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Golding, John

    Image Credit: Independent

    Full Name: Golding, John

    Other Names:

    • Harold John Golding

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1929

    Place Born: Hastings, East Sussex, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Modern (style or period)

    Career(s): art critics


    Modernist art historian, critic and painter. Golding’s parents were Anglo-Mexican. He was raised in Mexico where his first experience of modern art was the painting of the Mexican muralists, particularly Orozco. Golding encountered the expatriate Surrealist community living in Mexico before World War II, including Benjamin Péret (1899-1959), Wolfgang Paalen (1907-1959) and Leonora Carrington (b. 1917). Golding attended the University of Toronto, making forays to New York and the Museum of Modern Art. After graduation he initially worked as a stage designer. He moved to London in 1951 for graduate study in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London. The 1953 Paris Cubism show at the Musée d’Art Moderne convinced him to write on the topic. During research visits to MoMA, Golding met and interviewed Marcel Duchamp. About the same time, Golding met the esthetician and philosopher Richard Wollheim (1923-2003). Golding’s dissertation, on Cubism, written under Anthony Blunt and Douglas Cooper, was published as a book in 1957. While still a student at the Courtauld, Golding decided to be a painter as well. He worked in an abstract expressionist in style exhibiting widely throughout his career. He began teaching art history at the Courtauld Institute beginning in 1959. In 1962 he was given his first one-person (artist) show at Gallery One, London. In 1970 he and the Tate curator Christopher Green (b. 1943) organized “Leger and Purist Paris” at the Tate Gallery. The following year he joined the faculty of the Royal College of Art. He published the volume for the important Art in Context series on Marcel DuChamp’s Bride Stripped Bare in 1973. Golding was appointed the Slade Professor of Fine Art, Cambridge University in 1978. Golding and the historian (later professor at the London School of Economics) James Bysse Joll (1918-1994) were life partners for many years. In 1979, Golding urged Joll to give refuge to his former dissertation advisor (and Courtauld Institute colleague) Blunt when Blunt was exposed as having been a spy for the Soviet Union and homosexual. Golding mounted the landmark 1994 “Picasso: Painter/Sculptor” exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London. The show brought to light new Picasso works. His most recent book, Paths to the Absolute, was awarded the Mitchell Prize for the History of Art in 2002. Golding contributed as a reviewer and art critic to the New Statesman, The New York Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement of London. Golding avoided the new art histories, preferring the traditionalist’s faith in the trained eye (Kimmelman). His connoisseurship is of a high order. Typical of Golding’s style is the observation that Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon “continues to look completely different every time one confronts it,” or that Cubism was a “return to realism” in the sense that it avoided illusion to address the object itself. Golding was long associated with another British painter/art historian and Picasso specialist, Roland Penrose.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Cubism: a History and an Analysis, 1907-1914. Courtauld Institute, 1957, published under the same title, New York: G. Wittenborn, 1959; [collected essays] Visions of the Modern. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994; and Bowness, Sophie, and Monod-Fontaine, Isabelle. Braque: the Late Works. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997; Paths to the Absolute: Mondrian, Malevich, Kandinsky, Pollock, Newman, Rothko, and Still. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000; Marcel Duchamp: The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even. New York: Viking Press, 1973; edited, and Penrose, Roland. Picasso, in Retrospect. London: Elek, 1973; and Penrose, Roland, and Bozo, Dominique. Picasso’s Picassos: an Exhibition from the Musée Picasso, Paris. London: Hayward Gallery/Arts Council of Great Britain, 1981; and Green, Christopher. Leger and Purist Paris. London: Tate Gallery London, 1970; and Cowling, Elizabeth. Picasso: Sculptor/Painter. London: Tate Gallery, 1994.


    Kimmelman, Michael. “Art for Everyone’s Sake.” New York Times June 26, 1994, p. 21; Calvocoressi, Richard. “John Golding.” Contemporary British Artists. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979, p. 132; Spalding, Frances. 20th Century Painters and Sculptors. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors Club, 1990, p. 208; Golding, John. “Introduction.” Visions of the Modern. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994, pp. 7-10, and “From Mexico to Venice: Postscript: Interview with Richard Wollheim.” pp. 335-354.


    "Golding, John." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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