Skip to content

Roberts, Laurance Page

    Full Name: Roberts, Laurance Page

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1907

    Date Died: 2002

    Place Born: Bala-Cynwyd, Lower Merion Township, Montgomery, PA

    Place Died: Baltimore, Baltimore Independent City, MD, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): Asian, biography (general genre), Chinese (culture or style), and Japanese (culture or style)


    Brooklyn Museum director and Asianist scholar; author of Dictionary of Japanese Artists (1976). Roberts’ grandfather, George Brook Roberts (1833-1897) had been president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and his father, George Brinton Roberts, a coal magnate. Laurance Roberts attended the Montgomery School in Philadelphia and St. George’s School in Rhode Island before entering Princeton in 1925. He graduated from Princeton University in 1929 magna cum laude, a classmate and friend of John D. Rockefeller III (1906-1978). After a year of post-graduate work, Roberts accepted a position at the Pennsylvania Museum of art (now the Philadelphia Museum of Art), then under the directorship of Fiske Kimball. Without specialized training in Asian art, Roberts was asked if he would work in the Chinese department in 1930. Two years later his father sent him on a study tour of Japan and China. In China he met Harold Acton (1904-1994) who was teaching at the National University in Beijing. Roberts was appointed curator of the Oriental art department of the Brooklyn Museum in 1934. He married Isabel Spaulding (Roberts) in 1937, a Vassar alumna in the Education Department. The two traveled widely for the museum and their research. They visited with horror the “Entartete Kunst” exhibition the Nazis mounted in Munich. In 1938 Roberts was appointed Director of the Museum, a position he held until World War II. As director, Roberts channeled acquisitions to areas of strength, rather than “filling in holes” for a homogenous collection. He also encouraged mounting major exhibitions to raise the museum profile. Roberts had visited Japan before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and recalled the uncomfortable American perception of having been so close to the “enemy.” Beginning in 1942, Roberts served as a captain in army intelligence, his wife taking over his museum duties until 1946. That year the Robertses moved to Rome where he was director of the American Academy. The Roberts entertained in a semi-official capacity at the Villa Auelia (where the Academy is housed), as recorded by Roger P. Hinks. In 1960 Roberts retired, returning briefly to New York to be the first director of the State Council of the Arts, 1960-61, before moving back to Europe, living in Venice, Paris and London. In 1967 Roberts published his Connoisseur’s Guide to Japanese Museums. His Dictionary of Japanese Artists appeared in 1976, which remains an influential resource for artists biography of Japan. Roberts moved to Baltimore in 1988 where he died fourteen years later at 95. Both Acton and Hinks left moving accounts of Roberts in their memoirs.

    Selected Bibliography

    A Dictionary of Japanese Artists: Painting, Sculpture, Ceramics, Prints, Lacquer. New York: Weatherhill, 1976; The Connoisseur’s Guide to Japanese Museums. Rutland, VT: Japan Society of New York/C. E. Tuttle Co.,1967, 2nd ed., Roberts’ Guide to Japanese Museums. New York: Kodansha International, 1978, 3nd ed. Tokyo: Simul Press, 1987; The Bernard Berenson Collection of Oriental Art at Villa I Tatti. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1991.


    “Laurence Page Roberts: 1907-2002.” International House of Japan Bulletin 22 no. 2 (Autumn 2002): 82-3; The Gymnasium of the Mind: the Journals of Roger Hinks, 1933-1963. John Goldsmith, ed. Salisbury, UK: Michael Russell, 1984, pp. 187ff, 253ff; Acton, Harold. More Memoirs of an Aesthete. London: Methuen, 1970, p. 211; [obituaries:] Roberts, Ian Lowe. “Laurance Roberts.” Independent [London] March 15, 2002, p. 6; Pace, Eric. “Laurance P. Roberts, 95, Director of Museums.” New York Times April 1, 2002, p. B7.


    "Roberts, Laurance Page." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: