On Friday, 10th February 2012, the great art historian, John Gage, passed
away. The title of his 1987 book on Turner, A Wonderful Range of Mind,
might describe his own intellectual personality. He was a pioneer of many
themes that would become prominent in Art History towards the end of the
twentieth century – exploring the relationship between art and science, the
material conditions that determine artistic creation as well as the history
of perception. His first major publication, Colour in Turner: Poetry and
Truth (1969) already raised all of these issues. Yet he resolutely refused
to be fashionable. It is perhaps partly for this reason that his
ground-breaking later books, Colour and Culture (1993) and Colour and
Meaning (1999) were also huge public successes, finding a readership well
beyond the confines of academia. They will in all likelihood remain the
standard reference works on the history of colour for generations to come.

John Gage read History at Oxford where as an undergraduate he came to the
notice of the great political philosopher, Isiaah Berlin who invited him to
coffee. Not much impressed with this encounter, or indeed with art history
at Oxford, John Gage moved on to the Courtauld Institute in London. He
began his career, however, teaching English in Italy and Germany. It was
there that he acquired the language skills that he would make use of in his
wide-ranging research in primary sources on the history of colour from
antiquity to the present day. He became a Lecturer at the University of
East Anglia before being appointed, in 1979, by the University of Cambridge
where he also became a Fellow of Wolfson College. In 1992 he became Head of
Department and, in 1998, Reader in the History of Western Art. He retired
in 1996 and moved to Italy and Australia, continuing his vigorous and
innovative research, turning his attention to such subjects as light and
shadow in holography and Aboriginal approaches to colour.

With his boundless curiosity and great love of art John Gage was a truly
inspiring teacher as well as a brilliant researcher. In recognition of his
outstanding contribution to art history he received many prizes, among them
the prestigious Mitchell Prize for Art History in 1994. A year later he was
also elected as a Fellow of the British Academy. Yet he believed in the
study of art history for its own sake and held considerations of career,
status and professional advancement in deepest contempt. His dry sense of
humour and subtle irony would bring this home to those who worked with him,
while his kindness, generosity, and good nature encouraged students to
follow in whatever direction their curiosity would lead them. He was one of
the freest and most independent minds that Art History has seen in recent
decades and he will be sorely and bitterly missed.

Charlotte Klonk
Institute of Art and Visual History
Humboldt-University of Berlin

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