Ellis Waterhouse

Sir Ellis Kirkham Waterhouse (16 February 1905 – 7 September 1985) was an English art historian who specialized in Roman baroque and English painting.[1] He was Director of the National Galleries of Scotland (1949–52) and held the Barber chair at Birmingham University until his official retirement in 1970.


Ellis Kirkham Waterhouse
Born(1905-02-16)16 February 1905
Died7 September 1985(1985-09-07) (aged 80)
EducationMarlborough College
Alma mater
OccupationArt historian
Partner(s)Helen Waterhouse
Parent(s)Percy Leslie Waterhouse

Early life and careerEdit

Waterhouse was the son of the architect Percy Leslie Waterhouse, through whom he possessed the means to pursue a largely independent career. His fellow student at Marlborough College was Anthony Blunt, with whom he continued a lifelong professional friendship; he went on to New College, Oxford. In 1927–29 he studied at Princeton University with Frank Jewett Mather and received a fellowship to study El Greco in Spain.[2] He returned to London to take up an Assistant Keeper's post at the National Gallery, London, under its Keepers, C. H. Collins Baker and H. Isherwood Kay.

He then joined the British School in Rome as librarian until 1936, working on the combination of connoisseurship and archival material that resulted in Roman Baroque Painting (1937), on the strength of which he was elected a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford (1938–47) and prepared the catalog for a Royal Academy exhibition, 17th-Century Art in Europe.

World War II found him in Athens, where he rose to the rank of major, eventually with the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives branch of the Allied Military; his colonel was Geoffrey Webb. At the liberation of Holland, he detected a recently acquired Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum and led ultimately to the exposure of the forger Han van Meegeren.

Academic careerEdit

After the war Waterhouse briefly served as editor to The Burlington Magazine where he was soon succeeded by Benedict Nicolson and began his academic career: Manchester University, 1947–48; Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (1949–52); Barber Professor of Fine Art, Birmingham University and director of its Barber Institute of Fine Arts (1952–70): Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University (1953–55). Nikolaus Pevsner asked him to write a volume for the projected Pelican History of Art; his Painting in Britain, 1530-1790 was its first volume.

In 1970 Waterhouse became the Director of the newly established Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.[3] On taking up the post he brought with him his extensive archive of annotated photographs and associated documentation of British art which were formally donated to the Centre on Waterhouse's death in 1985. The material includes a series of general English sale catalogues running from 1896-1940 (formerly belonging to William Roberts[4]); Waterhouse's annotated copy of Graves and Cronin's catalogue of Reynolds paintings and a large collection of annotated photographs of British paintings.[5]

Personal lifeEdit

Waterhouse married Helen Thomas, an archaeologist of ancient Greece whom he had met during the war in Athens, where she was connected with the British School of Archaeology [6] in 1949; they had two daughters.

In 1937, Waterhouse commissioned the modernist house Overshot built by Samuel and Harding of the Tecton Group in Oxford. It was his family home to which he returned between foreign assignments. [7]

He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1985. His unusually extensive personal library and annotated photograph collection were sold to help in the initial formation of the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Selected publicationsEdit

Much of Waterhouse's wide-ranging information is buried in brief articles, often in obscure publications. He edited The Dictionary of 16th & 17th century British Painters 1988 and The Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters in Oils and Crayons 1981; only his major books are listed here.

  • Baroque Painting in Rome: the Seventeenth Century. (London: Macmillan, 1937);
  • Reynolds. (London) 1941;
  • Titian's Diana and Actaeon. (Oxford University Press 1952);
  • Painting in Britain, 1530–1790. (in series Pelican History of Art) (Baltimore: Penguin, then Yale University Press) 1953, rev. ed 1978; Michael Kitson contributed an introduction and brief sketch of Waterhouse's career to the 5th edition, 1994.
  • Italian Baroque Painting. (London: Phaidon Press Ltd) 1962;
  • Three Decades of British Art, 1740–1770 (The Jayne Lectures for 1964) (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) 1965;
  • Roman Baroque Painting: a List of the Principal Painters and their Works In and Around Rome. (Oxford: Phaidon, 1976).
  • Paintings from Venice for seventeenth century England: some records of a forgotten transaction, Italian Studies, vol vii (1952)[8]


  1. ^ When the August 1970 issue of The Burlington Magazine was dedicated as a kind of festschrift to Prof. Waterhouse, the editor noted that he made his most memorable contributions in the areas of the Italian Baroque and in English painting; his work on Gainsborough and Reynolds became standards. (The Burlington Magazine vol. 112 No. 809, "British Art in the Eighteenth Century" (August 1970), p. 487.
  2. ^ His study did not result in a monograph on El Greco.
  3. ^ Allen, Brian (2010). The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art : A History 1970-2010. The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. p. 21. ISBN 9780300175714.
  4. ^ "William Roberts Archive, Paul Mellon Centre".
  5. ^ "The Ellis Waterhouse Archive, Paul Mellon Centre".
  6. ^ Helen Thomas Waterhouse
  7. ^ "Overshot". The Modern House.
  8. ^ Waterhouse, E. K. (1952). "PAINTINGS FROM VENICE FOR SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND: SOME RECORDS OF A FORGOTTEN TRANSACTION". Italian Studies. 7: 1–23. doi:10.1179/its.1952.7.1.1.

External linksEdit