Self-trained art historian whose career is inextricably connected with his partner, John Fleming. Honour was born to Herbert Percy and Dorothy Margaret Withers (Honour). He attended St. Catharine's College, Cambridge University. In Cambridge, Honour, a homosexual, met John Fleming, an unhappy solicitor and amateur art historian, who would become Honour's life partner. Fleming spent his holidays in Rome, touring galleries and teaching himself art history. When Fleming's father died in 1953, Fleming quit his profession to become a freelance writer in Italy. Honour accepted a position as Assistant director of Leeds City Art Gallery and Temple Newsan House. The following year Honour resigned his position to move and live with Fleming where Fleming was a caretaker (reader) for Percy Lubbock (1879-1965) at Gli Scafari on the Gulf of Spezia, a villa designed by the architect Cecil Pinsent (1884-1963). There the two met the English-speaking expatriate community in Italy, including Bernard Berenson and his entourage at Villa I Tatti. Fleming wrote articles for The Connoisseur and other publications. Between 1955 and 1962 Honour was guest editor of an Italian issue every November for the Connoisseur. Among those Honour and Fleming came into contact with in Italy was the architectual hisorian George James Henry Lees-Milne. In 1957, Honour and Fleming moved from Lerici to Asolo, a town north of Venice, renting a house from Freya Stark (1893-1993). Honour set about writing a cultural guide to Venice, published in 1966. At Asolo they met the publisher Allen Lane (1902-1970), the founder of Penguin Books, who was renting the adjacent Villa Bronson. Lane commissioned the two men to oversee and edit what would become the three most important short-subject art history series of the twentieth century: the Style and Civilisation series (begun 1967), for which Honour wrote the volumes on Neo-classicism and romanticism; the Architect and Society series (begun 1966); and the Art in Context series (begun 1972). In 1961 Honour published his first monograph, Chinoiserie: the Vision of Cathay. The following year Fleming and Honour moved to the hills above Lucca to the town of Tofori, purchasing the Villa Marchiò, where they remained the rest of their lives. Tofori afforded them easy access to the library at the German Institute in Florence. For two months each winter they returned to England to research at the British Museum and Warburg Institute libraries. In 1966, they collaborated with Pevsner to produce The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture. Although Pevsner wrote about half of the first edition, the successive editions now nearly quadrupled in size, were the work of Honour and Fleming. The Penguin Dictionary of Decorative Arts appeared in 1977 as a collaborative effort, but the subject was widely known to be Honour's more than Fleming's. Honour and Fleming next collaborated on a single-volume art survey, appearing in 1982 as A World History of Art (Visual Arts: a History in the United States). Groundbreaking was its emphasis on Asian art at a time when standard histories focused on European. In 1991 Fleming and Honour produced the Venetian Hours of Henry James, Whistler and Sargent, culled from their experiences of their days with Lubbock, a Henry James disciple. In 2001, after suffering illness and blindness, Fleming died. As an art historian, Honour was both praised and criticized. Romanticism and Neo-classicism were both criticized for adhering too closely to a concept of style. Charles Rosen and Henri Thomas Zerner characterized Honour's organization as limiting the book's purported topic of an entire movement (New York Review of Books).
Chinoiserie: the Vision of Cathay. London: J. Murray, 1961; and Pevsner, Nikolaus, and Fleming, John. The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1966; The Companion Guide to Venice. New York: Harper & Row, 1966; Horace Walpole. London: British Council/Longmans, Green, 1957; Neo-classicism. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968; Cabinet Makers and Furniture Designers. New York: Putnam, 1969; Goldsmiths & Silversmiths. New York: Putnam, 1971; The European Vision of America: a Special Exhibition to Honor the Bicentennial of the United States. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art/Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris/Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975; The New Golden Land: European Images of America from the Discoveries to the Present Time. New York: Pantheon Books, 1975; and Fleming, John. Dictionary of the Decorative Arts. New York: Harper & Row, 1977; Romanticism. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979; and Fleming, John. A World History of Art. London: Macmillan Reference Books, 1982, [published in the United States as, The Visual Arts: a History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982]; and Fleming, John. The Venetian Hours of Henry James, Whistler and Sargent. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991.
Penny, Nicholas. "John Fleming, 1919-2001." Burlington Magazine 143, no. 1184 (November 2001): 694-5.