Crookshank, Anne Olivia (1927–2016), art historian, was born in Whiteabbey, Co. Antrim, on 3 January 1927, the second of three daughters to Henry Crookshank, a geographical surveyor, and his wife Eileen ‘Kitty’ Crookshank (née Somerville-Large). For the first five years of her life Anne lived in India, where her father was working on a survey of the central provinces for the Geographical Survey, an experience that remained with her throughout her life – in later years her home and office were decorated with trinkets and reminders of her time there, including a tiger skin, complete with head, shot by her father. In 1932 Eileen returned to Belfast to give birth to her third daughter Helen, bringing Anne with her. For the next decade the family moved around: they spent time in London before being evacuated during the Blitz to stay with a relative in Carlisle; and they also lived in Fethard, Co. Tipperary, with Henry’s younger sister Olivia Hughes – one of the founding members of the Irish Countrywoman’s Association guild in Fethard and a big influence on her young niece. As a result of their constant relocation, Crookshank attended several schools, including a year in Alexandra College in Dublin, but she finished her second-level education in the Convent of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Carlisle, which she attended from 1941 to 1944. An excellent student, Crookshank was offered a scholarship to study at Oxford University but her father, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), insisted that family tradition dictated she would also study there.
Crookshank came to TCD to read history in the autumn of 1945, at a time when women still did not enjoy full access to the university’s amenities despite being admitted as students since 1904. Women had to sign in to enter the grounds, and in later years Crookshank recalled female students being obliged to leave the campus to use the toilet of a nearby hotel as there were no facilities for them in the university. At the end of her second year Crookshank was elected as a scholar but, again, her gender prevented her from taking full advantage of the privileges that should have accompanied the honour. Scholars were entitled to attend Commons in the evening, but it was a male-only affair. In protest at her exclusion, Crookshank refused to dine in Commons for the remainder of her life, even as a Fellow of the University (with the occasional judicious exception for an important banquet). While studying at TCD Crookshank developed an interest in art and art history, something that she was encouraged to pursue by then head of department, Theodore W. Moody (qv). Thus, after graduating from TCD with a Bachelor of Arts in 1949, she attended the prestigious Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where she wrote her Master of Arts thesis on the drawings of George Romney under the supervision of Anthony Blunt, a leading British art historian who was later discovered to be a Soviet spy.
After graduation from the Courtauld Institute in 1952, Crookshank’s first employment was as publications assistant at the Tate Gallery, London; she was then appointed assistant Witt librarian at the Courtauld Institute from 1954–7. In 1957 she was appointed keeper of art in the Ulster Museum (then the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery) and it was there that she forged important relationships, both personal and professional, and established her reputation as a significant force in Irish art and art history. In later life, Crookshank admitted that upon her appointment in Belfast she was very conscious of her ‘sad lack of knowledge of Irish painters of all periods’ (O’Byrne, 2016), and she set out to remedy the gaps in her knowledge. In her role as keeper of art, she was very progressive, expanding the collection to include contemporary and international artists such as Antoni Tàpies, Sam Francis, William Scott (qv) and Karel Appel, often in the face of widespread disapproval: at a meeting of Belfast City Council she was denounced as the ‘whore of Babylon’ (O’Byrne, 2016). The personal relationships she formed were equally important – while in Belfast she became very close to sculptor Deborah Brown (b. 1927), a friendship that endured to the end of her life. She also met Desmond and Mariga Guinness (qv) on a weekend in Donegal shortly after they had founded the Irish Georgian Society in 1958.
Through her friendship with the Guinnesses, Crookshank was introduced to Desmond FitzGerald (qv), Knight of Glin, thus beginning one of the most fruitful partnerships in Irish art history, one that lasted over four decades. Their first collaboration was in 1963 when Crookshank, FitzGerald, James White (qv) of the National Gallery of Ireland, and Desmond Guinness catalogued the ‘Irish houses and landscapes’ exhibition for the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art (now the Hugh Lane Gallery). In the foreword for New perspectives: essays in honour of Anne Crookshank (1987), FitzGerald self-deprecatingly described himself as a ‘brash young know-all with a bulging card-index’ who made a thorough nuisance of himself (Fenlon and Figgis, 7). The dynamic between Crookshank and FitzGerald worked well, albeit one that has been described as tempestuous. FitzGerald himself wrote that ‘terrible storms often took place and I remember the necessity of taking calming walks around and around the squares of Trinity’ (Fenlon and Figgis, 8).
