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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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 Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick