WITH the death at the age of 49 of Anthony Roth, both the London art market and the international art-historical community have been deprived prematurely of one of their liveliest and most gifted members.
Born in Los Angeles in 1943, Tony Roth first pursued what promised to be a particularly rewarding career as a historian of Italian sculpture, later shifting his focus to the fine-art market with a speciality in sculpture. He first studied the history of art at Princeton, moving to Harvard for his graduate studies. His special field of research was the neglected one of Lombard Renaissance sculpture and he chose as the subject for his doctoral thesis the difficult one of the sculptor Bambaia. This work took him to Milan and to Florence where he studied at the Kunsthistorisches Institut.
In 1966 he won a Kress Foundation fellowship to go to Florence to catalogue works of art which had been damaged by flooding, and it must have been the following year that I first got to know him in London, when he was working for a time at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I was captivated not only by his methodical approach to his subject, the product of a naturally orderly mind nurtured in the best American scholarly traditions, but by his obvious immense enjoyment of works of art. We became good friends, and I was delighted when in 1968 he and his wife Priscilla, a distinguished psychoanalyst, decided to settle in London. Despite a long friendship, I am now aware there was much in his life I knew little about.
Outgoing and generous as a scholar, good company, although not gregarious, he was a very private man, and I was never in any doubt that he was especially fortunate in his marriage and his children and that his family was the hub of his life. It was characteristic of him that he went to great lengths over a long period to conceal the fact of his illness, so that many of his friends and colleagues were unaware of it until, just recently, it became tragically obvious.
Roth taught for some years at Beaver College, an American college in London, where he was chairman of the art-historical programme, and then moved gradually into private dealing, at first with small items such as medals, in time with success handling sculptures of increasing importance. In 1984 he opened in partnership with the drawing specialist Kate Ganz his first gallery in London, in Maddox Street, Mayfair, and in 1989 they moved to remarkably beautiful new premises at South Street, where the works of art on display always looked marvellous.
As a dealer he rarely went in for the obvious, having a flair for finding unusual works of art in unusual places, and his scholarly background equipped him to make some brilliant identifications, such as that of the beautiful marble bust of a youth, which he recognised as a rare work by the eccentric sculptor Francesco Mochi.
This he sold recently to the Art Institute of Chicago and over the years he sold major pieces to many of the other great museums in the United States and Europe, including the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, the National Gallery of Scotland, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Just recently there passed through his hands the most important piece of his career, a terracotta sketch-model by Andrea del Verrocchio.
As a scholar, he continued to work seriously in his field, and was a mine of information to colleagues, but it will be forever regretted by those who admired his clever mind that he never brought to completion his thesis on Bambaia. The late Professor Ulrich Middeldorf, under whom he studied in Florence, and who used to speak of him as one of the most brilliant pupils he had ever had, had seen the work in progress, and would pester me constantly to persuade or bully Tony to complete it.
As a result of my failure, Tony Roth's reputation as a scholar rests on two articles which are major contributions to his field of study: one, written in collaboration with his friend Hanno Walter Krufft, on Gian Giacomo della Porta, and the other, published in the Burlington Magazine in 1980, on Benedetto Briosco, which is a model of art-historical method.
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