J. B. Manson

(1879—1945) painter and art administrator

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British painter and art administrator, born in London. His father—a writer and editor—did not want him to follow the risky career of an artist and compelled him to work in a bank, which he hated. He took lessons part-time at Heatherley's School and eventually saved enough money to leave the bank and study at the Académie Julian in Paris, 1903–4. After his return to London he achieved modest success with portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes painted in an unexceptional Impressionist manner. He met Lucien Pissarro in 1910 and through him was drawn into Sickert's circle, becoming secretary of the Camden Town Group and of its successor the London Group. In 1912 he became a curator at the Tate Gallery, and although he continued to paint and exhibit, he was mainly occupied with administration, especially after he was appointed director of the gallery in 1930. His directorship was notable mainly in a negative sense, for he was hostile to avant-garde art and tried to prevent works by artists of the calibre of Matisse and Rouault entering the collection. The modern painters in whom he was interested included Degas and Sargent, on both of whom he wrote books. A genial character, Manson was fond of the bottle and in 1938 he was compelled to resign from the Tate on the grounds of ‘ill-health’ after uttering ‘remarkably life-like and penetrating cock-a-doodle-dos’ at an official banquet in Paris (the episode is recounted with gusto by Kenneth Clark in his autobiography, Another Part of the Wood; he says it was ‘the only public banquet that I have ever really enjoyed’). See also Ede.

From A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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