I write with great sadness to let you know that Philip Conisbee,  curator of European paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, passed away on January 16th 2008, at the age of 62, from complications arising from lung cancer.

Philip Conisbee received his education in the history of art here at The Courtauld. His dissertation on the 18th-century landscape and marine painter Joseph Vernet led to the reassessment of this important artist in an exhibition devoted to him in London and Paris in 1976.


After a career teaching in the universities of Reading, London, Cambridge, and Leicester, he moved to the United States in 1986, as curator of French paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. From 1988 to 1993 he was curator of European painting and sculpture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He then moved in 1993 to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. since 1993, where he was senior curator of European paintings. He became a United States citizen in 1994.

A specialist in French art of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, he published two books--Painting in 18th-Century France (1981) and Chardin (1985)--and many articles, catalogue essays, and reviews.  He was curator and co-curator of a wide range of exhibitions, from Van Gogh and Millet (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 1988) to Monet to Matisse: French Art in Southern Californian Collections (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991), and The Golden Age of Danish Painting (Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1993). He was the Washington organizer of the highly acclaimed exhibition In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-air Painting (National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the St. Louis Museum of Art, 1996-1997, and of Adolf Menzel: Between Romanticism and Impressionism (Musée d'Orsay, Paris; the National Gallery of Art, Washington; and the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1996-1997). He was also responsible for the exhibition Georges de La Tour and His World (National Gallery of Art, Washington and the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1996-1997). He was the Gallery's curator of Degas at the Races; Manet, Monet, and the Gare Saint-Lazare; Van Gogh's Van Goghs in 1998; Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch in 1999, and The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting and Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853)in 2003. In 2003,  Philip Conisbee was awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French Government for his services in the promotion of French culture

Earl A. Powell III, Director of the National Gallery of Art, said of Conisbee: “Philip brought to the gallery a wealth of knowledge of European art and a great enthusiasm for sharing his insights; he demonstrated outstanding leadership throughout his career in London and Boston, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where we worked together, and here at the National Gallery in Washington. He will be missed by his many friends and colleagues.”


We join the National Gallery of Art in our deep respect for his great contributions to the academic world and to the wider public, and share their very great sadness at his death.  Dr Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director