Vale Virginia Spate AC FAHA CIHA: 1937 – 2022

With sadness, the Australian Academy of the Humanities acknowledges the death of Emeritus Professor Virginia Spate AC FAHA CIHA, one of Australia’s most eminent art historians and academics. She was elected to the Academy in 1981.

Emeritus Professor Spate was born in the United Kingdom in 1937 and lived in Burma as a child until her family was evacuated during the Pacific War. She moved to Australia in 1951 and, in 1961, completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts and Fine Arts at the University in Melbourne. Her Master’s thesis on Tom Roberts (Melb.) ran to 300 pages and was published as a book in 1972. She lectured at the University of Cambridge from the late 1960s before relocating to Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, where she completed her PhD on Orphism.

In 1978, she was appointed J. W. Power Professor and Director of the Power Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Sydney, where she remained until her retirement in 2004. During her tenure, she received the Mitchell Prize (1992), was appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Cambridge in 1998–99 and was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001 for service to Australian society and the humanities in the study of art history. She was honoured with a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2003 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2018 for eminent service to higher education, particularly to art history and theory and to the advanced study of the contemporary arts, as an academic, author and curator, and as a role model for young art historians. 

Emeritus Professor Spate had the decisive role in establishing Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 1989. In addition, she organised and contributed to a number of major exhibitions, notably The Revolutionary Decades: French Painting 1760-1830 (1980-81), Dreams, Fears and Desires (1984), Claude Monet, Painter of Light (1985-6) and Monet and Japan (Canberra 2001). She also published widely, including Claude Monet: life and work (1992, Rizzoli), Degas, Life and Works (2000, Cassell Illustrated) and Claude Monet: The Color of Time (2001, Thames & Hudson Ltd).  

Emeritus Professor Spate will be remembered for her service to higher education and art history and her commitment to feminist teaching and mentoring. She died on 12 August 2022. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family, friends and colleagues.  

In memory of our Fellows

Our Fellows, current and those who have died, have contributed extensively to the rich Australian humanities community. When an Academy Fellow dies, we honour their impact by publishing an obituary by another Fellow who has had a long and close association with them.

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