Professor Anne Crookshank: an appreciation
Posted by IGS
As the time of the Irish Georgian Society Review going to press, news comes of the death of Professor Anne Crookshank (1927–2016) pioneering scholar of Irish art, and member of the Irish Georgian Society for more than fifty years. After positions at the Tate and the Witt Library – and research on the drawings of George Romney – Anne returned to Ireland in 1957 when she took up position as Keeper of Art in the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, later the Ulster Museum, whose collection she was to transform with adventurous acquisitions of contemporary art including works by Antoni Tàpies, Sam Francis, William Scott and Karel Appel. Taste for such advanced art was not widespread in Northern Ireland of the 1950s and she gleefully recalled being denounced as the ‘Whore of Babylon’ at a meeting of Belfast City Council.
The year after her arrival in Belfast, on a weekend in Donegal Anne met Desmond and Mariga Guinness who had just founded the Irish Georgian Society and, through them, Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin. The first collaboration of this group (with James White of the National Gallery of Ireland) was the exhibition Irish Houses and Landscapes in 1963. Two years later Anne moved to Dublin to set up the History of Art Department at Trinity College. A further seminal exhibition Irish Portraits 1660-1860, which showed at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1970, set the tone for her researches on artists such as James Latham whose oeuvre of more than one hundred portraits she reconstructed from the starting point of just one mezzotint inscribed with his name. Through the 1970s she and Knight collaborated on the first scholarly book on Irish art since Strickland’s Dictionary of 1913, which was published in 1978 with a completely new edition in 2002.
For many years a stalwart of the Castletown Foundation, in 1985 Anne was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy. Throughout Anne taught at Trinity, in whose Common Room she was a formidable presence, educating several generations of art historians. She was certainly a demanding taskmaster, but was unfailingly kind to students she thought interested in the subject. Her collaboration with the Knight, which set Irish art history on a firm footing for the first time, was characterized by furious rows over attributions. He later recalled: ‘These lively interchanges brought out the determined sparkle of her resolute character, and her ability to roar with laughter ten minutes later underlined her generous humour and refreshing ability to laugh at herself. She always inspired her students with a zest for life – a zest that conquers every obstacle’.
I recall, many years ago, discussing with Anne the hymns she wanted sung at her funeral (this was a very Anne Crookshank sort of topic). Foremost amongst these was Abide with Me, or, as she put it, 'the one they sing at football matches’. Her memory will certainly abide with the numerous individuals who were taught, befriended or influenced by her. She was a great and very generous scholar, an unshakably loyal friend and a redoubtable Irish woman. May she rest in peace.