Sir Lawrence Gowing


Sir Lawrence Gowing, ‘Portrait of Sir Norman Reid’ 1980
Portrait of Sir Norman Reid 1980
© The estate of Sir Lawrence Gowing
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Sir Lawrence Burnett Gowing (21 April 1918 – 5 February 1991) was an English artist, writer, curator and teacher. Initially recognised as a portrait and landscape painter, he quickly rose to prominence as an art educator, writer, and eventually, curator and museum trustee. As a student of art history he was largely self-taught.

Born in Hackney, East London to Horace Gowing, a draper, and his wife, Louise, his first painting of note, Mare Street, Hackney, made reference to his father's shop. After attending the Downs School at Colwall, Herefordshire and Leighton Park School, in 1938 he enrolled in the Euston Road School, where he studied with William Coldstream. He was a conscientious objector during World War II. In the 1940s he became recognised as a painter, and for the rest of his life was sought after to paint casual but quintessential portraits of the eminent, among whom were Clement Attlee, Lord Halifax, and Edgar Adrian.

Gowing began teaching in 1948, first as Professor of Fine Art at King's College, University of Durham (now the University of Newcastle upon Tyne) from 1948 to 1958, then as Principal of Chelsea School of Art from 1958 to 1965, as Professor of Fine Art at the University of Leeds from 1967 to 1975, finally serving as Principal of the Slade School of Fine Art at University College, London from 1975 to 1985. Concurrently, he authored a number of art monographs and catalogues on masters such as Vermeer, William Hogarth, J.M.W. Turner, Cézanne, Matisse, and Lucian Freud. Among the major exhibitions he organized were those for Turner at the Museum of Modern Art in 1966, Matisse in New York in 1966 and London in 1968, and Cézanne, which traveled in 1988-89 from the Royal Academy to the Musée d'Orsay and the National Gallery of Art.

Sir Lawrence was a trustee of the Tate Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the British Museum, and was a member of the Arts Council of Great Britain. In 1978, he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy of Arts, and was made honorary curator of its collections in 1985. Beginning in the 1960s he travelled to the United States to serve as Kress Professor at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and was also curator of the Phillips Collection in Washington. Knighted in 1982, he was made a chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters in France in 1985.

Sir Lawrence also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1980.

A first marriage, to Julia Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, ended in divorce. In 1967 he married Jenny Wallis. Sir Lawrence had three daughters. He died of heart failure at the age of 73.

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