The latter half of the 1960s was a transformative period for Crookshank. She moved to Dublin to establish Ireland’s first history of art department at TCD and was a founder member and one of the driving forces behind Rosc – a series of groundbreaking exhibitions between 1967 and 1988 which brought international modern art to Ireland. Her collaboration with FitzGerald continued, culminating at the end of the decade with their seminal exhibition ‘Irish portraits 1660–1860’, the first historical show of Irish portrait painting, which debuted at the National Gallery, Dublin, before moving to the National Portrait Gallery in London and Belfast Museum between 1969 and 1970. As they researched the exhibition, Crookshank and FitzGerald became increasingly aware of the gaps in their knowledge of Irish art – a painting they initially ascribed to J. H. Brocas (qv) they later discovered to be Limerick artist J. H. Mulcahy (qv), a painter they had never heard of – and they determined to remedy that. For several years they travelled Ireland, visiting archives and country houses to uncover lost or forgotten artists and paintings, bringing their research together for Crookshank to form into readable text (FitzGerald famously disliked the solitary book-writing process). The result was their transformational work The painters of Ireland, c.1600–1920, published in 1978 – the first scholarly book on Irish art since Walter Strickland’s (qv) Dictionary of Irish artists (1913). They followed it up with The watercolours of Ireland (1994) which was awarded the Prix de la Confédération des Negociants en Oeuvres d’Art (CINOA) prize, and in 2002 they published the revised and extended Ireland’s painters, 1600–1940 which considerably increased the number of artists and included full colour reproductions. These volumes established, for the first time, the independent significance of Ireland’s painters, not just in the context of British art, but in the wider European context as well.
Crookshank singlehandedly established the history of art department in TCD. Appointed director of studies in 1966, the department initially consisted of just Crookshank teaching out of a temporary lecture theatre in the basement of what was then the New Library (renamed the Berkeley). The course was two years long and could only be taken in the sophister years of a general studies degree. Students from other disciplines, such as medicine, who were required to take an arts subject as part of their degree often chose art history, believing it to be the easy option. Former student, and prominent art critic, Dorothy Walker (qv) says Crookshank saw it as part of her role to civilise ‘unruly medicals … and in many cases she succeeded’ (Fenlon and Figgis, 15). In keeping with the initially haphazard nature of the facilities (or lack thereof) made available to her, Crookshank was forced to rely on a projectionist loaned to her from the School of Medicine. He was, allegedly, untrainable and it was quite usual for slides to be shown back to front.
As a teacher, Crookshank could be intimidating, but her passion for her subject was compelling: students were encouraged to engage in connoisseurship, that is, to learn through looking, to use their eyes and then their minds. As the subject gained popularity Crookshank expanded the department, taking on Dr Edward McParland as a lecturer in architectural history, and Dr Roger Stalley to teach medieval art and architecture. In 1977 she was appointed assistant professor and in 1985 full professor. As a mark of their respect for her scholarship and affection for her as a colleague, in 1985 the department established the Anne Crookshank Prize to enable outstanding students of art and architecture to travel abroad.
Crookshank was elected a Fellow of TCD in 1978, a member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) in 1985, and honorary member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (HRHA) in the same year. In addition to these honours, she sat on many committees including the Art Committee of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland; she was a member of the Stamp Design Advisory Committee (1973–83), a member of the board of directors of the National College of Art and Design (NCAD, 1981–3), and a member of the board of directors both of Castletown House, Co. Kildare, and Fota House, Co. Cork.
Crookshank chose to live in Donegal – she had inherited Convoy House, Greenfield, from the former owner Mae Boyton but in 1984 she sold it in favour of a house in Ramelton overlooking the Swilly estuary. Her close friend Deborah Brown followed suit so that they could maintain their friendship. She was twice diagnosed with cancer, and in her latter years lived privately in Ramelton. Anne Crookshank died on 18 October 2016 in Áras Uí Dhomhnaill nursing home, Milford, and was buried in Bank cemetery after funeral service at St Paul’s church, Ramelton. On 2 March 2016 a memorial service led by Rev. Steven Brunn was held in the chapel of TCD where one of the hymns to be sung was ‘Abide with me’ or, as Crookshank had requested, ‘the one they sing at football matches’ (Trinity News, 17 Mar. 2017). She was survived by her sister Helen Haughton, nieces and nephews, and friend Deborah Brown.
Anne Crookshank’s contribution to art history scholarship continues after her death: the Crookshank-Glin collection in the library of the Irish Art Research Centre, TCD, consists of the tens of thousands of reproduction images from more than 1,000 Irish artists and sculptors that formed the basis for Crookshank and FitzGerald’s seminal texts. Portraits of her are held by the Trinity Collection (by Lawrence Gowing), National Museums Northern Ireland (by Laurence Coulter) and the RIA (by Derek Hill (qv)).