Eric Shanes Remembered

by Martin Postle

  • 21 Mar 2017

Yesterday, we learnt with great sadness of the death of Eric Shanes, a formidable presence in the world of Turner studies and a close friend of the Centre. While most of us recall Eric through his copious publications on Turner, he also wrote on an astonishingly wide range of subjects including monographs on Salvador Dalí, Winslow Homer, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Constantin Brancusi, the American Realist painter Jack Beal, as well as more general studies on Pop Art, Impressionism, British watercolour and the Royal Academy. Eric, who trained at Chelsea School of Art in the 1960s, was also a painter. He spent decades immersed in Turner studies and was the founding editor of the journal that bears that name.

Eric’s formal association with the Paul Mellon Centre as Senior Research Fellow began in 2006 when, under the directorship of Brian Allen and the editorial aegis of Gillian Malpass, he began work on his magnum opus, Young Mr Turner: The First Forty Years, 1775-1815, which the Centre published to great acclaim last year. Eric was passionate about Turner, and about this publication. As he noted to Brian Allen, ‘I never get up in the morning feeling tired of the project or daunted by it’. Aside from his immense stamina and singleness of purpose, Eric possessed tremendous scholarly endeavour. John Gage, himself a pioneering Turner scholar, observed in his interim reader’s report on the manuscript: ‘This is a truly remarkable book. Shane’s detective work is astonishing; every page of this vast enterprise introduces some new documentation, or a new and shrewd analysis of the old’. In its published state the book is truly magnificent.

Eric Shanes was a phenomenon. He forged an independent career, never afraid to speak his mind or articulate an opinion that might be at odds with accepted wisdom. Armed always with a formidable battery of information and trenchant arguments, Eric was a lively presence in any debate or academic forum, and his inimitable dress sense added a splash of colour to the greyest London day. We shall miss him greatly, but we will also treasure his memory and his considerable achievements.

About the author

  • Martin Postle

    Deputy Director for Grants & Publications at the Paul Mellon Centre