PRINT March 2007


Robert Rosenblum

A pioneering critic of the past fifty years and a revisionist scholar of the preceding two hundred, Artforum contributing editor Robert Rosenblum will be remembered for the stunning breadth of his erudition and taste. In the issue, a trio of his colleagues—and, above all, his friends—recall a protean figure whose love of art was matched only by his joie de vivre.


IT IS HARD not to be lighthearted when remembering Robert Rosenblum. Bob was himself one of those rare people who, though deeply serious, was never ponderous or solemn. His was a quintessentially blithe spirit. From the very beginning of our long friendship, we laughed, joked, and gossiped together, and, of course, talked about art, too. Or, to put it differently, our joking and gossip led naturally to serious art talk. Whether it was the almost unknown, hyperdramatic Neoclassical Scandinavian sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel, Ingres’s sexy portraits, or just plain Pablo Picasso, Bob always had something interesting and unexpected to say, an observation no one else had ever made. For example, he speculated that the purportedly salacious hand palpating the breast of one of the lolling women in the foreground of Ingres’s Turkish Bath might simply be the other hand of the same woman, thus reducing lesbianism to mere narcissism.

For many people in the field of art, Bob, who died of cancer this past December at the age of seventy-nine, is known as the scholar and curator who, decades before the wholesale excavations of the art-historical dustbin that occurred in the 1980s and ’90s, proposed new genealogies for modern and contemporary art and vital relevancies for forgotten artists and derided styles. This is certainly an apt characterization, though it risks glossing over his deep immersion in the contemporary and the extent to which he brought his knowledge of the past to his considerations of the major practitioners of his own era, from Frank Stella to Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons and beyond. Above all, what was so exceptional about his take on modernity in art was his openness to the new and his refusal to categorize in terms of a single stylistic project or type of visual expression. In the latter respect, he opposed both the doctrinaire modernist and the conservative antimodernist. He could praise Cubism and abstraction in general while at the same time revealing, over and over again, how various the modalities of what constitutes the new or the modern in visual art can be.

My own memories of Bob, of course, are of a friend as well as of an admired colleague. He made me feel that I was a part of the community at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts when I arrived in 1953, an ignorant first-year student with a master’s degree in seventeenth-century English literature from Columbia University. Bob, pursuing his doctorate at NYU after having earned his master’s at Yale (and his bachelor’s at Queens College), was the IFA equivalent of big man on campus. He immediately invited me to participate in a student symposium he was organizing on the picturesque. The fact that this subject had caught his fancy was perhaps a relatively early symptom of his revisionist take on art history: According to the prevailing view, which was Wölfflin-inspired and binary (classical vs. baroque), art and design that fell under the “picturesque” rubric were worthy of little more than condescension if not outright disgust. Bob’s desire to look afresh at landscape designer Humphry Repton and the inventive English landscape theorists of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was, as I would discover, typical of his refusal to abide by the conventions of his field. Despite the fact that I knew nothing about the picturesque, I succumbed to the understated yet self-assured charm of this man who, by his own description, had grown up as an “arty Manhattan teenager,” and agreed to participate in the symposium. I don’t remember much about the event, except that by the end of it Bob and I were friends. We both studied with Walter Friedlaender. We took the courses David to Delacroix and Stoical Subject Matter, and Bob’s views of the art of the nineteenth century, which were already well developed, helped shape my own.

We traveled a bit together and had many an adventure. Once, in the countryside outside Paris, we found ourselves running late for the train and leaped aboard without buying tickets—a cardinal sin in France at the time. When we got back to the city, we were dragged in humiliation to the stationmaster’s office. “Pretend you don’t speak French,” I whispered, but Bob burst into a voluble Francophone defense of our behavior. As a result, we were not only obliged to pay the fare for the whole trajet, we were also subjected to a dressing-down by the stationmaster, who called us “ingrates” and suggested we should leave the country if we weren’t prepared to obey French law. I thought of this lecture not too long ago, in 2003, when I attended Bob’s initiation into the French Legion of Honor at the embassy next door to the IFA in New York. This time the French official’s speech was very different indeed.

