Anne Crookshank (1927–2016)

By Edward McParland

ANNE OLIVIA CROOKSHANK, former professor of the History of Art at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD), fellow of the college and member of the Royal Irish Academy, died on 18th October 2016 aged nearly ninety. She will be remembered for her pioneering work – in collaboration with Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin – on the history of Irish painting, and for her inspiring teaching at Trinity.

Lawrence Gowing’s portrait captures her person and personality (Fig.37). Her pose is commanding, her expression affable. There is complete lack of affectation in her dress (beautiful, dashing and thrifty), hairstyle (untouched by a hairdresser) and lack of make-up. It cannot, of course, be a speaking likeness and thus misses her most commanding attribute, a wholly individual way of talking – vowels and consonants articulated with great clarity in an accent that in Ireland was thought not to be Irish and elsewhere was unknown.

Crookshank was born in Belfast on 3rd January 1927. After reading history at TCD she studied at the Courtauld Institute in London, where she worked on George Romney’s oeuvre. After spells at the Tate Gallery and in the Witt Library she moved to be Keeper of Art in the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (now the Ulster Museum) in 1957. It was in Belfast that she found scope for her interest in modern art (laying the foundation of the museum’s fine modern collection), and where – in the company of Desmond and Mariga Guinness and the Knight of Glin – were laid the seeds of her life’s work on Irish painting and architectural conservation. As she remarked in 1997: ‘In some ways the marvellous enthusiasm and generosity of [Mariga’s] character changed my whole outlook’. She remained fond of Belfast, but was happy in her retirement in Donegal, close to her friends Derek Hill and Deborah Brown.

Crookshank’s collaboration with the Knight continued after she moved to Dublin in 1966. Their work was extensive and radical, transforming the history of painting in Ireland, as did the archive they established and left to the Department of the History of Art at TCD. Their collaboration – known to all their friends as simultaneously tempestuous and devotedly amicable – was both archivally based and connoisseurial. Few relevant archives and no country house in Ireland escaped their attention. And their delighted interest in human nature enlivened, while illuminating, their study of patronage. The Painters of Ireland, c.1660–1920 (1978), The Watercolours of Ireland (1994), which won the 1994 Prix de la Confédération des Negociants en Oeuvres d’Art, and Ireland’s Painters, 1600–1940 (2002) established for the first time the independent significance of Ireland’s painters in the context of British art. William Strickland’s Dictionary of Irish Artists of 1913 was a constant point of reference for their research. Most importantly, they identified his (almost universally) unidentified sources; advancing from dictionary to analytical study, they threw into relief the hierarchy of the artists’ attainments, their eminence in such genres as landscape painting and the characteristic contribution of the French-inflected education offered in the Dublin Society’s schools.

Also clear from Gowing’s portrait are Crookshank’s formidable qualities that helped to found a university department at TCD in the 1960s. While her richly sympathetic character was instantly appreciated by her students, she was reckless in her attitude to authority, whether religious, secular or academic. Initially the only lecturer in the department, she soon expanded its range into the medieval and architectural with the appointment of Roger Stalley, who succeeded her as professor.

Work extended beyond the library and classroom. She contributed to the successful saving of Castletown, the great Palladian house in Co. Kildare designed by Alessandro Galilei and Edward Lovett Pearce. There was also committee work: for the Art Committee of the Northern Ireland Arts Council, the Stamp Design Advisory Committee in the Republic, the National College of Art and Design and the Municipal (now Hugh Lane) Gallery in Dublin. She was part of a small group that included the architect Michael Scott and James Johnson Sweeney who initiated the Rosc exhibitions, which from 1967 were the single most important avenues by which international contemporary modernism was introduced to Ireland.

Anne Crookshank’s legacy is personal as well as academic. She was indomitable, optimistic, kind, brave, generous and energetic. She was much loved. Louis le Brocquy got it right: ‘none can appreciate more than I the marvellous humour, courage and perceptive sensibility of this great Irishwoman’.