The following article is composed of extracts from speeches made by Nick Ferguson and Eric Fernie at Eric’s leaving party.

Eric Fernie
Eric Fernie with Cézanne, Still Life with Plaster Cast (detail)  


Nick Ferguson: "We are here to honour and to thank Eric Fernie. Eric has taught me that one must always start with the facts ... [He is] one of our leading mediaeval scholars. His has been a superb career. Among all the achievements and awards, two things I know would rank highest for Eric — his books and the Courtauld.


So, having assembled the facts. I then settled back for interpretation. What images and legacies does Eric leave at the Courtauld? I did my research with the help of a number of people and I’ve grouped the answers into four:

First, a passion for scholarship. Nicholas Goodison and I have witnessed Eric as a fierce defender of the priority and central place of scholarship in the Courtauld Institute. In his application for the Directorship Eric wrote "University teaching must in a sense be a function of research, while research is the poorer for not being exposed to the demands of teaching". This passion and its results, have culminated in the sole 5* rating in the country for the Research Assessment Exercise, an outstanding achievement by the scholars who make up the Courtauld. His personal commitment to scholarship never faltered. One of his many feats was to complete his major book The Architecture of Norman England whilst Director. And what a book! A review described it as "a book of tremendous importance and very great worth. It will immediately become the standard book on the subject and deserves to do so". A scholar leading from the front.

Secondly, a consortium of words on Eric’s personal qualities: listener, negotiator, full of conviction, strong in crises; the proverbial duck’s back. He has had many clear achievements: the South Building project and leading the Courtauld to its recent independence stand out. There are other things equally important and perhaps less marked by many here this evening; his quiet but determined support of the book library and the photographic libraries are one. Perhaps most important is his nudging of people to work together and to communicate, creating at the Courtauld one community out of several.

Thirdly, contemporary art. I have found that medievalists often have a strong interest in modern and contemporary art and vice versa. Eric has been a huge supporter of the East Wing Collections, two of which have taken place during his tenure.

Finally and appropriately for a leader: Dignity without a trace of pomposity — a very Romanesque quality.

None of us think of Eric as pompous but some of his contra-pompous activities may surprise you. He is keen on science fiction and is an authority on comics. He is also a movie buff. One of your colleagues said that if you’d actually lived in the middle ages, Eric, you’d certainly have been an alchemist.

And finally, on the non-pompous side — beards. You all got it wrong when Jim Cuno was appointed — you searched for the medieval connection — but the clue lay in the beard. Beard? Eric doesn’t have a beard, you say. I refer all empiricists to the summer school, Turkey, circa '67. In the top left hand corner of a group photo of that summer school participants is a young man with abundant hair on every part of his head. Someone has named the group and put a question mark below this hairy face. It’s Eric.

May I end by going back to the beginning. What was said say about Eric when he left the Courtauld to start his career at Wits 36 years ago?

"While he worked for us he was both highly intelligent and industrious, with an exceptional gift for getting facts out clearly. He was easy to get on with, and quietly determined. I can only answer directly for the work he did on his medieval subjects, but I am certain he is a particularly good man."
Christopher Hohler

Eric, I will ever be grateful to you for the wonderful job you have done over the last eighteen months in creating our independence. We wish you God speed and thank you for all you’ve done for the Courtauld.

NICHOLAS FERGUSON
Chairman, Courtauld Institute


Eric Fernie: "What for me most characterises the Courtauld? It’s intellectual energy, variety and breadth. The history of art is a marvellously open and enquiring discipline. One only has to look at the way the contemporary has, so to speak, pulled the periods up so that the early 20th century is the new Renaissance, while the Early Modern and the original Renaissance add to the variety. Through this the History of Dress runs like a thread. Add to the mix, [with Conservation and Technology and Wall Paintings] all those members of staff who are researchers of standing who work in other departments, such as the Registry and the Book, Photo and Slide Libraries, the Gallery staff, the Research Fellows, plus the Corpora and PMSA.

All this diversity needs glue to hold it together. First, Ron Cobb; I have this image of you, Ron, as a combination of a juggler and a jet fighter pilot; then Security, so well run by George Craig. And, of course Elaine; you are so welcoming in the director’s office you set the tone for the whole institute, and you make all your assistants part of the Courtauld family.

The departments of the academic information service, all brought together by Sue Price, where there are long histories of not having much to do with one another. The Photo and Slide Libraries provide images now moving into the digital age. The Academic Office, more activity per square foot than any other place in the Institute, like other parts of the Registry and the Development Office. All of this would add up to very little if it were not for the students. The postgraduates keep the staff on their toes and the undergraduates on theirs.

The Courtauld would not be the Courtauld without our Trusts and the old Advisory Board, all our donors, supporters and volunteers, our Honorary Fellows, our past staff. Here I include Lorraine: I have always valued the way she responds to what I say over dinner. She says I have been easier to live with as Director of the Courtauld.

And Somerset House, the new knot; thanks to all those who have made this place what it is, for us and for the wider public.

And babies! So many of them have been born to members of staff over the last few years — over 20.

To the changes, sincerest thanks to the drivers and supporters, to the University and the Vice Chancellor who, once he saw we could raise the money and persuade HEFCE to recognise us, backed us all the way; to Tez, and Rose and John Gamble who have had the really hard work over the last year.

Nick and Nicholas, the leading force; you changed shadow into substance. Nicholas (Goodison) in his time as Chairman of the Advisory Board, our debt to him is immense.

It has been a privilege working for this great institution and a privilege working with you who make it so.