Obituary: Sir Alan Bowness, former Tate Gallery director

Sir Alan Bowness, who has died at 93, was an art critic and former director of the Tate, who married the daughter of the Yorkshire sculptor Barbara Hepworth and established the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

Sir Alan Bowness

Sir Alan Bowness, who has died at 93, was an art critic and former director of the Tate, who married the daughter of the Yorkshire sculptor Barbara Hepworth and established the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

A Quaker who believed passionately in public funding for the arts, he also established the Turner Prize, hoping it would do for contemporary art what the Booker Prize had done for the novel.

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He had begun his career in the late 1950s, writing art criticism for publications on both sides of the Atlantic, before taking up a post as regional art officer for the Arts Council, based in the South West of England.

Newly installed in the office, he visited Ms Hepworth and the other artists who had established a colony at St Ives, Cornwall. In 1957, shortly after marrying her daughter, Sarah Hepworth-Nicholson, he began teaching at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He became a Reader in 1967 and a Professor in 1978. His 1972 book, Modern European Art, has been translated into French, German, Italian, and Korean.

During the 1960s, he co-curated major exhibitions of contemporary art at the Tate in London, as well as exhibitions for the Arts Council on van Gogh, Rodin and the French Symbolist Painters.

Between 1960 and 1970, he published complete catalogues of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures, and following her death in 1975, he ran the Hepworth Estate, overseeing the opening of her former house and studio as the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1976.

After taking over at the Tate – where he clashed with Margaret Thatcher over his belief that the government had a duty to support the great national collections – he oversaw the opening of the Tate Liverpool in 1988 and several major acquisitions – including David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash and Francis Bacon’s Triptych-August 1972.

Sir Alan had planned after his retirement to settle down to writing the authorised biography of Ms Hepworth but was persuaded by Irina Moore to become director of the Henry Moore Foundation, named after her late husband. The Henry Moore Institute followed in 1993.

He was appointed CBE in 1976 and knighted in 1988.

He and Sarah had a son and a daughter.