In 1956 Bob received his Ph.D. (his dissertation was rather provocatively titled “The International Style of 1800: A Study in Linear Abstraction”) and embarked on the career that would earn him the kind of recognition accorded him that day in 2003. His first salvo was his 1961 book Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art, which interpreted the movement with enormous lucidity and a wealth of information, managing to hold on to both the vanguardism and the complexity of the project undertaken by Picasso, Braque, et al. Much later, he deprecated the book as “thoroughly steeped in Greenberg’s esthetic absolutism.” But in many respects, such as his observations on Mondrian’s latent Romanticism, the anything-but-absolutist trajectory of his later thought was already apparent. In 1967 he followed up Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art with the monographic Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and that same year—Bob was nothing if not prolific—published his landmark book Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art.

Bob’s first major curatorial effort, the brilliant traveling exhibition “French Painting 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution” (1974–75; which he co-organized with the Louvre’s Pierre Rosenberg and Detroit Institute of Arts director Frederick J. Cummings), brought to bear his reinterpretation of the scope and substance of the art of the French Revolution. The show cast new light on famous artists such as Jacques-Louis David while bringing lesser-knowns—for example, painters Ary Scheffer and Théodore Gudin, both hitherto renowned mostly for having been ridiculed by Baudelaire—to the fore as well. But it was in Modern Painting and the Northern Romantic Tradition: Friedrich to Rothko, published in 1975, that Bob revealed how radical his thinking really was. Fleshing out the ideas that were nascent in his earlier writing on Mondrian’s Romanticism, he drew connections between the art of premodernist German and Scandinavian painters—practitioners of the sublime such as Philipp Otto Runge and Caspar David Friedrich—and the work of his own contemporaries, such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still. It is hard to recapture the rigidity of the Greenbergian gospel of the time or the audaciousness of this book in the face of it. (One reviewer referred to Runge, Friedrich, et al., as a “fraternity of freaks.”) “Great modernist art” was for the most part French, and it was thought to be traceable, in a straight line, from more complex and illusionistic works to nonrepresentational three-dimensionality, ending up, in the United States, as the ultimate in modernist probity: a stain on the surface of the canvas. Any other art was considered provincial, retardataire, or beside the point. Bob’s book helped change all that, for me and for many others.

In the ensuing years, Bob continued to pursue his iconoclastic interests. Named Henry Ittleson Jr. Professor of Modern European Art at the IFA in 1976, a position he held until his death, he certainly did not retreat into the ivory tower but kept frequenting downtown galleries, just as he had in the days of AbEx and Pop. With art historian H. W. Janson, he co-authored the massive tome Nineteenth-Century Art(1984), highlighting artworks from Russia, Mexico, Ireland, and Australia, as well as from the US, the UK, and France. And, for the first but not the last time, he melded his life’s work with his love of man’s best friend, publishing The Dog in Art from Rococo to Post-Modernism in 1988. (I hope someday to do for cats what Bob did for the dog, most recently in the exhibition “Best in Show: The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today,” on view last year at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. His catalogue essay for that show is written with his usual easy erudition, but also with an additional warmth for the animals he loved and admired so much.)

For me, Bob’s ability to locate roads not taken on the path to modernism was particularly evident in his epic show “1900: Art at the Crossroads,” which he curated at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2000. Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Bonnard, and Gauguin: We know, with twenty-twenty hindsight, that these were the cultural heroes of their epoch, shaping the course of the century to come. But what about figures like the Belgian Théo van Rysselberghe, or the zany Australian Sydney Long, with his anorexic realm of Pan, or the mystical fantasies of Jean Delville, or Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s inventive working-class epic The Fourth Estate? Surely these practices and artworks, just like, say, Picasso’s Absinthe Drinker or Matisse’s Blue Jug, were also part of the attempt to create a new visual equivalent for modernity (and, on occasion, for a new sense of authentic national or ethnic identity). At the time, Bob drew an explicit contrast between his synchronic cavalcade of more than two hundred highly disparate works and Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s famous, or infamous, “family tree” of art movements, which proposes a stately progression from Neo-Impressionism to Fauvism to Cubism, and so on. Barr’s chart, Bob noted, was “the religion of modern art. . . . This one married that one and begat that one.” Conversely, he succinctly averred, “I like to shuffle the deck of -isms.”

