Kerry Downes (1)

I was sad to hear from Edward Chaney, his pupil at Reading, of the death of Kerry Downes (Chaney co-edited his festschrift with John Bold). I followed in Downes’s footsteps in the archive at Castle Howard, where he had done detailed research for his great monograph on the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor, based on the Ph.D thesis he had done under Margaret Whinney at the Courtauld Institute in the mid-1950s. It was published by Desmond Zwemmer in 1959 and set new standards for scholarship in an English architectural monograph. Ten years later, he published a much shorter, but also admirable, distillation of his views of Hawksmoor for the Thames & Hudson World of Art series, a book which introduced many people, me included, to the glories of the English Baroque.

Later, he was to publish a monograph on and, also, a biography of Vanbrugh as well, but I always felt that he was more psychologically in sympathy with Hawksmoor as the underdog in the relationship between the two great architects – the hard-working, hyper conscientious and deeply scholarly, but cautious Hawksmoor, not Vanbrugh, the flash and socially more ambitious showman.

I scarcely knew Downes, who may have felt (rightly) that I was trespassing on his patch. I am sad that he has died too soon, I assume, to be included in the SAHGB oral history project (he was a Past President of the SAHGB) as he knew both Anthony Blunt and Rudolf Wittkower during his time as a student at the Courtauld. Maybe he has left a memoir. I hope so.

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