Obituary: Helena Hayward

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The Independent Online
Helena Hayward was the leader of a new movement in furniture studies in Britain from the early 1960s when she succeeded in treating furniture as a serious art historical subject on a par with painting, sculpture and architecture.

Thus, she was not only one of the founding members of the Furniture History Society, whose Honorary Secretary she was 1982-89, but the publication of her Thomas Johnson and English Rococo (1963), the Catalogue of the Drawings of John Linnell in the Victoria and Albert Museum (1969) and, with Pat Kirkham, William and John Linnell (1980) set a new standard in the study of English furniture. Although most of her research was concentrated on mid-18th century England, she was always concerned that English furniture studies should be placed in an international context, and her World Furniture (1965) was immensely popular.

However, her greatest gift was as a teacher and inspirer of others. She began lecturing at Erica O'Donnell's Study Centre for the Fine and Decorative Arts in the 1960s, and then for many years at the Attingham Summer School, of which she was Director from 1975 to 1986. This last suited her admirably, for not only did it bring her into contact with a mostly younger generation, whose eyes she could open, but she was able to raise its standards so as to attract a broader range of students drawn from many nationalities, and able people to teach them.

All this came as a second flowering well into middle life. The daughter of a surgeon, Sir Henry Linnington Martyn KCVO, she was educated at St George's Ascot, and then at Heidelberg, Florence and Paris, where she stayed with the same family as Diana Holman Hunt. At Courtaulds, who gave her her first job, she met John Hayward whom she married in 1939. He - who was later to make his mark as a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then at Sotheby's as an international authority on the Renaissance goldsmith and arms and armour - introduced her to the art world. They shared a liking for good food and drink, collecting works of art and foreign travel. This they regarded not just as an opportunity to study art and architecture but also as a means of perfecting their French, German and Italian.

Their rule on these annual expeditions was to read only the literature of the country they were visiting and to talk to each other in the same language. As a result of this training she became a brilliant conversationalist, with a command of French, German and Italian that was to stand her in good stead when guiding students around foreign collections. Since she could write as well as she talked, her letters often persuaded reluctant owners, such as Stavros Niarchos, to open their doors.

This engaging literary style was the expression of an exceptionally warm and sympathetic personality which won friends of all ages on both sides of the Atlantic who will miss the hospitality of "Hayward's Hotel". With a mind capable of grasping the essentials of every issue, energy, judgement, as well as charm, she was ideally qualified to serve on the committees of the organisations closest to her heart - the Georgian Group, the Attingham Trust, and the Silver Collectors and Furniture History Societies. These never allowed her to retire, and right up to the end called on her for advice, ideas and engagement.

She died at home, attended by her son and daughter, surrounded by the works of art she and John had collected and from which they had both learnt so much. Her enthusiasm for fine houses and their contents never dimmed and, even when she was in the final stages of cancer, a reading from John Cornforth's description of Clarence House, or Nancy Lancaster's memories of Kelmarsh Hall would raise her spirits. She faced death with exemplary courage, and was in no way depressed by it, perhaps because she knew she had lived life to the full and that her mission to communicate her love of art was well and truly accomplished.

Diana Scarisbrick

Joyce Helena Linnington Martyn, furniture historian: born Eton, Berkshire 18 September 1914; married 1939 John Hayward (deceased; one son, one daughter); died London 17 February 1997.