History, as the saying goes, is written by the winners, and this goes for art history as well. But Bob Rosenblum attempted to go back and look seriously at the condition of art, from all countries and of all styles, at a crucial moment in its modern history, and what he found was a revelation and a paradigm for future exploration. One of the most memorable lectures I heard Bob give was a recent one, at the IFA, on Goya’s still lifes. I remember particularly his incredibly moving disquisition on a heap of dead fish, marvelously painted, poignantly open-eyed, the spectacular brushwork belying the patent lifelessness of the subject. Bob was no respecter of the hierarchy of species, any more than he was a respecter of the hierarchy of genres in art. For him, as probably for Goya, the fish were no less worthy of being the subjects of a great painting than the human beings in the Third of May.

Linda Nochlin is Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Modern Art at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.


WHEN I BECAME editor of this publication in 1992, I had a hit list: Tom Crow, Linda Nochlin, Yve-Alain Bois, Peter Schjeldahl, Dave Hickey, and, right up there on top, Robert Rosenblum. An eclectic group to say the least, bound not by method or ideology but by the power of their very different visions and voices. These writers were not all new to Artforum, of course—Robert, for one, had published in our pages a few times previously, most memorably on Gustave Caillebotte in 1977—but none was part of the monthly fray. And the fray is where the fun began.

“Fun” is not a bad place to start with Robert. He was a Warholian, and fun was Andy’s favorite word—and Robert’s preferred mode of being. Robert first came to “my” Artforum in our thirtieth-anniversary issue. We asked sixteen critics to look back over the previous three decades and write about a single work of art that had changed the course of their seeing and thinking. In keeping with the proclivities of this august youthquaker, Robert’s contribution was fun—that goes without saying—but it was also prescient, his subject the work of an artist who was at that time still more distrusted than deified in the upper reaches of the art world, never mind the academy. If you haven’t already guessed, he nominated a Jeff Koons, but (with typically Rosenblumian contrariness) Robert passed over the Hoovers and the now iconic Rabbit in favor of a more eccentric selection, a gilt-and-mirror confection titled Christ and the Lamb.

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That was my first year as editor of the magazine and my first firsthand interaction with Robert. The second came when, as serendipity would have it, I moved in next door to him and his family on Tenth Street. It took a moment to put two and two together, but our kitchen window offered an only slightly obstructed view of the Rosenblums’ backyard garden. And that, I will tell you, was a tableau that changed the course of my seeing and thinking.

If you know anything about Robert, you know that he penned the seminal study Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art (1961); you know that his long-view intellection, as evidenced, for instance, in his Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art (1967), played a large part in shifting the parameters of artistic modernity from a period that begins at the cusp of the twentieth century (or perhaps a bit further back with, say, Courbet) to a broader continuum that locates the modern period’s origins in the eighteenth century. And, finally, you know that Robert was a revisionist of maverick foresight—or wanton perversity, depending on whom you talk to. If the academic artists of the nineteenth century were perhaps his most celebrated recuperation, their rehabilitation was hardly his only assault on received taste.

What you may not know about Robert, and what became clear as we tried our best not to stare too hard out the kitchen window, is that, together with his wife, the artist Jane Kaplowitz, he hosted one of the liveliest salons our neighborhood had seen since, well, the time when one would not have felt embarrassed to call it “the Village.” An ever-ready (and ever-witty) partner in art and in fun, Jane was two decades Robert’s junior and, like him, half again her own age in spirit. Whenever I glimpsed Jane’s work, which, owing to her self-deprecating modesty, was rarely, I was (to mimic her somewhat tongue-in-cheek diction) like, Move over Nate Lowman! We became regular dinner guests—very regular, we thought—but to our slack-jawed amazement, our perch revealed that the evenings we attended were but the tip of the iceberg. Wasn’t that Chase art honcho Manuel Gonzalez’s robust laugh wafting up five alfresco flights? And there goes Angela Westwater’s careful coif, a blond dot beneath the tree canopy, her voice too discreet to carry. Not so John Richardson’s cultivated baritone or David Rimanelli on a take-no-prisoners tear. Dome and goggles? It must be Philip Johnson. “Hey, Matthew, I thought they saved us for the good nights!”

