Professor David Alan Mellor (1948–2023)

by Sarah Victoria Turner

  • 4 December 2023

It is with great sadness that I share the news of the death of David Alan Mellor, a great friend and colleague to the Paul Mellon Centre and Emeritus Professor at the University of Sussex.

David arrived at Sussex as an undergraduate student from his hometown of Leicester in 1967 to study with Quentin Bell and Hans Hess, the founders of Art History at the University. He stayed at Sussex until his retirement in 2018. As one of the country’s leading scholars in the fields of twentieth-century painting, film and photography his wide-ranging work as a teacher, writer and curator transformed the field.

David served on the Paul Mellon Centre’s Advisory Council and participated in a number of conferences and publication projects, both in London and at the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA). Most recently, he contributed an essay to Frank Auerbach: Drawings of People, edited by Catherine Lampert and Mark Hallett.

‘That Old, Weird England’, the title of his paper at the Photography and Britishness conference (November 2016), co-organised by the YCBA, the PMC and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, for me, sums up much of the spirit of David’s approach. He had a formidable knack for unearthing the forgotten, the strange – the material that had been cast into the margins or simply forgotten about – and make it utterly compelling and argue for its centrality in understanding British culture. His work on the artist Pauline Boty laid the foundations for a re-assessment of her role in the art world of the 1960s. Professor Lynda Nead dedicated her recent lecture on Boty, part of the Paul Mellon Lecture series on ‘British Blonde’, to David’s memory and the legacy of his work.

David’s facility with language will never be forgotten by anyone who was been taught by him, listened to one of his lectures, or entered into conversation about the seemingly endless range of interests he maintained. I will also always remember his laugh; any interaction with David was always filled with wry humour. One of my abiding memories of working with David was a workshop we organised together in connection with Professor Tim Barringer’s Mellon Lectures. He convinced me that we must screen the 1944 wartime comedy Tawny Pipit. It is a film about countryside and national identity, about comedy and also about conservation. David made us think and look at British art in very different ways and we will continue to be inspired that spirit of curious enquiry for a long time to come.

Read Professor Maurice Howard’s obituary on the University of Sussex website.

Listing image: Benjamin Stone, Doorway, Merevale Abbey, Warwickshire, 1900, photograph from National Photographic Record & Survey. Image courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London (E.5517-2000). (David's last talk at the PMC concerned the photography of Benjamin Stone).

About the author

  • Sarah Victoria Turner - Director at the Paul Mellon Centre