OBITUARY: Eleanor Green

During the Sixties and Seventies, it was common knowledge in the American art world that Eleanor and Sue Green were one and the same. Eleanor is the name given when she was born to orange growers in southern California in 1928, and to which her museum work and writing are credited, and Sue is what, by family quirk, she was called - the short, neat name that so suited her and her era.

When she moved from California to Washington DC in 1964, the socially acceptable thing for her to have done would have been to become a housewife. She had other ideas. Born Eleanor Samuels in 1928, she had graduated from Vassar, Class of '49, with a degree in art history. She joined the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in 1966, at the time a lively upstart which introduced modern art to a stuffy capital. A victim of its own success, the following year it was taken over by the Corcoran Gallery, an old and powerful institution. Here she became curator of contemporary art, and organised a show that, arguably, the gallery has never surpassed. "Scale as Content" combined the budgets for three small exhibitions in favour of a single large one. For it, she sought three sculptors: Barnett Newman, Ronald Bladen and Tony Smith.

The resulting works were vast: Ronald Bladen's The X scarcely cleared the top of the atrium's Doric pillars. This provoked the report "US Museums Go Mod" in Newsweek. The work by Tony Smith, a former assistant to Frank Lloyd Wright, had even greater impact. His sculpture Smoke, which was 45ft long, 33ft wide and 22ft high, made the cover of Time magazine. He had, the magazine reported, "discarded modelling clay in favour of blueprints, the chisel in favour of the welding torch".

Following the "Scale and Content" show, Green and Smith remained lifelong friends, so eerily close that, when he died, she dreamt it.

In the late Sixties she bought a dilapidated, but alarmingly fast 1959 XK150, a racing Jag; behind the wheel, she thought nothing of popping up to New York from Washington, a trip of 200 miles; to cruise studios for the afternoon. The artists she showed or befriended included the sculptors Mark di Suvero, and Richard Sera; the painters Josef Albers, Willem de Looper, Al Held, Ray Parker and Gene Davis.

While at the Corcoran she took a Master's degree and doctorate in art history at George Washington University. So began what gallery friends call her "scholarship phase". This took her to Britain, which she loved, where she prepared a thesis about the Victorian English painter C.R. Leslie remarkable for his lyrical portraiture.

Yet it was by no means the end of her gallery phase. In 1972, when she was appointed director of the University of Maryland Art Gallery, she was one of the first women, if not the first, to attain such a post in the United States.

She spent the better part of the Seventies at Maryland. Here she became interested in the work of young photographers. It is telling that, a decade before John Baldessari, Les Krims and William Wegman became internationally famous, their work had been exhibited at Maryland. The Phillips Collection, in Washington DC, was convinced to loan its precious collection of paintings by the Twenties abstract artist Augustus Vincent Tack. Her catalogues were immaculately produced: woe betide the printer whose colour reproduction was found wanting. The great achievement of the Maryland years was an authoritative catalogue and travelling show of the luscious works of the American Impressionist Maurice Prendergast.

During the Eighties, exhaustion had begun to take its toll: the woman whose entry might have looked so tidy in Who's Who had also raised three children (my brothers and me) in an era hostile to working women. Her tendency to treat tiredness with drink rather than sleep eventually ravaged her.

She slowed down, working only occasionally back in Washington DC proper as a guest curator for the Phillips Collection. In addition to a retrospective of the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo, the John Graham show, which travelled the United States in 1987-88, may have been her best. It brought to public notice the Phillips Collection's amazing stock of Grahams, amassed when its founder, Duncan Phillips, first supported the painter in the Twenties; and it showed Sue Green at her most scholarly, entertaining and perceptive.

Graham, born in Kiev, named at birth Ivan Gratianovitch Dombrowski, may have emigrated to America, where he influenced Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, but his world was that of an egocentric fabulist. Consider his warning to potential biographers: "Quand vous voudriez savoir who I am do not ask anyone, unless my maker, who will answer that you may be a very charming person, but that He does not choose to divulge a secret of this magnitude."

However, Sue Green had just the humour to enjoy his pranks and the diligence to winkle out the facts; in her book John Graham: artist and avatar (1987), she did just that. The impossible was her sort of challenge.

Eleanor Broome Samuels, curator and art historian; born Covina, California 3 June 1928; married 1951 Leon Green Jnr (two sons, one daughter); died Covina 24 August 1995.

In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party in February 2014
people12 undisclosed female victims are seeking $100m in damages
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
Bear and hare woodland scene from John Lewis Christmas advert
newsRetailer breaks with tradition, selling real festive fir trees online for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: We have opportunities for Cov...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to tea...

Digital Fundraising Analyst/Web Analyst - West Sussex - Permanent - £30k DOE

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?