There were two particularly remarkable things about the setting up of the Caroline Villers Research Fellowship. The first was the determination, the speed and the brilliant success of the process – for which we have to thank Edwina Sassoon and Robert McNab and colleagues here at the Courtauld Institute. The second was the unanimous decision amongst the Trustees about its title and intention. What had mattered most to Caroline was the exploration of the ways in which works of art were made, the processes of artistic creation. What fascinated her was the notion of artistic intention made tangible in the physical reality of the work of art. In her lectures, she conjured up the unique, essential combination of hand and eye, intellect and circumstance, resulting in a seminal work of art.


This area of study has become known as ‘technical art history’ – and we included those words in setting out the aims of the Fellowship: ‘to promote and support research in the interdisciplinary field of technical art history’. Caroline was a pioneer of this approach to the study, conservation and display of paintings, one that uses scientific and historical methods to investigate the making of works of art.


What we call technical art history has been going on a long time. You could claim that its roots go back to Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne in the 17th century, or Joshua Reynolds in the 18th, or Charles Lock Eastlake in the 19th.


Caroline’s generation has defined technical art history and realised its full potential. By combining technical investigation with established documentary evidence, it attempts nothing less than to re-create original acts of making art. We are taking short cuts into artists’ studios or workshops, looking over their shoulders as they worked, engaging directly with their aims, concepts and working methods.


Caroline would be thrilled that one of her former students, Elizabeth Reissner is the first research fellow; that Liz is studying Cézanne, a painter of key importance to the Courtauld collection, and that she will collaborate with the National Gallery in studying the Cézannes there.


Caroline would know, as we all do here, that we are at the beginning of something important – a marvellous new scholarly enterprise – that gift for the future that Caroline left for us.


Dr. David Bomford – Getty Institute


This article is an extract from a speech given by David Bomford, on 6 November, 2006, dedicating the appointment of Caroline Villers Research Fellowship to her memory.