Whom did I meet when we were called down to dinner? Whom didn’t I meet! Poet John Ashbery; critic David Sylvester, who became a sometime contributor and a regular dining companion on his visits to New York and on mine to London. One evening at dinner, Jane screamed, “Jack!” as a jet-lagged Sylvester nodded off in the chair next to me, and Jane (thank you, Jane) feared losing me to his considerable girth. I met Leo Steinberg and Jasper Johns; I met John Russell and Rosamond Bernier; I met Gilbert & George—all the great monuments and plenty of bright young things, too.

What comes back to me as one of Robert’s presumably countless editors? That he was so effortlessly in tune with the muses—and with himself—that when push came to not-very-hard shove, there was nothing I couldn’t get him to squeeze into a writing and teaching and lecturing schedule that would have put hair on the chests of a touring rock band—especially if I served it up with a decent scrap of gossip. At first he would answer: “Whatever you’re selling, I don’t want any.” Then: “But just out of curiosity, what did you have in mind?” Finally, and invariably: “Well, my dear, that is the one thing that would tempt me to make time just now. How in the world did you know?” You are getting the idea that this routine had less to do with my editorial perspicacity than with Robert’s boundless energy. Of course, his disposition made the line between work and play scarcely meaningful, and, keeping rather cruel and unusual office hours back then myself, I knew I could always catch him like clockwork at his office on Saturday mornings, should I need a dose of wake-up dish (a favorite Rosenblumian term) before the rest of the world had tasted its coffee. I remember his calls: There was usually one around January 2, to tell me he had settled on his first pick for next year’s annual “Top Ten” list and it was South Park (again!) or worse, some bad news about a despised colleague. The latter he would offer with a wicked giggle. For Robert, each of our office interns was “an interesting new editor whom I don’t believe I’ve yet met,” and he charmed them all. “From the Vault,” the column I devised (and my longtime senior editor Eric Banks named) was inspired by Robert’s famously voracious revisionist streak, which always seemed to make what was old, new, and what was outré, in. It would become a place in the magazine to look back at older art from a contemporary vantage, a fitting tribute to our in-house old-schooler, equally at home in three centuries.

Robert was a special case on the Artforum team. Among our posse of Francophile theorists and social art historians, he was the product of an older way of doing art-historical business, and yet, as a critic and curator, he was the piety-puncturing iconoclast. With his ever-canny eye for the contemporary, he more than once surprised me by already being where we were hurriedly rushing. One look around his dining room—where I so often found myself finger-feeding Balducci’s-plump strawberries to one of his beloved bulldogs—tells the story. The walls were hung three deep with trophies of his prescient collecting calls and preposterous reclamations: just about my favorite early Lichtenstein (acquired very early); a little Matthew Barney (that was a brief window when a scholar could land a work by that fast-rising star!); and, thanks to the famously accurate Rosenblumian radar, by the time Artforum’s new regime anointed Kelley Walker with a brave new cover, I could boast of having dined beneath one of the artist’s early mirrored Rorschachs for a number of years. There were also Robert Colescott’s Eat Dem Taters (after Van Gogh, of course); McDermott & McGough’s Friend of Dorothy; a Jackson Pollock (or maybe it was a Mike Bidlo?); a Gilbert & George, of course; a Joshua Reynolds nude; a Charles Shaw of abstracted Manhattan skyscrapers; and, in the stairwell, a little drawing by downtown demimonder Taboo! (a birthday present from Robert to Jane). “Our neighbors are gayer than we are!” we laughed as we left our happily married hosts’ happy home (brimming with dish, dogs, and a couple of kids in whom the creative DNA is proving dominant) and tipsily made the forty-foot trip back to our place.

