Museum department director, print specialist and editor of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts (1956-1987); established a genre of art-historical research exploring the importance of classical culture to that of the Middle Ages. Adhémar was descended from a distinguished legal family of the French Midi (southern France). His father, a lawyer of the Cour de cassation (French Supreme Court), allowed his son to follow scholarship rather than study law. The younger Adhémar studied art history initially under Marcel Aubert at école des Chartes, where he gained a life-long appreciation of documents, and then under Henri Focillon at the Sorbonne. His dissertation, completed in 1929, was on antique influences in medieval art in France. He married his wife, Hélène, during this time. Julien Cain (1887-1974), director of the Bibliothèque nationale invited him to join the the library in 1932 in the prints and photography division (Cabinet des Estampes et de Photographie). His 1935 exhibition for the library of the prints of Goya was particularly notable. During this time he acted as the library's correspondent and principal French contact for Fritz Saxl at the Warburg Institute. Adhémar adopted Saxl's methodology in part; rewriting his doctoral thesis and publishing it in 1939 (through the Warburg Institute) as Influences antiques dans l'art du moyen âge français. He assisted in the move of the Cabinet to the former Salomon de Rothschild residence at the Rue Berryer in the late 1930s. He was appointed director of the Cabinet in 1961. His tenure saw the expansion of the prints collection and particularly photographs and innovatively, posters. During that time he edited Diderot's Salon reviews into book form with Jean Seznec. He was appointed editor of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1956 by it owner, the art dealer and historian Georges Wildenstein. He broadened the scope of the Gazette to include articles on the history of collecting and 19th-century caricature. The magazine, under his leadership, became a vehicle for publishing documents (e.g., the diary of Prince Eugen of Sweden and extracts of the journal of Champfleury). Adhémar founded the serial Nouvelles de l'estampe in 1965. He supervised the dissertation work of Philippe Roberts-Jones. He retired from the Bibliothèque nationale 1977 and the editorship of the Gazette in 1987, the year of his death. Following his death the Gazette featured an entire issue devoted to his life and scholarship. Influences antiques dans l'art du moyen âge français was Adhémar's masterpiece. In it he achieved nothing less than a history of the medieval reception of and mentality toward the ancient world (Rainer and Rainer). In this, as most of his writing, he stressed the relationship of literature to the art--as opposed to simply linking visual similarities of the two ages. Using a vast and disparate variety of antique written sources Influences antiques dans l'art du moyen âge français links the known classical monuments of the middle ages with French medieval art. He demonstrated profoundly what was generally known, that the first renaissance of the classical world in Europe came with the Romanesque (Krautheimer). His knowledge and love of literature led him to issue studies on Diderot, Flaubert, Baudelaire and Zola. His curatorial interest was on the French Renaissance, particularly patronage.
Influences antiques dans l'art du moyen âge français: recherches sur les sources et les thèmes d'inspiration. Studies of the Warburg Institute 7. London: Warburg Institute, 1939; Lithographies de paysages en France à l'époque romantique. Archives de l'art français, nouv. période 19. Paris: A. Colin, 1939; edited, with Seznec, Jean. Diderot, Denis. Salons. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957-1966; La Gravure originale au XVIIIe siècle. Paris: A. Somogy, 1963, English, Graphic Art of the 18th Century. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964; Toulouse-Lautrec: lithographies, pointes sèches, oeuvre complet. Paris: Arts et métiers graphiques, 1965, English, Toulouse-Lautrec: His Complete Lithographs and Drypoints. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1965; Gravure originale au XXe siècle. Paris: A. Somogy, 1967. English, Twentieth-century Graphics. New York: Praeger,1971; Imagerie populaire française. Milan: Electa, 1968; Chronologie impressionniste: 1863-1905. Paris: Editions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1981; "In Praise of Lithography." In, Lithography: 200 Years of Art, History & Technique. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1983.
Krautheimer, Richard. "[Review of] Influences antiques dans l'art du moyen âge français." Art Bulletin 22, no. 4 (December 1940): 280-281; "Jean Adhémar." Apollo 101 (January 1975): 70; Adhémar, Jean. "A Personal Postscript." The Artist and the Writer in France: Essays in Honour of Jean Seznec. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974; Bazin, Germain. Histoire de l'histoire de l'art; de Vasari à nos jours. Paris: Albin Michel, 1986, p. 151; The Dictionary of Art 1: 154; Rainer, Michael, and Rainer, Thomas. "Jean Adhémar: Influences antiques dans l'art du moyen âge français." Naredi-Rainer, Paul von. Hauptwerke der Kunstgeschichtsschreibung. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner, 2010, pp. 4-7; Sutton, Denys. "Jean Adhémar." Burlington Magazine 129, no. 1015 (October 1987): 669; "Hommage à Jean Adhémar." [entire issue] Gazette des Beaux-Arts, (January/February) 1988; Hofmann, Werner. "Jean Adhémar (1908-1987)." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 52 no. 2 (1989): 296-297.