Duncan Robinson (1943–2022)

by Mark Hallett

  • 8 December 2022

All of us at the Centre were greatly saddened to hear of the death of the art historian Duncan Robinson. He passed away peacefully on Friday, 2 December, at the age of 79.

Duncan Robinson was appointed Director of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven in 1981, having served as Keeper of the Department of Paintings and Drawings at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, since 1976. In his fifteen years at the Yale Center, during which time he also served as the ex-officio chief executive of the Paul Mellon Centre in London, he fostered close ties between both institutions, and encouraged a remarkably wide range of curatorial and academic initiatives in the field of British art studies. The energetic, collaborative and generous spirit that distinguished his time at Yale was also to find expression on his return to the Fitzwilliam Museum, as Director, between 1995 and 2007, and in his work as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, between 2002 and 2012. Robinson, as well as being a specialist on twentieth-century British art, was deeply knowledgeable about the art and literature of the Georgian period. He gave the Paul Mellon Lectures in 2009, on the topic of “Pen and Pencil: Writing and Painting in England, 1750–1850”.

A distinguished scholar, teacher and curator, Robinson was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2008, for his services to the arts.

The Paul Mellon Centre’s Director, Mark Hallett, said: “All of us who spent time with Duncan will remember him for his creative vision and lightly worn learning. We will remember his alert, quizzical gaze and the smile that constantly flickered across his face in conversation. Most of all, perhaps, we will remember the support and generosity he consistently showed to scholars at all stages of their career. He was as interested in talking to the most naïve and nervous student as he was to the great and the good. He was an inspirational leader and, for many of us, a longstanding mentor. It is a privilege to have known him”.

About the author

  • paulmellon-day021091-1-1

    Mark Hallett - Märit Rausing Director at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London