Here’s one collecting call that lets me roll a lot of Robert into one slightly overstuffed riff: The year was 1986; the gallery was Anthony d’Offay; and the show was the debut of Andy Warhol’s camouflage self-portraits. As hard as it is to believe today, back then d’Offay and his crackerjack team were having a good deal of trouble moving what was then still perceived as the “compromised” late work. Robert, corralling a catalogue fee owed him by the gallery for a separate show and a decent chunk of change—small by world-class collecting standards but heroic on an academic’s salary—took home the pick of the litter. The painting presided over the Rosenblums’ front parlor for as long as I can remember, and also over the coming of age of Warhol appreciation, which redeemed the artist’s late work and extracurricular exploits and found its most capacious fulfillment in the writing of Wayne Koestenbaum—another iconoclast Robert “got” and welcomed into his world. I’ll take credit for making this happy introduction, but Robert gets all the points for being first to test the tired pieties (with his pen as much as his pocketbook), for seeing that the late work was as crucial as the soup cans or the Marilyns in the unique ecology of Warhol’s art. “Benjamin Buchloh is our other great Warhol reader,” I would bait the bemused professor under the watchful eye of that terrified—and terrifying—bewigged visage. “Traitor!” Robert would shout . . . but that’s what makes the world go round. And it did go round chez Rosenblum.

Jack Bankowsky was editor of Artforum from 1992 to 2003. He is currently editor at large.


IN 1974 I was an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College with one foot in avant-garde theater, à la La MaMa, and the other in Kunstgeschichte, à la Erwin Panofsky. I first heard about Robert Rosenblum while doing time at a torpid summer internship in the European Decorative Arts Department at the Art Institute of Chicago. There was a very French curator of European painting, J. Patrice Marandel, who told me that if I got into New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts and if I actually went, I must study with his friend Bob Rosenblum.

Those were halcyon years of reassessment and revision in the field of art history. Rosenblum was already an establishment figure in academe, the prodigy Princeton prof who, word had it, had introduced the young Frank Stella to Leo Castelli circa 1960, and the author of classic studies of Cubism, Ingres, and Stella, to name only a few. That fall, “French Painting 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution” (1974–75), the show he had worked on as a co-curator for more than a decade, was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The show had been drastically cut between its Paris and New York venues by the Met’s director, Thomas Hoving, and Rosenblum, there was no mistaking, was pissed. Indeed, rumors were circulating at the IFA that he was trying to have Hoving formally censured by the College Art Association. I had seen the show intact in Paris, and its nonlinear, non-reductive mix of major and minor artists had made a big impression. Even in its abbreviated form at the Met, the issues raised were of considerable interest to the contemporary art world, and I remember well Ingres’s Jupiter and Thetis, 1811, on the cover of the December 1975 Artforum, where it was pegged to Carol Duncan’s long and thoughtful (Marxist-feminist) critique of the show.

Theory, however—particularly the latest fad in academic theory—was not Rosenblum’s thing. He was an empiricist devoted to fact, in particular to what could be seen with his own two eyes. He was something of a sleuth—around 1970 he had undertaken the task of tracking down old French newspapers in the New York Public Library, the better to date Cubist collages—and was possessed of extreme perseverance. During the ’50s and ’60s he had made it his stated mission, as he later said, to “see every painting in the world.” His world, it must be said, pretty much boiled down to North America and Europe, but he loved going off the beaten path, where he turned up many wonderful things. Also circa 1970, for instance, he learned that a key early work by Jacques-Louis David, the Homeric and homoerotic Funeral of Patroclus, 1778—which had been out of view since 1781—had resurfaced and been acquired with little fanfare by the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. He wasted no time in spreading the news with a thorough disquisition on the work, published in 1973 in the Burlington Magazine.

