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Sir John Rothenstein
Sir John Rothenstein

© Tate Archive 2003
Sir John Rothenstein
(1938 - 1964)

The longest serving Director to date, Rothenstein's role was pivotal in 'dragging the British art world screaming and kicking into the twentieth century', as his obituary in The Independent stated. When he took over the directorship in 1938 the Collection did not represent much of what was happening in contemporary British art. Rothenstein set about rectifying this and in spite of all the financial difficulties he faced, he added a great number of works by modern British artists including Stanley Spencer, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud to the Collection. He also strengthened the modern international collection by acquiring important works by European artists notably Picasso and Matisse, as well as paintings representing the new wave of American abstract art.

As Director during the war years his carefully planned evacuation of the Collection at the outbreak of the war meant that it remained intact despite the Gallery being badly bombed during the Blitz.

Did you know?

Did you know that the normally very civil and restrained John Rothenstein, once punched art historian and collector Douglas Cooper at a private view? Cooper had for many months publicly criticised the Director's running of the Tate and on this particular evening followed him around the exhibition loudly insulting him. Rothenstein could not control his annoyance and punched Cooper in the face. Over the next few days sheaves of letters and telegrams arrived congratulating the Director on, what was seen as his refreshingly direct response.

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