Obituary: John Gere

John Arthur Giles Gere, art historian, curator: born 7 October 1921; Assistant Keeper, Department of Prints and Drawings, British Museum 1946-66, Deputy Keeper 1966-73, Keeper 1973-81; FBA 1979; FSA; books include Pre-Raphaelite Painters (with Ro bin Ironside) 1948, Italian Drawings in the British Museum vol III: Raphael and his Circle (with Philip Pouncey) 1962; Taddeo Zuccaro: his development studied in his drawings 1969, Drawings by Raphael in English Collections (with Nicholas Turner) 1983; m arried1958 Charlotte Douie (one son, one daughter); died London 11 January 1995.

John Gere was more than an art historian who clarified understanding of Italian art, he was also a civilised human being who enhanced the life of those around him.

It is indeed ironic that he should have died at the moment when the recent publication of the catalogue of the Italian Old Master drawings in the Devonshire collection has served as a reminder of how much our knowledge and, particularly crucial, appreciation of Italian drawings is due to Gere. Just how true this is was not always fully recognised when he was alive.

Gere's whole life was dedicated to the British Museum. And unlike many contemporary art historians, he resisted both the seductions of the saleroom and the temptation to pose as a pundit and meddle in politics.

In 1946, after Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford, Gere joined the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum as Assistant Keeper. He remained there for his entire career, rising to Deputy Keeper in 1966 and Keeper in 1973; he retired in1981.

Gere was very much in the mould of other great keepers of the Department, such as his immediate predecessors Arthur Ewart Popham and Edward Croft-Murray. Any suggestion that he was a dry museum man would be wholly wrong. Gere was very human, was witty and could be whimsical. Art he genuinely loved, and his eye was shrewd not just with Italian drawings, but equally with French 19th-century oil sketches. In 1948, with Robin Ironside, he published Pre-Raphaelite Painters, and his love of the Pre-Raphaelites continued throughout his career.

With his wife Charlotte, herself a distinguished historian of jewellery, he understood that detailed knowledge and the civilised way of life were inseparable. When Gere joined the British Museum he found himself registering a collection of drawings formed by the great portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence. It consisted of approximately 2,000 drawings, the majority by secondary Italian artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. The direction he was to pursue throughout his life was set.

Gere came into daily working contact with Philip Pouncey, who had joined the Department of Prints and Drawings the year before him. Much later Gere described his working relationship with Pouncey as "the most valuable part of my entire education". While this was undoubtedly true, the statement could be misleading. The collaboration between Gere and Pouncey that ensued was one of the most fruitful in the whole history of the study of Italian art.

Together by 1962 they had completed Volume III of the catalogue of Italian Drawings in the British Museum, dealing with Raphael and his circle. It was to be followed in 1983 by Volume V of the catalogue dealing with Artists Working in Rome c1550-c1640, upon which they again collaborated. Both remain standard works. This is not just for their detailed content, but also has much to do with the standards of cataloguing Gere and Pouncey established.

They were nothing if not meticulous. After Pouncey had officially left the Department of Prints and Drawings, he continued to work with Gere, by now Keeper, for two or three days a month. Gere's door was usually kept shut and, undisturbed, the two men alternated vigorous discussion with an equally devoted attention to detail, although the actual writing, editing and indexing was done by Gere.

It would be wrong to think of him as exclusively working with Pouncey. Taddeo Zuccaro: his development studied in his drawings (1969) was very much Gere's own and he organised and catalogued exhibitions, notably the "Mostra di disegni degli succari (Taddeo e Federigo e Raffaellino da Raggio)" held in Florence, at the Uffizi, in 1966. There were also articles in learned journals, notable among them the Burlington Magazine and Master Drawings, on artists ranging from Correggio to Pirro Ligorio, PellogrinoTibaldi, Perion de Vaga and others, while an important work of collaboration, this time with Nicholas Turner, was Drawings by Raphael in English Collections (1983).

John Gere was both an FBA and FSA and his expertise was in demand until the end.

Terence Mullaly

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat