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Cox, Trenchard

    Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery

    Full Name: Cox, Trenchard

    Other Names:

    • Trenchard Cox

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1905

    Date Died: 1995

    Place Born: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): museums (institutions)

    Career(s): directors (administrators) and museum directors


    Director, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1955-1967. Cox was the son of William Pallett Cox, a lawyer, and Marion Beverley (Cox). He graduated from Eton and attended King’s College, Cambridge, where he took a first-class degree in the Modern Languages Tripos. Cecil Harcourt-Smith, the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum and a family friend, encouraged Cox in museum studies. At Cambridge, Sydney Cockerell Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, likewise inspired. He initially worked as an unpaid attaché at the National Gallery, London, and in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. Cox entered graduate school at the University in Berlin, because no British university offered a degree in the subject, studying, for one semester, under the outstanding medievalist Adolph Goldschmidt. A short period at the Sorbonne led to his 1931 publication, Jehan Foucquet. His collaboration with W. G. Constable on the catalog of the exhibition of French Art at the Royal Academy in 1931-32, led to an appointment as assistant to the Director of the Wallace Collection, the major collection of French 18th century painting, under James G. Mann. Cox married Maisie Anderson (d.1973), daughter of Sir Hugh Anderson, Master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and a noted antiquarian, in 1935. At the outbreak of World War II, Mann was abroad. Cox had to supervise the evacuation of the collection from London. Cox became private secretary to Sir Alexander Maxwell, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office. His skills as an administrator landed him the post of Director of the City of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in 1944. Cox engineered a remarkable post-war renaissance at Birmingham. With his assistant, Mary Woodall, Keeper of the Department of Art, Cox established the war-damaged Museum and Art Gallery as a leading national institution. He maintained excellent relations with the Birmingham City Corporation, founding one of the most successful museum Friends groups of the period. His book on David Cox was published in 1947. His Peter Bruegel appeared in 1951. He was awarded a CBE in 1954. When Leigh Ashton became unfit because of alcoholism to carry out his duties at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Cox was offered the position in 1955. But the Minister of Education responsible for the appointment purportedly told Cox that Cox’s mission was only “to to keep the seat warm for John Pope-Hennessy,” the high-profile Keeper to the Department of Sculpture at the V&A and the one whom many expected the job to be given. Cox’s appointment as Director and Secretary of the V&A was openly opposed by Edward Arthur Lane, the brilliant, but depressive Keeper of Ceramics who later took his own life. Cox published his popular Pictures: a Handbook for Curators in 1956. As an administrator, he promoted both women and blacks in the Museum, advancing the first woman to Assistant Keeper in the early 1960s. Cox raised the exhibition standards of the Museum, conspicuously that of “Opus Anglicanum” in the 1960s. He was knighted in 1961. An eye affliction which two operations failed to correct forced a premature retirement in 1966. Pope-Hennessy succeeded Cox in 1967. Cox died of pneumonia exacerbated by cancer at his home in London. A man of self-effacing charm and interest in his staff, the socialite Charlotte Bonham Carter (1893-1989) remarked, “Trenchard would never miss a charwoman’s funeral.” Among his supporters was the caustic Ellis K. Waterhouse who recognized Cox’s administrative determination. Neither an outstanding scholar nor a great connoisseur, Cox’s acquisition’s for the V&A nevertheless included a jade wine- cup of Shah Jehan, considered to be the Museum’s most important post-war South Asian acquisitions. His tenure overall at the V&A, overall, however, failed to address the identity issues with which the Museum struggled.

    Selected Bibliography

    Jehan Foucquet, Native of Tours. London: Faber and Faber, 1931; A General Guide to the Wallace Collection. London: H. M. Stationery Office/Hertford House, 1933.; Pieter Bruegel (c. 1527-1569). London: Faber and Faber, 1951.


    Bayley, Stephen. “Vitrol & Ambition: It’s One of the World’s Great Museums [etc.].” The Independent (London), July 28, 2000, p. 1; [obituaries:] Ireland, George. “Sir Trenchard Cox.” The Independent (London), December 23, 1995, p. 14; “Sir Trenchard Cox.” The Times (London). December 23, 1995; Saxon, Wolfgang. “Sir Trenchard Cox, 90, Author And Longtime Museum Director.” The New York Times, January 2, 1996, p. 36.


    "Cox, Trenchard." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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