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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Frank Whitford (1941-2014)

Frank Whitford, art critic, teacher and cartoonist, died on 11 January 2014 of a suspected heart attack at the age of 72. He was a leading expert in 20th century German and Austrian art and wrote several books on the subject of art.

Born Francis Peter Whitford in Bishopstoke, Hampshire, on 11 August 1941, the son of Peter Whitford and his wife Katherine Ellen (nee Rowe). He was educated at Peter Symonds School in Winchester and attended Wadham College, Oxford, graduating in 1963 with a third-class honours in English language and literature because he preferred drawing to studying. A self-taught artist, he designed posters and worked as an actor in student films and illustrator for student magazines.

He subsequently studied German art at the Courtauld Institute, earning an academic diploma in the history of art in 1965. He worked as a cartoonist and illustrator on the Sunday Mirror in 1965-66 before switching to drawing pocket cartoons for the Evening Standard in 1966-67. Richard J. Evans, in his obituary for The Guardian (23 January 2014), quotes Whitford as saying: "Almost daily for four years or so, I churned out a pocket cartoon, trying to be funny and politically astute at the same time. I was rarely if ever successful, which explains why my career was so short, only briefly extended by changing papers and editors in midstream."

Whitford did not consider himself a particularly good cartoonist, avoiding drawing feet, which he found particularly tricky, whenever possible. His cartoons covered many areas of British political life at a time when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and some of the major events affecting the UK were centred on apartheid South Africa and the independence of Southern Rhodesia, but he felt that foreign artists like Vicky (Victor Weisz) were able to better recognise the absurdities of British politics.

With the aid of a Ford Foundation scholarship, Whitford attended the Free University of Berlin, graduating with a degree in art history in 1969. The next year he began lecturing on the history of art at University College London before becoming a senior lecturer at Homerton College, Cambridge, in 1974. When the art history department was closed in 1986, Whitford began freelancing and tutored history of art at the Royal College of Art; he was awarded a higher doctorate at the RCA in 1989.

He had continued to contribute cartoons – as Rausch – to the Sunday Mirror in the 1970s, but it was as a an art critic with the Sunday Times and Cambridge Evening News that he returned to newspapers in 1991. Ge was already established as a writer, having worked as a contributing editor to Studio International between 1964 and 1973, and as the author of books on Kandinsky (London, Hamlyn, 1967 [1968]), Expressionism (London, Hamlyn, 1970), Japanese Prints and Western Painters (London, Studio Vista, 1977), Egon Schiele (London, Thames & Hudson, 1981), Bauhaus (London, Thames & Hudson, 1984), George Grosz: The Day of Reckoning (London, Allison & Busby, 1984), Love Above All (London, Allison & Busby, 1985), Oskar Kokoschka: A life (London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986), Expressionist Portraits (London, Thames & Hudson, 1987), Trog: Forty graphic years: The art of Wally Fawkes (London, Fourth Estate, 1987), Understanding Abstract Art (London, Barrie & Jenkins, 1987), Gustav Klimt (London, Thames & Hudson, 1990), Bauhaus: Masters and Students by Themselves (London, Conran Octopus, 1992), The Berlin of George Grosz: Drawings, watercolours and prints, 1912-1930 (New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1997), Kandinsky: Watercolours and other works on paper (London, Thames & Hudson, 1999), as well as numerous introductions for exhibitions.

Whitford also appeared as the broadcaster, appearing as a team captain on the Channel 4 gameshow Gallery in the 1980s, presenting two series about cartoonists on Radio 4 in the early 1990s and writing and presenting the video documentary Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century (1994).

He was awarded the federal cross of the Order of Merit in Germany in 2002.

Whitford is survived by his wife, Cecilia (Cici) Dresser, a specialist in Japanese art who worked in the Cambridge University Library, whom he married in 1972.

(* cartoons (c) Associated Newspapers Ltd./Solo Syndication)

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