Caroline Villers 1948-2004

Caroline Villers with Pat Rubin
Caroline Villers with Pat Rubin

Caroline Villers had been associated with the Courtauld since 1970 when, following a degree in Modern History at Oxford, she came to take the two-year MA course, specialising in the Renaissance.  In 1974-76, after working as Assistant Curator of  Prints and Drawings at the London Museum, she returned to the Courtauld to study for the Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. Her subsequent employment was all in the Department of Conservation and Technology: as Technical Assistant (1976-80); Lecturer (1980-98); Senior Lecturer (1998 onwards); and Director of the Department (1999-2004).  In addition to her deep commitment to teaching within the Department, greatly valued by successive generations of students, and her activities as a supervisor of doctoral research, Caroline was involved in teaching many students enrolled in the Courtauld’s History of Art courses, and in initiating collaborative research projects that involved colleagues from different parts of the Institute.  Numerous people who encountered her, even if only briefly, were influenced by the subtlety and clarity of her thought.  Caroline’s fierce loyalty to the Department of Conservation and Technology, and to the Institute as a whole, was manifested through her involvement in many committees and project groups.  In recent years she played a key role in a succession of committees before, during and after the Courtauld’s establishment as an independent college: the Vice Chancellor’s Advisory Committee (elected staff representative); participant in the strategy and planning exercises debating the future form of the Institute; elected staff member of the Governing Board of the Courtauld from its inception; elected staff representative on the Nominations Committee for the appointment of the Director, 2003.  Caroline’s colleagues placed a great deal of trust in her probity and in her determination in advancing a case.

Caroline Villers’ involvement in the wider world of conservation-restoration, and its intersection with art history and museums, was also vigorous.  She held posts on several professional bodies, including, recently: Vice-Chair of the Conservation Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC):  Member of the ICOM-CC working groups ‘Paintings I’ and ‘History and Theory of Conservation-Restoration’; Member of the Academic Advisory Board of the AHRB Research Centre for Textile Conservation and Textile Studies; Fellow, and Delegated Member for the council of the International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC).  She served as editor of The Conservator (1992-96), and Studies in Conservation (1999 onwards) and was a member of the preprints committee for the ICOM-CC meetings in Dublin (1997-98), Lyon (1998-99) and Rio de Janeiro (2001-02).  She was also active in organising conferences.  Besides involvement in professional meetings such as those organised by the International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC), she instigated events that drew together those working in the fields of conservation-restoration, the technical examination and scientific investigation of works of art, art history, and economic history.  Chief among these were Technology and the Art Historian (1985) and Paintings on Textile Supports in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: Technique, Function, Display (1998), both held at the Courtauld Institute.  Most recently she planned, with Jo Kirby of the National Gallery, and Susie Nash of the Courtauld Institute, a conference on the European Trade in Painters’ Materials to 1700, to be held in February 2005.  ‘Technical’ Art History is an interdisciplinary field of enquiry that has generated increasing excitement in recent years.  Caroline’s activities, through teaching, publication, and the promotion of research projects through a wide network of personal contacts, constituted a very significant and distinctive contribution to scholarship.

Caroline Villers was passionately concerned with the care, display and better understanding of the Courtauld Gallery paintings.  During the 1980s she organised a series of exhibitions within the Gallery, focusing on individual works.  Her longer-term aim, towards which (together with colleagues in the Courtauld) she had taken initial steps, was the production of a complete catalogue of the Gallery paintings.  She published on a number of paintings that belonged to the Courtauld or had come to the Conservation Department for treatment.  She often collaborated in her publications, either with colleagues, or with students whose projects she had supervised, and she was generous, as an editor, in bringing to fruition the work of other scholars.  She published a series of articles on canvas supports and linings, the majority written jointly with Gerry Hedley (reprinted in Measured Opinions, 1993) and, recently, with Paul Ackroyd and Alan Phenix.  She wrote both for her colleagues in conservation-restoration and for a wider audience of those involved in art history and in the museum world.  Among her principal publications are:  ‘Impressions of Change’ (with G. Hedley and R. Bruce-Gardner) in the exhibition catalogue Impressions of Change.  Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces: The Courtauld Collection, London 1987, pp. 21-34; ‘Evaluations of Colour Change:  Intention, Interpretation and Lighting’, in Measured Opinions: Collected Papers on the conservation of Paintings by Gerry Hedley, ed. C. Villers, London, 1993, pp. 145-48;  ‘Painting on Canvas in Fourteenth-Century Italy, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 58, 1995, pp. 333-59; ‘The Entombment Triptych in the Courtauld Institute Galleries’, in Robert Campin: New Directions in Scholarship, ed. S. Foister and S. Nash, London, 1996, pp. 27-35 (with R. Bruce-Gardner); ‘A Fourteenth-Century German Triptych in the Courtauld Gallery’, Burlington Magazine, 139, 1997, pp. 667-75 (with C. Reynolds and G. van Heemstra); ‘Simone dei Crocefissi’s Dream of the Virgin’, Burlington Magazine, 142, 2000, pp. 481-86 (with R. Gibbs, R. Hellen, A. King); ‘Four Scenes of the Passion Painted in Florence around 1400’, in The Fabric of Images: European Paintings on Textile Supports in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. C. Villers, London, 2000, pp. 1-10;  ‘Observations on the Coronation of the Virgin attributed to Guido da Siena in the Courtauld Institute Gallery, London’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 65, 2002, pp. 289-302 (with A. Lehner);  Lining Paintings, ed. C. Villers, London 2003;  ‘La Madonna botticelliana del visconte Lee di Fareham’, in the exhibition catalogue Falsi d’autore: Icilio Federico Joni e la cultura del Falso tra Otto e Novecento, ed. G. Mazzoni, Siena, 2004, pp. 47-58.

Further appreciations on the Courtauld Website:
http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/newsletter/spring_2005/villers.shtml
http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/newsletter/spring_2005/icom.shtml

 

Links to obituaries in The Times and The Independent:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article412122.ece
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20050124/ai_n9697550