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Obituary: Giles Waterfield



Giles Waterfield

24 July – 5th November 2016

Prize winning novelist, art historian, lecturer and curator, Associate Scholar of the Courtauld Institute, Giles Waterfield was a longstanding member of AICA. He was much admired not only for his scholarship, and the range of his literary achievements but for his dry wit and for his staunch defense of the museum. His last book The People’s Galleries: Art Museums and Exhibitions in Victorian Britain, Yale 2015, was the fruit of a lifetime’s research. He championed these institutions founded by philanthropy and whose future he strived to secure. He was both erudite and entertaining; I was privileged to be among a small invited audience to celebrate the book’s publication and to listen to Giles in conversation with Sir Mark Jones, former Director of the V&A, London when he gave amusing accounts of early visitors to these regional museums whose ‘noble and valuable purpose’ had not yet been compromised by restaurants and shopping malls.

Giles Waterfield, a cultured and civilized man with an unwavering belief in public values and the public realm, was ever a pragmatist. He became a brilliant pioneer of fundraising which he honed through his tenure as Director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery (1979-96), England’s oldest public gallery, where his tactics included ‘Adopt an Old Master’, based on the animal adoption at the zoo. He established groundbreaking education programmes, free to local schools, led by Gillian Wolfe, secured the Gallery’s future and stepped down: ‘One of the reasons why I left Dulwich was that I had the prospect of doing a range of attractive part-time jobs. What I did not expect was that I would go back to writing creatively.’ And so successfully. After a family memoir, The Long Afternoon 2000, which won the McKitterick Prize, he published The Hound in the Left Hand Corner based on his museum experiences, a book with wickedly accurate portraits of recognizable individuals, and their egos, in the art and heritage worlds.

Giles Waterfield was generous with his time and energies; he was an expert adviser to many bodies including the Heritage Lottery Fund where he assessed a hundred applications for capital projects. From1994 he was a joint Director of the Attingham Summer School and Director of Royal Collection Studies. His many friends, students and admirers have set up a Giles Waterfield Attingham Scholarship Fund to raise an annual scholarship in his name, in perpetuity. (enquiries for donations

Giles Waterfield taught curatorship at the Courtauld Institute and organised many exhibitions: some, like Art Treasures of England at the Royal Academy (1998), in celebration of regional museums; others, such as The Artist’s Studio at Compton Verney (2009), drawing on their rich collections.

Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton


A memorial service will be held on 11th January 2017, at 3pm, in St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London WC2.

All welcome.