Obituary:Michael Lloyd

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With Michael Lloyd's premature death at the age of 45, Australia has lost a great museum curator and the art world a good friend. Lloyd's combination of erudition, energy and enthusiasm, coupled with a natural charm, endeared him instantly to those who met him.

He read History at the University of Melbourne, where he gained the Felix Raab Prize for an outstanding essay, a First in Earlier European History, and a distinction for his thesis "Maxim Gorky and the Russian Revolution". For his MA, at Monash University, he chose as his topic "The Self-portrait in 20th-century Art". In 1978, after graduating, he worked briefly as Assistant Registrar at the National Gallery of Victoria, moving the following year to take up a similar post at the incipient Australian National Gallery, then under the direction of James Mollison.

Although his time at the National Gallery of Victoria was short, the experience he gained there was to have a vital impact in Canberra. As Assistant Registrar he had to maintain the accession register and arrange packing, transport and insurance of all works of art coming to, or being loaned from the National Gallery. When he moved to Canberra he had to create virtually from scratch the Registrar's department, and the systems of cataloguing and accessioning of acquisitions that he initiated have since become standard practice throughout all the art museums in Australia.

In 1980 he changed roles, being appointed Assistant Curator (Research), which gave him the responsibility for drafting all directorial correspondence relating to the acquisition of international works, with the exception of prints; drafting the Council submissions for the presentation of such works; and having sole responsibility for the presentation of international drawings for acquisition.

These were exciting and tumultuous years at Canberra, leading up to the opening of the National Gallery in 1982, and Lloyd's energy and vision were given full rein. Apart from his largely academic work, he had to deal with every detail of preparing the burgeoning international collection for the opening display, as well as overseeing and installing the Sculpture Garden.

By the time I got to know Michael Lloyd he had become Acting Curator for International Art at the National Gallery, and his responsibilities had expanded to embrace the seeking out and presentation of European and American paintings, drawings, sculpture and decorative arts. The collections in the international galleries do not include furniture, but during the ensuing years Lloyd acquired for the gallery a wide range of objects which help chart the development of 19th- and 20th-century design, including metalwork by Christopher Dresser, a Bakelite candlestick by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and a prototype electric kettle designed and made by William Morris's friend and colleague W.A.S. Benson.

He had frequently asked me to find him a magnificent example of William De Morgan's great, Persian-inspired pottery and, by chance, when we had just acquired such a piece and I was arranging to have it photographed, he popped his head in at the Fine Art Society. "I am not supposed to be coming to see you," he said. "I am working on a big Surrealist exhibition, but I could not walk down Bond Street without saying hello." Diverting him for a moment from the pursuit of Dada and Surrealism, I told him about the vase and took him up to the office to see it. His response was immediate and typical: he sat down in a chair, literally weak at the knees, and said, "Gee, this is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen."

Whether contemplating the great works by Matisse, Mir, Picasso and Jackson Pollock that he acquired for the gallery, or the more modest and functional creations of Benson and Mackintosh, Lloyd's spontaneous reactions were the same. Sheer infectious enthusiasm; a physical as well as an intellectual response. A rare quality in any human being, and especially rare in a world largely dominated by academe.

He applied this same fastidiousness to the smallest details of life and friendship; when I was in Australia a few years ago, he selected the hotels I should stay in. In Sydney he chose for me a converted Victorian pub near the harbour, even specifying which room I was to have, selected for its tranquillity, not the view.

Lloyd wrote widely and arranged many exhibitions for the National Gallery; the two most outstanding were probably "Surrealism: revolution by night (1993) and his latest exhibition, "J.M.W. Turner", the biggest show of its kind ever seen in Australia, which opened in Canberra in the middle of March, and has already been seen by over 200,000 people. In the essay, "Being There", which he wrote for the catalogue, he comments on Turner's "enduring astonishment and wonder at the world about him". Despite being aware of the seriousness of his illness (he died of lung cancer), Michael Lloyd never lost his own sense of astonishment and wonder.

Peyton Skipwith

Michael Thomas Lloyd, museum curator: born Melbourne, Australia 16 September 1950; Assistant Registrar 1979, National Gallery of Australia, Assistant Curator (Research) 1980-82, Acting Curator, International Art 1982-85, Curator, European and American Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings and Decorative Art 1870-1970 1985-90, Senior Curator, International Art 1990-92, Assistant Director (Development and Management of the Collections), 1992-96; married 1971 Jannette Murray (two daughters); died Canberra 19 May 1996.