Scholar of art patronage and aesthetic taste; Oxford University professor. Haskell's father was the dance writer Arnold Haskell. Haskell attended Eton and then King's College, Cambridge, where he took a degree in History, studying under Nikolaus Bernard Leon Pevsner. Graduating in 1952 (receiving a "first" in History), he returned to his alma mater (1954) to teach. From 1962-1967 he was also the Librarian of Fine Arts Faculty. In 1963 he published the groundbreaking book Patrons and Painters, a broad and yet deeply researched book on art patronage of the baroque era. The effect of this book was to drive the discipline as a whole toward archival research. Haskell was called to Oxford University in 1967 to replace Edgar Wind. At Oxford, he changed research focus, examining the neglected (and disparaged) French academic art of the 19th century. The book he produced, the result of the Wrightsman lectures at New York University, became another seminal work in an ignored area. Rediscoveries in Art (1976) established Oxford's Art History Department as the center of French Salon study and Parisian art market criticism. A number of other books--always different from the last--followed. Taste and the Antique (1981), co-authored by Nicholas Penny, traces how taste was transformed by the discovery of classical sculpture in 18th-century gardens by travelers, and the concomitant development of museums. Haskell remained at Oxford until his retirement in 1995. A pronouncedly modest and retiring personality, his brilliant lecturing style was by most accounts assisted with the aid a shot of whiskey immediately before them. Penny described him as "one of the most original art historians of the 20th century," and Charles Hope as the "one of the most important of his time." His wife was the Russian art historian of Venetian art Larissa Salmina. A bibliophile of the scholarly tradition, he left a vast personal library upon his death. Methodologically, Haskell is an important example of the 'social history of art' approach without the overt Marxist framework of Frederick Antal or Arnold Hauser. He avoided connoiseurship and painting attribution, then a mainstay of academic art history. He chose to write monograph-length books on a single, broad topic. His approach, evidenced by his training in history, rests on written documents and other non-art evidence as much as it does on art.
Patrons and Painters: A Study in the Relations between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque. New York: Alfred N. Knopf, 1963; Rediscoveries in Art: Some Aspects of Taste, Fashion and Collecting in England and France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976; and Penny, Nicholas. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981; History and its Images : Art and the Interpretation of the past. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993; An Italian Patron of French Neo-Classic Art. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1972; The Painful Birth of the Art Book. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987; Past and Present in Art and Taste : Selected Essays. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987; Saloni, gallerie, musei e loro influenza sullo sviluppo dell'arte dei secoli XIX e XX. Atti del XXIV Congresso internazionale di storia dell'arte (24th International Congress of the History of Art, 1979, Bologna) 7. Bologna: CLUEB, 1981.
KRG, 120 mentioned, 122; KMP, 83; The New York Times, January 29, 2000, Section B; p. 7; The Times (London), January 21, 2000; Penny, Nicholas. The Independent (London), January 20, 2000, Pg. 6; Hope, Charles. "On Francis Haskell" New York Review of Books 47, no. 3 (February 24, 2000): 7; [transcript] Francis Haskell. Interviews with Art Historians, 1991-2002. Getty Research Institute, Malibu, CA.