Sir Michael Levey
The New York Times bids farewell to art historian and director of the UK’s National Gallery:
As director of the National Gallery, Sir Michael oversaw the addition of its north wing and put into place the initial plans for the Sainsbury Wing. These construction projects dovetailed with a rehanging of the permanent collection and a reorganization of the museum’s educational programs to serve a broader public. While Sir Michael was director, attendance at the National Gallery increased to three million from two million visitors a year.
Most notably, he acquired 55 new paintings for the permanent collection, including Caravaggio’s “Boy Bitten by a Lizard,” Rubens’s “Samson and Delilah” and Monet’s “Gare St.-Lazare,” as well as the museum’s first David (“Portrait of Jacobus Blauw”) and its first Fragonard (“Psyche Showing Her Sisters Her Gifts From Cupid”).
Sir Michael’s favorite acquisition, however, was “Still Life With Lemons and Oranges,” painted in the 1760s by the Spanish artist Luis Meléndez.
(More details from Levey’s fascinating life after the jump.)
In the grand tradition of British art historians who have never taken an art-history course, Sir Michael developed into a one-man industry, turning out both scholarly and popular works on Renaissance art, Italian art of the 17th and 18th centuries, Ottoman art and French art of the 18th century. Besides writing about Tiepolo, he wrote monographs on Albrecht Dürer, Botticelli, Jacob van Ruisdael and, most recently, the portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence. He also wrote three novels, none of them particularly well received, as well as a life of Mozart and two highly praised books on Florence and Venice.
At the National Gallery, Sir Michael created an education department, an artist-in-residence program and the Artist’s Eye series, in which noted artists were invited to select favorite paintings from the museum’s permanent collection for exhibition. He also greatly increased the number of exhibitions sent on tour around Britain.
Sir Michael Levey, 81, Art Historian, Is Dead (The New York Times)