Beck, James 1930-2007 (James Henry Beck)

views updated

Beck, James 1930-2007 (James Henry Beck)


See index for CA sketch: Born May 14, 1930, in New York, NY; died of cancer, May 26, 2007, in New York, NY. Educator, art historian, and author. A retired professor, Beck was cofounder of ArtWatch International, an organization that frequently protested efforts to restore famous artworks because of the damage such cleaning could cause. Originally, Beck aspired to be an artist himself, earning a degree from Oberlin College in 1952 and a master's from New York University in 1954. He also studied painting and sculpting in Florence, Italy. However, the responsibilities of raising a family led to his working in a factory in Woodstock, New York, during the mid-1950s. Afterwards, Beck decided to pursue teaching. He was a faculty member at the University of Alabama and at Columbia before earning a doctorate from Columbia University in 1963. Beck would remain at Columbia until his 1990 retirement. While there, he became a professor of art history and archeology in 1972 and was director of graduate studies and chair of his department from 1984 until 1990. He was considered an authority on Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael. Beck founded Art-Watch International with artist and journalist Michael Daley in 1992. Their organization criticized many efforts to restore ancient, medieval, and Renaissance artworks, including the Sistine Chapel frescos by Michelangelo and the "Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci. Beck and Daley held that the extensive cleaning that was done to such works of art often scrubbed away the fine details created by the original artists while also exposing the works to modern pollution. In 1991, Beck was even sued for slander when he accused restorers of damaging a tomb sculpture in Lucca, Italy, that was created by the artist Quercia, about whom Beck was considered a leading authority. Although he received no support from his fellow scholars, Beck was acquitted in the case which could have sent him to prison for three years under Italian law. He and Daley published a work about their efforts in 1993 titled Art Restoration: The Culture, the Business, and the Scandal (1994; revised edition, 1996).

Beck was also the author of many scholarly works on sculptors and painters, including Michelangelo: A Lesson in Anatomy (1975), Italian Renaissance Painting (1981), Raphael: The Stanza della Segnatura (1993), and Three Worlds of Michelangelo (1999).



New York Times, May 29, 2007, p. A17.

Times (London, England), May 29, 2007, p. 50.