John House, 1945-2012

March 22, 2012

John House was a passionate scholar, curator and art historian known for his boyish enthusiasm. His expertise in and keenness for 19th-century French painting were matched only by his enthusiasm as a member of the Courtauld Institute of Art's student and faculty cricket team in the 1980s.

These qualities were most evident in his lectures to undergraduates, who "fell under the spell of his eloquent yet in the main unscripted performances", recalled David Solkin, dean and deputy director of the Courtauld.

Paying tribute to Professor House, he said: "He had been trained to look closely at pictures, and his ability to inculcate the same visual acuteness in his students was one of his greatest gifts."

Professor House studied Classics at New College, Oxford and completed his master's at the Courtauld in 1969 before being appointed to the post of lecturer in the School of Fine Arts and Music at the University of East Anglia. In 1980 he returned to his alma mater as a lecturer, and by the time he received his professorship in 1995 he had curated and organised exhibitions in London, Paris, Toronto and Washington.

Caroline Arscott, head of research and professor of 19th-century British art at the Courtauld, worked closely with Professor House at the institute and said he was "formidable in his ability to remember and process information; team teaching with him, I did not fret about my own faulty recall of chronology or political reconfigurations".

She added: "He was not inclined to draw a line between work and play, between the academic realm and life in general. For John, a conversation once started was to be continued beyond the symposium or classroom."

Elizabeth Childs, chair of art history and archaeology at Washington University in St Louis, recalled that Professor House had "a quirky sense of humour" that delighted in objects such as the ancient Egyptian statuette of a hippopotamus (popularly known as "William") on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"When he had an interest, he plumbed it in depth," she said.

Professor Arscott described Professor House as "a master at shading from the highly serious to the light-hearted" and recalled how "learned discussions of Haussmannisation could evolve into equally well-informed and energetically argued discussions of where to find the best ice cream in Paris".

Professor House retired from his post as Walter H. Annenberg professor at the Courtauld in 2010. He died of a heart attack on 7 February 2012 and is survived by his partner and his two sons.

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