Colorful American museum curator Christopher Monkhouse lover of British art and design – Obituary


Monkhouse was so in love with England that after obtaining a degree in fine arts, in 1970 he obtained a Thouron Prize to study at the Courtauld Institute in London, where he completed a master’s thesis on British Railway Hotels to a doctoral thesis on large hotels. under Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (never finished).

An internship with Desmond Fitzgerald, the Knight of Glin, in the furniture and carpentry department of the V&A followed.

Monkhouse has become familiar with the Victorian Society, the Irish Georgian Society, SAVE, and a contributor to Country Life. He seemed ready to live in London forever, but found himself propelled to America by the architecture editor of Country Life. John cornforth, who took a keen interest in leading young colleagues in their careers. Monkhouse had so much luggage, including a fabulous Bugatti chair, that he had to return by sea.

Over the next 40 years, he worked in the decorative arts and architecture departments of four major American museums – in Providence, Pittsburg, Minneapolis and Chicago.

In the excellent museum of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, he enriched collections and published catalogs while welcoming British and Irish friends, taking them to visit the famous millionaire mansions of Newport.

He was then recruited by Drue Heinz (who was, along with her husband Jack, famous museum donor) to launch a successor to the Heinz Gallery in Portland Square in London (creation of the brilliant John Harris). Located at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and aided by a generous acquisitions budget, Monkhouse has amassed a treasure trove of superb architectural designs.

Monkhouse then boldly moved to the Midwest as curator of architectural design and decorative arts at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. There he was fortunate to acquire a remarkable 1962 house from the great modernist architect Marcel Breuer.

All the while, Monkhouse was returning to England to maintain friendships, entertaining himself at the Garrick and Reform clubs (reciprocated with his New York Club, the Century Association) while having English and Irish friends to stay in his summer home. by the sea in northern Maine, where they endured outdoor showers and feasted on lobsters.

Then came the crowning achievement of his career as Curator of Decorative Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago. Here he has secured an impressive series of acquisitions. One was a golden Pugin chandelier 11 feet high; others were the trademark padauk wood and ivory cabinet designed by Horace Walpole and the 1782 library ladder from Badminton House in the Chinese Chippendale style.

Monkhouse’s moment of glory in Chicago came with his ambitious exhibition Ireland, Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840, almost exclusively using loans from American collections to showcase the best of Irish Georgian art and design. Nothing like this had never been attempted before, making it a major diplomatic coup.

Monkhouse had planned a golden retirement. He had purchased a stately 1850s sea captain’s house in the college town of Brunswick, Maine, filling it with his books and drawings and comfortable rooms for his many friends. A life of travel and entertainment awaited him but, alas, he died suddenly of a stroke.

Christopher Monkhouse, born April 2, 1947, died January 12, 2021

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