The seeds of dissent, though—the subversive hints of not quite believing in the game, even while playing it superbly—were always present in Robert’s drolleries, delivered with a deadpan drawl, and first heard by me in the IFA’s grandiose entrance hall and corridors of power. “What?” he quipped one day during a lecture break. “You haven’t seen Pink Flamingos? Oh, but you’ve got to, run don’t walk!” Professor Rosenblum, I soon learned, thought Divine, the outsize transvestite star of John Waters’s 1972 film, was just about the cutest thing around, but then Robert also had an unnerving passion for roller coasters and Disneyland. (In 2002 he insisted that my wife and I take our four-year-old daughter to see the Broadway musical Hairspray, based on Waters’s film, and the original cast album has been emanating from the kid’s room on a near-daily basis ever since.) What an odd and typically Rosenblumian coincidence that the obituary of Van Smith, the makeup artist who created Divine’s look, happened to run opposite Robert’s obit in the New York Times on December 9, 2006.

The seeds of dissent, though—the subversive hints of not quite believing in the game, even while playing it superbly—were always present in Robert’s drolleries, delivered with a deadpan drawl, and first heard by me in the IFA’s grandiose entrance hall and corridors of power. “What?” he quipped one day during a lecture break. “You haven’t seen Pink Flamingos? Oh, but you’ve got to, run don’t walk!” Professor Rosenblum, I soon learned, thought Divine, the outsize transvestite star of John Waters’s 1972 film, was just about the cutest thing around, but then Robert also had an unnerving passion for roller coasters and Disneyland. (In 2002 he insisted that my wife and I take our four-year-old daughter to see the Broadway musical Hairspray, based on Waters’s film, and the original cast album has been emanating from the kid’s room on a near-daily basis ever since.) What an odd and typically Rosenblumian coincidence that the obituary of Van Smith, the makeup artist who created Divine’s look, happened to run opposite Robert’s obit in the New York Times on December 9, 2006.

In the spring of ’76, Robert held the end-of-term class party for his seminar David and His School at his Lower Broadway loft—at one time inhabited by Frank O’Hara, older students told us in hushed tones. There I encountered a painting that shook up my view of things: that funk masterpiece, Robert Colescott’s Eat Dem Taters, made the year before. This canvas depicts a family of caricatural “Negroes” gathered around a frugal repast. In that high-Conceptual era, it looked like the baddest painting in town. Colescott is riffing on the joke that van Gogh’s potato eaters are so dark-skinned that they might as well be black, and his parody, hanging in my professor’s downtown loft, spoke of revisionisms yet to be broached at the pokey ol’ IFA and suggested a whole wide world out there, way beyond the groves of academe and even the SoHo confines of the contemporary art world.

At the time, Bobby, like the character of the same name in Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical Company (Rosenblum and I shared a passion for Sondheim), was becoming Robert, and with characteristic insouciance he abandoned bachelorhood to marry a certain Jane Kaplowitz, a young artist who was pretty insouciant herself (and who was then working for Alanna Heiss at the Clocktower Gallery in Lower Manhattan). Over the ensuing decades Robert and Jane would form a domestic and familial partnership whose warmth and social breadth was legendary. To give you a quick idea of their combined charisma: I remember going to a prom back in that spring of ’76 for the opening of New York’s P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, where Robert and Jane were nominated as finalists for prom king and queen. (It was an honor that in the end went to Conceptual-art collectors Herbert and Dorothy Vogel.) Jumping ahead to the 1980s and ’90s, first at the Rosenblums’ Mercer Street duplex and later at their West Tenth Street house, there would be amazing dinners. I recall one at which Philip Johnson, then in his mid-nineties, was tackled à table by the Rosenblums’ beloved, deaf, seventy-pound bulldog Archie. All those years, their house was an epicenter for artists and writers, for highbrow hobnobbing and lowdown belly laughs.

At another memorable dinner with Robert and Jane—this one in 1989 at La Coupole, in Paris—I got an update on Rosenblum’s art-historical and contemporary-art enthusiasms. He was busy writing the text for his coffee-table book on the Musée d’Orsay (it would turn out to be one of his best) and was having great fun churning out twenty-odd short and breezy thematic essays on subjects of his choice, each turning on a work or works, whether obscure or renowned, selected from the collection—which, in its preponderance of academic over avant-garde work, is itself a postmodernist monument to the revisionist all-inclusiveness Rosenblum helped pioneer.

