Obituary: Joseph Darracott

John Letts
Saturday 21 March 1998 00:02

JOSEPH DARRACOTT, writer, art historian, editor, and museum man, was a great servant of art. He left behind him, as a monument to his loyalty and devotion, some 50 issues of the quarterly journal Museum News, 20 scholarly monographs, catalogues and the like, and six books.

He spent 14 hardworking years as Keeper of Art at the Imperial War Museum, from 1969. At the same time, he became one of the original band of museum people who helped to found, in 1971, National Heritage, the organisation for support and promotion of museums in Britain, and its Museum of the Year Award (first awarded in 1973), which he continued to serve until his sudden death.

In 1986, he took on the editorship of Museum News, which has now gone through over 100 numbers, and produced virtually all the last 50 or so issues with very little help from anyone else. He was a wise and patient editor, not given to wild editorials, and had a good eye for articles worth commissioning. The same qualities of integrity, sanity, and balance, combined with a perceptive eye for detail, informed his many reports for the judges' committee of the Museum of the Year Award. His was frequently a voice of reason among more strident options.

All that committee will have memories of Darracott which will be concentrated in his quiet, rather shy, almost innocent charm. But his best memorial will be his six books. Two were useful studies of the art by- products of war, The First World War in Posters (1974) and A Cartoon War: the Second World War in cartoons (1990). Two were invaluable additions to the body of art criticism, Art Criticism (1991) and Letters from Artists (1997). Perhaps the most outstanding were his study The World of Charles Ricketts (1980), and England's Constable, a sympathetic short life which he wrote for the Folio Society in 1985.

Joe Darracott was born in 1934 and was educated at Bradfield College and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read History from 1954. His first post in the museum world, after completing his training at the Institut d'Art et d'Archeologie in Paris, was as Keeper of the Rutherston Collection at Manchester City Art Gallery from 1961. In 1964 he took on a post at Hornsey College of Art as Lecturer in Art History: and his five-year tenure of service coincided with the famous sit-in, perhaps the most prominent manifestation in England of the revolutionary spirit which swept universities all over Europe in the late Sixties.

It was, perhaps, typical of him that his personal reaction to this kind of turmoil was to become calmer and gentler and more thoughtful. To colleagues who came to know him in later years, his temperament seemed almost saintly. He was loyal, patient, devoted to the causes he served, and, one would have thought, almost impossible to quarrel with.

Joseph Cobbould Darracott, art historian and museum curator: born Aldershot, Hampshire 22 February 1934; married 1959 Britt-Marie Holm (two sons, one daughter); died London 6 March 1998.

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