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McComb, Arthur K.

    Full Name: McComb, Arthur K.

    Other Names:

    • Arthur Kilgore McComb

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1895

    Date Died: 1968

    Place Born: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Place Died: Boston, Suffolk, MA, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Baroque


    Professor of baroque art at Vassar and Harvard Universities; wrote an early history of baroque art in English. McComb’s father was the Reverend Samuel McComb (1864-1938), an Irish clergyman educated in Northern Ireland and at Oxford and Berlin. His mother (d. 1934) was Scottish. Samuel McComb was involved with an Episcopal movement known as the Emmanuel movement. The younger McComb attended a variety of middle and grammar schools: Hannover, Germany, private study of Latin in Paris, and the Rugby School (England) 1910 and 1912. When his father was assigned to a Boston church in 1906, McComb attended the Noble and Greenough School and Milton Academy in Massachusetts, preparing for Harvard University. He entered Harvard in 1914. Among his classmates and friends was the future author John Dos Passos (1896-1970). The two remained close their entire lives. They wrote for the Harvard Monthly, the undergraduate magazine. McComb and Dos Passos toured Europe before McComb graduated from Harvard in 1918. He began working on his M. A. at Harvard. He married Constance Atwood in 1923. In 1924 he published an article in the magazine jointly published by Princeton and Harvard, Art Studies, “The Life and Times of Francesco di Giorgio.” He worked for a year at the Metropolitan Museum of art before accepting a teaching appointment at Vassar in 1924. The following year his daughter (and later art historian), Pamela was born. McComb joined the faculty at Harvard in 1927. His Agnolo Bronzino: His Life and Works appeared in 1928, the first English-language dissertation on the topic. In 1929 his wife filed for divorce, citing infidelity. McComb organized the first exhibition of Italian baroque art in the United States the same year. In 1934 he published one of the first surveys of Baroque art, Baroque Painters of Italy, to enthusiastic reviews. Among his students included the future Harvard art historian Sydney Joseph Freedberg. In the 1930s, McComb adopted a pro-Fascist attitude toward Franco and Mussolini (thought not Hitler), which caused tension with many, included Dos Passos. Dapper and cultured, McComb conducted several love affairs without concealment. In 1939 McComb was denied tenured at Harvard, partly due, according Freedberg, to a reticence to ingratiate himself with powerful Harvard faculty such as Paul J. Sachs and his public philandering. McComb inherited his father’s estate, living without permanent occupation in Boston. In 1941 he moved to Gloucester, MA, and then Asheville, NC the following year. He secured Irish citizenship in 1943. McComb returned to Boston in 1944, ever more penurious. He lectured at various universities, authenticating paintings, and eventually selling his correspondence with Dos Passos in 1951. In the 1960s, he edited the letters of Bernard Berenson, whom he knew and had often visited in Florence, for Houghton Mifflin. He collapsed of a heart attack on a Boston street in 1968. His daughter was the art historian Pamela Askew.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Baroque Painters of Italy: an Introductory Historical Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,1934; Agnolo Bronzino: His Life and Works. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928.


    John Dos Passos’ Correspondence with Arthur K. McComb or “Learn to Sing the Carmagnole”. Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado, 1991, pp. 1-15 and text; particularly notes 8-9, p. 308 (Freedberg assessment).


    "McComb, Arthur K.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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