Obituary: Jack Goodison

Jack Weatherburn Goodison, art historian: born 17 March 1903; Assistant Marlay Curator, Senior Keeper and Deputy Director, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 1925-68; Fellow, Darwin College, Cambridge 1964-93; died 9 December 1993.

JACK GOODISON owed his first appointment to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in 1925, to his remarks on a painting being overheard by the then Director, Sydney Cockerell; a story that sounds apocryphal but is true to the way in which museums were then run.

Goodison was appointed Assistant Marlay Curator and spent the whole of his working life at the museum, retiring as Deputy Director in 1968. He was the first junior graduate member of the staff, at a time when the fabric and the collections were growing at a phenomenal pace and his duties included the accessioning of a wide range of materials and the formal guiding of visitors. Goodison was ideally suited to this work, a civilised, gentle and humorous man, dapper in appearance and happy in dealing with the museum's myriad benefactors. There were limits to even Goodison's patience, for he is remembered as precipitately leaving the museum's library by a window on hearing an importunate voice at the door.

Jack Goodison was the only son of George Goodison, of Leeds. He was schooled at Clifton and read the Mechanical Sciences Tripos at King's College, Cambridge, taking his BA in 1925. He found time for amateur theatricals and worked as a volunteer on the print collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Cockerell retired in 1937 and Goodison worked for a few years under Louis CG Clarke until called to war service in the RAF between 1940 and 1946. As a Wing Commander, he was seconded to the army and became Controller of Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives to the Allied Commission in Austria, jointly publishing accounts of the losses.

Under Carl Winter, appointed Director in 1946, Goodison began his most important work for the museum. He had been honorary secretary to the Walpole Society from 1932 until 1942 and was elected FSA in 1946. His principal interest was in British portraiture (he bought the museum's Lely Lady for pounds 4 at Christie's in 1941), and he began serious work for his projected catalogues of Cambridge Portraits and of the museum's painting collections. Volume One of Catalogue of Cambridge Portraits was published in 1955, dealing with the university collections.

Meanwhile he was working on the three-volume catalogue of the museum's paintings as co-author with H. Gerson and Denys Sutton of the first volume on Dutch, Flemish, French, German and Spanish paintings, 1960, representing almost one half of the collections; co-author with Giles Robertson of the Italian volume, 1967; and sole author of the British volume, 1977. The catalogues were very well received, the format that Goodison gave to the texts, his skill in descriptions, his generosity to the scholarship of other writers and his thoroughness as an editor and scholar, were justly admired. For the museum he was responsible for the excellent Handbook to the Collections which went through four editions between 1952 and 1964 until rendered obsolete by new extensions to the museum. Goodison was a friend from undergraduate days of Reynolds Stone and at the invitation of Brooke Crutchley published a monograph on the engraver as the first title in the revived series of Christmas Books from Cambridge University Press.

In 1964 Goodison was elected one of the foundation fellows of Darwin College, its Praelector and wine steward. The fellowship gave him great pleasure, his expertise in claret being exploited in the college long after his retirement. The college extended his social life, giving him further scope for his skills as a chef and as a superb host, centred on his exquisite house and garden at Melbourn, south of Cambridge. In common with the quiet expertise that enabled him to deflate the pretensions of a fake Delacroix painting or Degas drawing, he enjoyed a similar quiet authority in wines and old-fashioned roses. Most fittingly, Darwin College celebrated his 80th birthday with a memorable dinner.

It is much to be regretted that he never finished the further volumes on the portraits in the college collections; only those in Christ's, Clare and Sidney Sussex Colleges have been published by the Cambridge Records Society. Knowing Goodison's scrupulous care, it is to be hoped that his important archive of materials on the Cambridge Portraits will be placed where his scholarly interests can be continued by another hand.

Besides the work recorded here, there is another commemoration of Goodison's career in the Fitzwilliam Museum that may be mentioned. His sister Katherine Goodison bequeathed a memorial fund to the museum in 1987.

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