jeudi, février 18, 2010

NYT 2003 : William H. Forsyth, Met Curator, Dies at 96

William Holmes Forsyth, curator emeritus of medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who helped transform piles of weathered old masonry into the Cloisters above the Hudson, died on May 14 in Hightstown, N.J. A former resident of Princeton, he was 96.
Mr. Forsyth spent nearly four decades at the Metropolitan Museum and was the last living member of the staff overseeing the Met's project to conjure up the Middle Ages in Fort Tryon Park. In 1934 he went to work at the museum under James Rorimer, curator of what became the medieval department and later director of the Cloisters. Their task was to take major parts from five medieval monasteries, add centuries-old art treasure and blend it all to serve as a modern museum.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated land on both sides of the Hudson to safeguard the majestic view. He gave the museum the stones gathered in France and Spain, as well as his own collection of Romanesque and Gothic art, including six of the Unicorn Tapestries. Rorimer led the final stages of the construction and installation, and Mr. Forsyth, then the assistant curator, worked closely with him to open the doors to the public in 1938.

He played a direct part in complementing the array of tapestries that Rockefeller had acquired from the Count de La Rochefoucauld. Mr. Forsyth was spending the summer of 1937 in France researching the new museum's catalog when, according to his family's lore, the count happened to mention over dinner that he had two much-damaged pieces of a seventh unicorn tapestry, which he was using to plug drafty crevices.

Mr. Forsyth brought them back to be reunited with the ensemble at the Cloisters. The two parts of the seventh tapestry are known as ''The Hunter Sounds the Capture of the Unicorn by the Maiden'' and ''The Maiden's Companion Signals to the Hunters.''

Mr. Forsyth documented all that and the creation of the Cloisters in a publication, ''Studies in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Cloisters'' (1992). He wrote articles on many aspects of the collection and, as an authority on French medieval and Renaissance art, wrote several books, including ''The Entombment of Christ: French Sculptures of the 15th and 16th Centuries'' (1970), and ''The Pietá in French Late Gothic Sculpture: Regional Variations'' (1995).

William Forsyth was born in Chicago and attended Chicago Latin School and the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. He graduated in art history in 1930 from Princeton, where he also received graduate degrees.

He worked in the Met's medieval collection as a volunteer in 1933 and joined a year later as a full-time assistant. He became an assistant curator of the department of medieval art on Jan. 1, 1937, associate curator in 1942 and curator in 1968. He was elected emeritus curator in 1971 when he formally retired.

Mr. Forsyth is survived by four daughters, Agnes Kuenkler of Baltimore; Caroline Elischer of Oceanside, Calif.; Marian Weekly of Arlington, Mass.; and Theresa Hare of Grand Rapids, Mich.; a son, William H. Jr., of Larchmont, N.Y.; 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. His wife of 53 years, Agnes Mitchell Forsyth, died in 1995.

Reassembling old stonework held a special challenge for Mr. Forsyth when one of the five dismantled monastery cloisters came to him in heaps of unnumbered pieces. Faced with a three-dimensional super-jumbo jigsaw puzzle, Mr. Forsyth recalled, he and nine longshoremen spent a long time juggling with inches and shapes, fitting and refitting the pieces until they made them whole again.