Bernard Denvir

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The Independent Online
Bernard Denvir, writer, art historian, art critic: born Whitehaven, Cumberland 26 January, 1917; married Joan Gay (four sons, one daughter); died London 12 December 1994

Bernard Denvir was a distinguished art critic, art historian and writer. In 1947 he assisted in the foundation of Art News and Review, and he was its first editor. The magazine was mainly devoted to short reviews of exhibitions and became the nursery and training-ground of most of the young art critics who later made the grade, such as Terence Mullaly and Bill Packer. The pay was minimal but the experience invaluable. In 1950 he resigned in order to set up a new magazine, Simply Art.

He was born in Cumberland, in 1917, and brought up a Roman Catholic. As a very young man had an inclination for the priesthood and entered St Benet's Hall, Oxford, with the intention of becoming a Benedictine and taking up a teaching career. But he had mistaken his vocation; he left St Benet's and entered Merton College, Oxford, where he took a degree in modern history. Visual arts and art history now became the dominant factors in Denvir's intellectual life. He contributed to newspapers and art magazines and held various teaching posts. In 1961 he became a lecturer in the history of art at Ravensbourne College and head of his department from 1970 to 1981.

During this period Denvir was appointed to the Council for Academic Awards, a body which awarded degrees to students of art. He was also for a number of years president of the English section of the International Association of Art Critics. On his retirement from these various positions in 1981 this industrious man began writing a series of books on art history. In the last 12 years of his life he published A Documentary History of Taste in Britain (1983-84) in four volumes, An Encyclopaedia of Impressionism, Impressionists at First Hand, Post Impressionism, Toulouse Lautrec, Vincent, All the Portraits (1994, on Van Gogh) and Impressionism. He also wrote a short history of the Arts Club in London, A Most Agreeable Society (1994). He was part of the way through an account of the British Exhibition pavilion in Venice for the British Council when his heart stopped.

Bernard Denvir was a man of great charm, his conversation was full of wit and humour and he wore his learning lightly. His eye for art was very true. He did not make mistakes of judgement in the contemporary jungle. No period of art from the prehistoric to tomorrow was beyond his knowledge and appreciation.