Caroline Villers
Caroline Villers
Caroline Villers died on Christmas Eve 2004, after a short illness. Her vibrant energy, focus and clarity of vision were evident to the last, and her death is a sad and untimely loss to the Institute and to everyone who knew her.

After reading Modern History at Oxford, Caroline completed an MA in the History of Art at the Courtauld in 1972. After a year as Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings at the London Museum, she returned to the Courtauld, obtaining the Institute’s Diploma in the Conservation of Paintings in 1976. She was appointed, first, as Technical Assistant to the Head of the Technology Department, Professor Stephen Rees Jones, then in 1980 as Lecturer, and in 1998 Senior Lecturer before becoming Director of the Department in 1999. Her partnership, during the 1980’s, with Robert Bruce-Gardner and Gerry Hedley in teaching conservation was truly inspirational, innovative and synergistic, and laid the foundations that resulted in generations of students enjoying first class inter-disciplinary training, in preparation for a professional career in museums and galleries worldwide.

Although Caroline was primarily dedicated to the development of teaching within the Department, she was keenly aware of the Institute’s rich and unique combination of resources, the Gallery’s Collection, the various dedicated libraries and the unrivalled excellence of art historical expertise, all under the one roof. She was passionately committed to the care of the Gallery Collections, and cherished the opportunity and privilege of working together with gallery directors, curators and art historians, to identify, facilitate and realise mutual goals. She contributed to the teaching of undergraduate and MA students, supervised PhD theses on a broad range of subjects, and initiated and organised a number of special exhibitions and conferences. Even in her last month, Caroline was formulating and offering her ideas about liaison and furthering collaboration within the Institute.

Caroline was also active in many aspects of the organisation and development of the Institute. Her integrity, pragmatism and clarity of thought earned her the respect and trust of her colleagues, whom she represented on many a committee, including the Governing Board of the Courtauld. Within the conservation profession, she was a Fellow and Council Member of the International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works of Art, a Trustee and Board member of the Textile Conservation Centre, and was Vice-Chairman of the International Council of Museums Conservation Committee (ICOM-CC).

Caroline’s scholarly activities included, in addition to her own list of significant publications, her scrupulous editorship of The International Institute for Conservation journal Studies in Conservation and of The Conservator, that of the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation. Most recently, she organised, together with colleagues at the National Gallery and at the Institute, a highly successful international conference 'European Trade in Painters’ Materials to 1700’. Publication of the post-prints will, appropriately, be dedicated to her.

The Courtauld is to establish, in her memory, a Research Fellowship the aims of which are to promote, enable and support research in the evolving interdisciplinary field of Technical Art History. Caroline, one of the pioneers and leading exponents of this specialised and wide-ranging branch of art history, was herself delighted with this proposal, made to her by a close friend early on in her illness, perceiving it to be a realistic means of taking the profession forwards.

Caroline was a demanding yet patient and dedicated teacher who will be remembered by her students as an inspirational and supportive figure, a rigorous intellect with an infectious laugh who expressed a genuine and generous interest in their lives and their achievements. She was surprised and quite overwhelmed by the hundreds of cards and messages of goodwill that arrived on her doorstep, after news of her illness spread abroad. But she will be remembered most fondly as the person that she was, a true lover of life, and for that smile.

Robert Bruce-Gardner and Aviva Burnstock

Caroline is survived by her husband, Robert McNab and their three children, Maro, Alexander and Sophia