Professor Francis Haskell

In 1967, Professor Francis Haskell (1928-2000) became Professor of the History of Art Department.  His work substantiated the link between artists and their social context through documentary research on patronage, taste and collecting in early modern Europe.  These interests resulted in Haskell adding to the Department’s resources with a wide range of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century source books, thus broadening the scope of the library and contributing to the Department’s fundamental value as a centre for study.

Francis Haskell succeeded Edgar Wind in 1967, at the age of thirty-nine. Though his own interests were somewhat different from those of Wind, he always acknowledged a debt to the generation of European emigré scholars to which Wind himself belonged, including Otto Kurz, Rudolf Wittkower, and Ernst Gombrich.

The department he inherited at Oxford was, and remained, small. He had at first attempted to set up an undergraduate degree, but the economic crises of the early 1970s made this impossible. Instead, he rapidly developed a formidable graduate institute. Turning his interests from the previously little-studied period of Italian baroque art to the even less explored field of nineteenth-century French academic art, he greatly expanded the scholarly resources established by Wind, while retaining a broad Warburgian emphasis. He managed to acquire a set of rare early Salon catalogues, a key source for the study of artistic production in France over two centuries, and a fundamental requirement for his teaching and research, attracting a small number of keen graduate students (two future directors of the Warburg among them). One of the earliest of these students began the creation of a vast index of subjects appearing at the salon throughout its existence. The many thousands of index cards it comprises are now in a series of filing cabinets within the Sackler Library [LINK]. The Salon index, together with the rare source material Haskell gathered for the library, not only established the Department as a major scholarly resource regularly used by scholars from Cambridge and the Courtauld, but also extended its reputation much further afield. One further result of this was that the late Professor Lee Johnson chose to bequeath his Delacroix archive to the Department, where it remains, see http://www.hoa.ox.ac.uk/lee-johnson-archive.

Thwarted in his plan to set up an undergraduate degree, Haskell compensated in some measure by offering annually a Special Subject for historians, a study of art and art criticism in nineteenth-century France. A popular subject, within a few years it produced a new generation of graduate students, several of whom proceeded to his newly-reconstructed Diploma, an early form of the present MSt, and then to further research. Most of these pupils, of the late 1970s and the 1980s, are now museum curators or professors. Unaided, four of the earliest of them set up the Oxford Art Journal, and jointly compiled the now essential reference work, A Bibliography of Salon Criticism, published by CUP in three volumes.

In 1991, Haskell was the subject of a French film, directed by Renan Pollès. At about that time he was supervising the thesis, completed in 1995, of a Chinese student, Cao Yi Qiang, on recent developments in British art history and their potential uses for Chinese art history, with special reference to Francis Haskell. A bibliography of his own writings appeared at the end of a special issue of Saggi e Memorie in 2001, 'Scritti in ricordo di Francis Haskell'.  He received a number of distinguished foreign honours, and after his death in January 2000, two of the most important scholarly gatherings in his memory took place abroad; one at the Fondazione Cini in Venice, and the other at the Scuola Normale, at Pisa. In 2013, a research team at Exeter University, directed by Professor James Kearns, completed a three-year project exploring in detail a selected area of Haskell's interests, the role of the French fine art salons between 1830 and 1852. In 2015, Dr Tom Stammers organised at Oxford a symposium drawing on contributions from Haskell's numerous former pupils and followers. This gathering confirmed not only the enduring interest of his work, but the commitment of a new younger generation to exercising his methods within a wide-ranging field of enquiry.