Most exciting to Robert that night was an article about Gilbert & George’s AIDS pictures that he had just pecked out on his portable typewriter in his hotel room. He was literally brimming over about the artists’ latest body of political work, which he had seen in London and spontaneously concluded he just had to write about. That was Robert all over: For him, there was no cognitive disconnect between art history and contemporary art, and, characteristically, he got both the article and the Musée d’Orsay book done. (No surprise that Gilbert & George’s new Tate Modern catalogue is dedicated to him.)

Fast-forward to 2006, a banner year for Rosenblum. Gravely ill, he nevertheless contributed to the production of two major historical survey exhibitions: “Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760–1830” (which premiered in Paris at the Grand Palais before moving on to the Royal Academy in London and will arrive at the Guggenheim in New York in May) and “Best in Show: The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today.” The Paris installation of the portrait show provoked Rosenblum’s ire, for a Louvre curator had added lots of extraneous sculpture to the template conceived by Rosenblum and MaryAnne Stevens of the Royal Academy. When we had dinner in Paris last fall, a month before he died, he and Jane were most enthusiastic about the great exhibition “Il était une fois Walt Disney: aux sources de l’art des studios Disney” (Once Upon a Time Walt Disney: The Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios), curated by Guy Cogeval (with film specialist Dominque Païni and animation expert Pierre Lambert), that was running next door to the portrait show at the Grand Palais. Ironically, the Disney extravaganza, with its deep-dish helpings of both Romantic and Symbolist art, seemed to embody more of Rosenblum’s spirit than the somewhat dry and conservative, “totally straight” (as he put it) French incarnation of “Citizens and Kings.”

Robert wrote terrific catalogue essays and gave many death-defying lectures on the international circuit in the last year of his life, often hopping off to Europe for a few days between medical treatments. In Paris the year began with a powerful Ron Mueck survey at the Fondation Cartier, accompanied by Robert’s luminous essay, an up-close-and-personal look at the subject of mortality in the work of the sculptor who first became famous for his undersize, nude gisant figure Dead Dad, 1996–97. For a catalogue essay on McDermott & McGough’s exhibition of new paintings at Cheim & Read in New York, Robert deftly deconstructed the homoerotic subtexts of the duo’s midcentury American Pop suburban subject matter. His unbuttoned text adheres to his rule of close visual description, but there is a new, letting-it-all-hang-out feeling. He writes: “But suddenly, within this hygienic Utopia from an architect’s drawing board, an alien intruder appears, a seedy sepia-toned photo of some naked teenager flopped out on his bed, bottle of beer in hand. In your voyeuristic face is a peephole view of his rear end and testicles.” Right on! Robert seemed to become more and more of a ’60s person, even as he gracefully ruled as the dean of American art history.

Then, of course, there was the dog show—a must-see for dog lovers, of which Robert was definitely one (his “Best in Show” catalogue essay is dedicated “to Winnie and to the late Archie, the suns in our family solar system”), but of how much interest to someone who is not canine-crazy? Here the news was even more surprising, for his essay is, against all odds, a major emotional and scholarly text, full of solid documentation, fun facts, and off-the-cuff observations. He writes: “As for [Lucian] Freud, a self-proclaimed dog lover, he focused on a situation instantly recognizable to all of us who have lived with dogs, namely, the way they usurp human presences in our beds.”

While he was alive, I took all this for granted in Robert’s writing—those long, wonderfully winding sentences I thought would never end. But now that he is gone, I can see his writing for what it is: a precious gift, delivered with balletic ease but achieved through arduous labor and true grit. Grit, of a noirish, cold-war, bebop variety, was probably not something Robert would have cited as a personal trait, but it was a quality he had in spades, and, together with brilliance and wit, grit made his achievements possible over a fifty-year period.

Brooks Adams is a writer based in Paris.