Obituary: David Rodgers

DAVID RODGERS was a charismatic figure in the museum world; a friend of artists and a protagonist for 20th- century art; a stylish but reluctant writer of rare wit and quick intelligence.

After a colourful but chequered museum career he had settled down at home in Stockwell, south-east London, to a more contemplative life as a freelance writer and at the time of his sudden death was working with rare energy and infectious enthusiasm on various exhibition projects associated with Oscar Wilde.

Born at Sheffield in 1942 and educated there at King Edward VII School, Rodgers went on to read English and the History of Art at St John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1963. Here he gravitated toward the Footlights, and in his daily life affected a theatrical role as a fin-de-siecle aesthete, dazzling his landlady with his silk dressing gown, Turkish cigarettes, and sexually provocative reproductions after Beardsley and Moreau. He would later claim to have visited the Fitzwilliam Museum on only two occasions, and famously irritated Professor Michael Jaffe by suggesting a Raphael they were studying derived its essential quality from its "golden glow", provoking the sharp retort that this was discoloured varnish.

If Rogers showed scant interest in developing a career as a connoisseur of old masters, nevertheless he was profoundly serious in his personal dedication to the late 19th and early 20th century, and this was to be reflected in the large and pioneering exhibition on Charles Conder that he put on as curator at the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, in 1967.

Rodgers had begun his museum career four years earlier at the City of York Art Gallery. A remarkable reference from Cambridge drew attention both to his intellectual potential and his innate laziness, and suggested he might bore himself to death unless he quickly found an absorbing job. This was calculated to appeal to the director at York, Hans Hess, who had for long shown a rare ability to appoint talented mavericks in preference to what he perceived as the narrow-minded art historians produced by the Courtauld Institute. The memory of Hess's successful battles with philistine councillors in York must surely have sustained Rodgers when he took up his own first museum directorship at Wolverhampton in 1969.

The Wolverhampton Council had been hoping for a change of direction at the seriously run-down museum, but were soon shocked and shaken by the quiet revolution that Rodgers set in motion. He brought in visitors who had never previously considered entering an art gallery by organising a series of popular exhibitions about design and local history ("serious exhibitions with silly things in them"). "Coronation Souvenirs and Commemoratives"; "Seaside Souvenirs"; and, above all, "One for the Pot" - teapots - which he launched with a tea-party for 100 lucky schoolchildren and Noddy, the Brooke Bond (PG Tips) chimpanzee.

He built up an important collection of British and American Pop Art, probably the best outside London, acquiring for pounds 30,000 Lichtenstein's Purist Painting with Bottles, and Peter Blake's Cigarette Packet, in the face of much mocking from the local press ("pounds 18,000 up in smoke"; "Tories fuming over Pop art"). He also added modern prints and sculpture, including a maquette of Nicholas Munro's giant sculpture King Kong, which itself ultimately found a home on the roof of a Wolverhampton garage.

Rodgers enjoyed the company of artists and established fruitful relations with the Wolverhampton Polytechnic. He organised exhibitions by contemporary artists including Tom Phillips and John Langton, and a much-admired exhibition of collages. Nor did he neglect his duties as curator of the historical collections. He rescued a Richard Wilson that had been used to stop a coal-house door, bought Zoffany's Garrick and Sir John Brute (Brute in drag) and a Wright of Derby, and gave new prominence to Victorian genre painting.

In 1981 Rodgers moved to the Exeter Museums. Faced with a more conservative and less generous council, he stealthily acquired contemporary art under the pretext of extending the topographical collections, most notably with Burra's large-scale watercolour of Dartmoor.

His appointment to the Geffrye Museum promised much but delivered little when he fell out with the trustees and declined to reapply for his post when the museum was restructured. He did nevertheless produce pleasing publications in Mr Pooter's London (1988), based on Diary of a Nobody, and A Victorian Schoolboy in London: the diary of Ernest Baker (1881-82) (1989).

Rodgers was modestly self- deprecating about his capacity to write on an art-historical level. A long, intellectually fruitful friendship with Sir Michael Levey, whose sophistication and eloquence he particularly admired, and with whom he travelled regularly to Italy, may paradoxically have inhibited his own readiness to commit himself to print on an ambitious scale. He wrote a short book on Rossetti for Phaidon (Rossetti, 1996), and a popular book on William Morris (William Morris At Home, 1996) for the William Morris Society. And he was cajoled into making valuable contributions to the Macmillan Dictionary of Art, and a forthcoming Oxford Companion to Western Art, on which he also served as an advisory editor.

In his editorial capacity he could be surprisingly, but always charmingly, stubborn, resisting attempts to persuade him to commission articles on fashionable subjects such as Modernism which did not interest him. Pressed relentlessly to find an author to write on the sensitive issue of Feminism, he mischievously wrote an apparently faultless article himself, signed "Lesbia Brandon", without ever revealing whether or not he expected it to he published.

Rodgers's greatest gift was a capacity for friendship and a knack of turning lovers or aspiring lovers into friends. He met his long-standing companion, Clare Martin, at Wolverhampton when she was still a schoolgirl. Almost from the outset she had to sustain him through periods of tiresome and on occasion dangerous ill-health; yet she must herself have drawn great strength from David's warm, protective and stoic personality. With characteristic irony, and perhaps some regret, he suggested his own epitaph: "David Rodgers: he was very jolly."

David Ernest Rodgers, museum curator and writer: born Sheffield 1 February 1942; Art Assistant, York City Art Gallery 1963-65; Curator, Graves Art Gallery 1965-68; Curator, Old Battersea House 1968-69; Director, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Museums 1969-81; Director, Exeter Museums and Art Gallery 1981-86; Director, Geffrye Museum 1986-90; died Lyndhurst, Hampshire 3 July 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review