Obituary: J. G. Links

Joseph Gluckstein Links, art historian: born London 13 December 1904; OBE 1946; married 1945 Mary Lutyens (one stepdaughter); died London 1 October 1997.

It is improbable that anyone who was self-taught today would be acknowledged by the art-history world as the expert in his field. Without any formal training, J. G. Links became the world expert on Canaletto, a notoriously difficult painter to date. Even though he thought of himself more as a cataloguer than an art historian, Links achieved this while maintaining total integrity, modesty and a delight in life.

Links found Canaletto "endlessly fascinating" and wrote several books about him; Views of Venice by Canaletto, engraved by Antonio Visentini, was published in 1971; Canaletto in 1976; and Canaletto and his Patrons in 1977. Links helped with the exhibition at the Queen's Gallery in 1980, where he was able to examine many Canalettos in detail for the first time. The big Canaletto exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1989/90 was conceived by Links and made possible by his encyclopaedic knowledge; the loan of 70 paintings from private collections, many of which had never been seen in public, was due to his contacts and enthusiasm.

He was born in north London in 1904; his father was a Jewish refugee from Hungary who had started the fur business Calman Links. His mother died before he was 13 years old and he had to leave school aged 14; his father had become ill and wanted to teach him the fur trade before he died. "I was an unwilling and sullen pupil," he wrote, but he later appreciated not having to make a decision about a career. "There was the business and I jolly well had to go and earn my living at it."

Although he thought of himself as a bad salesman, he made the business more upmarket: his father had mostly traded in skunk skins, eventually becoming a director of the Hudson's Bay Company and gaining the royal warrant as the Queen's furrier. In 1956 Links wrote a book on the subject, The Book of Fur.

In the 1930s he published a series of crime dossiers with Dennis Wheatley, with whom he shared a love, and great knowledge, of fine German wine. These books, including Herewith the Clues! (1939) and The Malinsay Massacre (1938), with manually inserted "clues" for the reader, were phenomenally popular and were reissued in the 1980s.

During the Second World War Links was a Wing Commander in the RAF working on barrage balloons in the Air Ministry. Through his war work he met Robert Lutyens, son of the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, and through him his sister Mary, whom Links married in 1945. Their honeymoon was spent on a troopship going to New York. When his new wife objected to this as a rather unromantic honeymoon, they tried Venice as a more suitable option.

On this first visit to Venice they both became "hooked for life". They followed in the footsteps of John Ruskin with The Stones of Venice and, after that, for 30 years went to Venice two or three times every year. In the late Sixties, Links became involved in the establishment of the Venice in Peril Fund, set up to help prevent the buildings of Venice from crumbling into its lagoon, and remained a prime mover and fund-raiser.

The interest which he developed in both Canaletto and Ruskin grew out of his passion for Venice; in 1962 Mary gave him a copy of W.G. Constable's new monograph on Canaletto in which Constable had noted a missing painting which Links recognised as the painting hanging over his sister-in-law's fireplace. He and Constable started a correspondence and, when Constable came to England, he asked Links whether he would take over the second edition of the book; it took him six years rather than the six months Constable had anticipated and Canaletto was published in 1976.

Links's friends constantly asked for advice before they went to Venice; he wrote them letters describing what to see and do, which, with his characteristic generosity, he enjoyed doing, until one friend, the publisher Max Reinhardt, of Bodley Head, suggested turning this advice into a book. So his best- loved book, Venice for Pleasure (1966), originated, described by Bernard Levin as "Not only the best guide-book to that city ever written, but the best guide-book to any city ever written". A fifth expanded edition was published in 1994. Links also wrote The Ruskins in Normandy (1968), Townscape Painting and Drawing (1972) and Travellers in Europe (1980).

He had an extremely happy marriage; he and Mary were unfailingly polite to each other and she said of him, "He made me nice again." They loved working together and made a good team; he typed everything she wrote, wearing a short, black nylon jacket for his work. He built up an extraordinary collection of reference files and was endlessly curious, interested in everything, and took a great joy in life, even doing the Cresta Run on a bobsleigh.

Often, after dinner, they would read out loud to each other; he was a great fan of Raymond Chandler, but their literary and musical tastes were broad. He loved Mozart and knew Cole Porter, to whom they would dance, by heart. Links was very keen on good food and wine and both he and Mary were famous for their dry Martinis. When younger, they led a very stylish life and had a house in Sussex where they entertained.

Links was interested in clothes, especially ties, and he was always immaculately dressed. Even though he did not share his wife's enthus- iasm for the Indian mystic Krishnamurti, with whom she had grown up and about whom she published several books, when Krishnamurti was dying in California Links accompanied her to his death-bed. He was delighted when he discovered that in his will Krishnamurti had left him his extensive collection of Charvet ties.

Joe Links was extremely wise, versatile and able; he was always polite and worked hard all his life not to make an enemy. "I have had a very private life and I hope to go on being private for what's left of it," he said in 1989.

- Sarah Anderson

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager (District Heating)

£55000 Per Annum plus company car and bonus scheme: The Green Recruitment Comp...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn