Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Georgetown, Washington, DC, USA
Senior curator of European paintings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1998-2008. Conisbee was the son of Paul Conisbee. Though born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Conisbee grew up in London. He attended St. Dunstan's college, Catford before entering the Courtauld Institute, London. He received a B.A. in the history of European art in 1968 and worked on a dissertation on the painter Claude-Joseph Vernet, which he never completed. After part-time academic positions at the University of Reading and the University of London, he accepted a lectureship at Leicester University in 1971 (through 1986). His first exhibition, organized at Kenwood House, Hampstead, north London, 1976 was on Vernet. From 1978 until 1986, he taught a seminar annually on 18th- and 19th-century French art at the University of Cambridge. In 1985 he traveled to the United States as a visiting fellow at the Yale Center for British Art. He moved to America permanently the following year, joining the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, as an associate curator of French paintings. He married Susan Baer. In 1988, Earl Powell III, then director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, lured Conisbee to California where the same year Conisbee mounted a Guido Reni show. Other exhibitions at LACMA included "The Golden Age of Danish Painting," in 1993. When Powell moved to Washington in 1992 to head the National Gallery of Art, he called Conisbee to join him the following year. Conisbee, who had divorced, remarried the same year to the classicist and museum programs director Faya Causey, a former wife of the art historian Jiri Frel, and became a US citizen in 1994. His "Georges de La Tour and His World," opened at the NGA in 1996. He was promoted to senior curator in 1998. The exhibition "Van Gogh's Van Goghs," which he mounted the same year drew crowds of almost half a million. Other high-profile shows he organized included "The Age of Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," and "Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch," both of 1999. In 2004 he was appointed a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (France). Conisbee and the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence, mounted "Cézanne in Provence" in 2006, another major draw for both museums. He co-authored of a book on Leon Kossoff's drawings at the National Gallery in London in 2007. His work on a catalog of the permanent collection of French paintings from the 16th to 18th centuries at the NGA remained incomplete at the time of his death. He died at his home at age 62 of complications of lung cancer.
Painting in Eighteenth-century France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981; Chardin. Lewisberg, NJ: Bucknell University Press, 1985; Cézanne in Provence. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art/Yale University Press, 2006.
[assertions numerous obituaries that Conisbee was awarded a Ph.D. in obituaries are incorrect] Cropper, Elizabeth. "Philip Conisbee: British Art Historian at Home in America." Guardian (London) March 13, 2008, p. 28; Johnson, Ken. "Philip Conisbee, 62, National Gallery Curator." New York Times, January 25, 2008 p. C9; Schudel, Matt. "Philip Conisbee; National Gallery Curator." Washington Post, January 19, 2008 p. B05; Rand, Richard. "Philip Conisbee (1946-2008)." Burlington Magazine 150 (May 2008): 329.