JOHN Ingamells, an art historian and museum director who was curator of York Art Gallery for 10 years, has died aged 78.
He was regarded as one of the outstanding scholars of his generation on 18th century British art, who made a permanent contribution to cataloguing collections and editing colleagues’ work – all of which was done after retiring at 58.
John Anderson Stuart Ingamells was born in Northampton, and moved to Eastbourne as a boy where he was educated at the local grammar school before going to Cambridge where he gained an honours degree in modern and medieval languages.
His first job curatorial job was at York from 1959 to 1963 where he was art assistant to the inspirational curator Hans Hess. During that time he did much of the work on a three volume catalogue of the pictures in York Art Gallery, a catalogue that has not been superseded.
In 1963, he went to Cardiff as assistant keeper in the art department of the National Museum of Wales where he spent four years before returning to York as curator when Mr Hess left for Sussex University.
During his time as curator he organised major exhibitions on William Mason, ‘A Candidate for Praise’, and, with Bernard Barr, ‘York Minster – the Beautifullest Church’.
He also published major articles on Philip Mercier, with Robert Raines, and on Andrea Soldi, both for the Walpole Society as well as cataloguing the portraits of Archbishops at Bishopthorpe Palace.
In 1973, he wrote critically of admission charges at national museums saying they were a consequence of the general financial climate of the time. He said it was understandable, but regrettable as it obscured the main point of public collections.
He expected to stay in York as curator and was surprised when offered a job at the Wallace Collection in London in 1977, where he became director a year later.
He had a very strong sense of public service and on one occasion, when London’s public transport was down, he walked a 10-mile round trip from his home to ensure the Wallace Collection was open.
After completing his magisterial four volume catalogue of their world famous collection of paintings he retired in 1992 because he felt that he had done his work there and should hand over to a younger colleague.
He did not have any clear idea of what he would do with his retirement beyond pursing his interests of walking, watching cricket, visiting the northern islands of Scotland with his wife, Hazel, and making model aeroplanes, until Brian Allen, director of the Mellon Foundation, in London, invited him to edit ‘A Dictionary of British Art and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800’ (1997) from the Brinsley Ford archive.
This huge archive had defeated a generation of researchers but he took it on stating only two conditions: the use of a good computer and access to an ash tray. He completed the monumental task in three years having written a million words virtually single-handed at the rate of 1,000 words a day.
He went on to edit the letters of Joshua Reynolds, revised and rewrote Alistair Smart’s book on Alan Ramsay and also wrote the text for two catalogues for the National Portrait Gallery. Numerous other publications followed, including a forthcoming lecture on Hans Hess for the Sheldon Memorial Trust in York, due to be published next year.
Mr Ingamells could appear somewhat forbidding but, once the ice was broken, he was utterly charming with a dry wit and a lively sense of the absurd.
He retained a great affection for York, and remained a keen supporter of York City Football Club.
He is survived by his daughters, Annie and Claire, and two grandchildren. His wife, Hazel, predeceased him in 2012.