grammar School in Taunton, he went straight into industry without going to university in order to work at ICI in Welwyn Garden City.

His background as a research chemist doing early work on the development of plastics for household use was one amongst many unexpected aspects of his personality, so that while his bearded appearance made one think that he might be a neo-Luddite, in practice he was a great lover of new technology, using a mobile telephone long before they were common and with a kitchen full of the latest gadgets alongside a dining room with furniture by Pugin.

In 1966, he entered the Victoria and Albert Museum as a Museum Assistant after he had been told that to become a school teacher he would have to shave off his beard. He started working in the National Art Library. Then in 1968, he transferred to the Department of Furniture and Woodwork, which remained his spiritual home.

In the late 1960s, the Department of Furniture and Woodwork was extremely hierarchical and Wainwright as a non-graduate was at the bottom of the tree; but Peter Thornton, the energetic and then newly appointed Keeper, rapidly tranformed the atmosphere of the department into an engine of active scholarship and research. Wainwright worked particularly closely with Simon Jervis and together they led a scholarly reappraisal of 19th- century furniture which moved away from Pevsnersian orthodoxies to a much more active appreciation of the full gamut of styles.

During the 1970s, Wainwright's great achievement was in building up the Furniture and Woodwork archive. This was a classic example of effective compilation of all kinds of secondary research material for use by scholars; but in some ways the greatest research resource was Wainwright himself whose encyclopaedic mind was always able to come up with recondite bibliographic references which he would impart with a generosity of spirit not always evident in other parts of the museum world. Alongside his official duties, he began to publish widely on subjects including William Beckford's collection, the early furniture of A.W.N. Pugin and the furnishings of Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott's house in the lowlands of Scotland.

In 1988, he was finally appointed as Assistant Keeper in a department which had recently been renamed the Department of Furniture and Interior Design. This was a period of increasingly rapid change at the museum and it was one of the minor tragedies of Wainwright's life that just at the moment when he had achieved a position which might have given him more freedom to publish and research, the expectations of people in his position changed and he was expected to devote more time to public and administrative duties than to scholarship. However, in 1991 his position was to some extent resolved by his appointment as a Senior Research Fellow in Nineteenth-Century Studies in the newly established Research Department.

Clive Wainwright never really lost his early vocation as a teacher. He was one of the very few members of staff at the V&A who enthusiastically embraced the establishment of a postgraduate course in the history of design jointly with the Royal College of Art in 1982 and from its inception he taught courses on 19th- century design. However left-wing the students and however hostile to an antiquarian approach to historical research, they always admired Wainwright's knowledge, as well as his lecturing style by which he talked from memory timing himself with a fob watch tucked into his waistcoat pocket. He was due to be made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art on the day he died.

No account of Clive Wainwright would be complete without reference to his devotion to his American wife, Jane, whom he married in August 1967 and their purchase in 1971 of a fine early-19th-century house on the New River Estate in Islington, which they filled with their collection of 19th-century furniture and where they entertained friends. Together they shared a passion for the Palace of Westminster, where Jane is Director of Information Systems in the House of Commons library. In spirit, Clive Wainwright belonged to the early Victorians, to Pugin and to Barry, dressed in tweeds, an optimist and an autodidact with a passionate enthusiasm for scholarship, travel and gadgetry.

Clive Wainwright, author, museum curator and antiquary: born Langport, Somerset 2 April 1942; Museum Assistant, Victoria and Albert Museum 1966- 75, Research Assistant 1975-88, Assistant Keeper, Department of Furniture and Interior Design 1988-91, Senior Research Fellow in Nineteenth-Century Studies, Research Department 1991-99; married 1967 Jane Mylander; died London 2 July 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all