Denis Mahon and Luciano Bellosi pass away

local/cache-vignettes/L204xH290/Mahon-b81ee-ebe00-ed194.jpg30/4/11 – Obituaries – A larger than life figure in the world of art history has left us at the age of 100. Denis Mahon (ill. 1) passed away last Wednesday, 27 April at his home in London.

A major specialist of Italian painting, Denis Mahon was famous both as a collector and art historian. After graduating from Oxford, he joined the Courtauld Institute in 1933 and started his collection, acquiring for what were very reasonable prices at the time Baroque paintings, notably from the Bolognese school with a special fondness for Guercino. Although most of his purchases were made between the 30’s and 70’s (the rising prices made it harder to buy), in 2003 Denis Mahon still identified and purchased at auction a canvas by Guercino which he immediately donated to the Pinacoteca Civica del Cento (see news item of 10/11/03 in French). Most of his collection had been extended as a “promised gift” to the Art Fund and placed on deposit in English museums, notably the National Gallery in London, on the express condition that these establishments remain free of entrance and that none of their works be deaccessioned. Eight other paintings were donated to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. The entire collection had been exhibited in 1997 at the National Gallery in London and catalogued. The 46 drawings by Guercino, on deposit at the Ashmolean in Oxford had been featured for publication in 1986 in the Burlington Magazine.

As an art historian, Denis Mahon published extensively throughout his long career, essentially on Bolognese painting, Caravaggio and Nicolas Poussin. We might quote for example, Studies in Seicento Art and Theory in 1947 or his many works and articles on Guercino including the catalogue for the exhibition in Bologna and Cento in 1991.
Denis Mahon remained quite active despite his many years until very recently, still working tirelessly at discovering new paintings, often carried away by his enthusiasm. Some of the Caravaggios which he recently attributed are not all accepted by everyone (see news items, in French, of 20/2/04 and 13/11/06). Finally, we would like to point out that the example of The Flight into Egypt by Nicolas Poussin shows that even the foremost specialists (and there is no doubt that Denis Mahon was among them) can at times make mistakes : he had supported the authenticity of the Piasecka-Johnson version which is in fact a very mediocre copy as proven by the recent comparison with the painting acquired by Lyon (see article).

Another important loss to art history is that of the eminent Luciano Bellosi (ill. 2) at the age of 74, on 26 April. A graduate of the University of Florence where he presented a dissertation in 1963 on Lorenzo Monaco, his career was spent essentially at the University of Sienna where he taught Medieval art history after working for the Soprintendenza per I Beni Artistici e Storici di Firenze. He was the acknowledged specialist of some of the most important artists from the period between the Duocento and the Quattrocento : Cimabue (on whom he wrote an indispensable reference work in 1998, Giotto, Duccio (he was one of the curators for the Sienna exhibition in 2003) and Masaccio (exhibition at San Giovanni Valdarno in 2002).

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Didier Rykner, samedi 30 avril 2011

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