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Whinney, Margaret

    Full Name: Whinney, Margaret

    Other Names:

    • Margaret Dickens Whinney

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1894

    Date Died: 1974

    Place Born: Hammersmith, Hammersmith and Fulham, London, Greater London, England, UK

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), Medieval (European), and sculpture (visual works)

    Career(s): educators


    Courtauld Institute scholar of medieval architecture and sculpture. Whinney was the daughter of the architect Thomas Bostock Whinney and Sydney Margaret Dickens, the -granddaughter of Charles Dickens. She attended private secondary schools before entering the University of London. Her first article, written under her primary mentor at the University, Tancred Borenius, appeared in 1930. She graduated from the University in art history in 1935. The same year she joined the staff of the nascent Courtauld Institute of Art, doing a variety of jobs including managing the slide library. Her intent was to work her way up into a position at the Courtauld, still a difficult task for a woman in pre-war England. At the Courtauld she continued her studies, now under Geoffrey Webb, who instilled a passion for architectural history. In 1937 Anthony Blunt joined the Institute, who, like Webb, was trained as a scholar rather than a connoisseur as many of the previous Courtauld lecturers had been. Whinney became devoted to Blunt professionally and emotionally (Blunt was a homosexual) “taking on the dullest jobs” for him and the Institute (Carter). When England declared war against Germany in 1939, the Courtauld closed for a year. It reopened in 1940 with Whinney, one of the few not working in the war effort, running the Institute. This included teaching and handling most of the administrative responsibilities. The same year, the research she had done on seventeenth-century drawings at Chatsworth, for Whitehall Palace, and Worcester College, Oxford, was accepted for a D. Litt., at the University of London, published the Walpole Society yearbook. After the war Blunt assumed the directorship of the Institute. Whinney was made a Reader at the Courtauld in 1950 and edited with Blunt the same year a guide to public art collections in the United Kingdom. In 1957 she and Oliver Millar wrote the Oxford History of English Art volume on the period 1625-1714, contributing the sections on architecture. Whinney was asked by Nikolaus Bernard Leon Pevsner to author the Pelican History of Art volume on British Sculpture from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, which appeared in 1964. The volume, perhaps dwarfed in subject by the rest of the Pelican series, demonstrated Whinney’s abilities to evaluate disparate and ignored work art historically rather than the antiquarian treatment it had been previously been given. The same year, she retired from the Institute. She co-authored a catalog on the Flaxman models at University College, London, and a book on early Flemish painting, the latter the substance of her course on the same subject at the Courtauld. In 1971 Whinney wrote an introductory volume on Christopher Wren, which John Newenham Summerson praised for its sensitive selection of plates. Students who were directly affected by her teaching included Kerry Downes, whose book on Wren, appearing the same year as hers, paid tribute to her teaching. Whinney’s dissertation examined drawings which J. Alfred Gotch had reassigned from Inigo Jones to John Webb in 1912. While Whinney agreed that the drawing was not Jones’, she proved, using new evidence, that the Webb sketches had come from original designs by Jones. In her Pelican History of Art volume, Sculpture in Britain, 1530-1830, she showed she could handle marginally important art historical monuments sympathetically by treating her subject, not solely esthetically, as Rupert Gunnis had done, or as an antiquarian Katharine Esdaile, but as a full art history. Her model, according to Summerson, was Ellis K. Waterhouse and his early Pelican volume, Painting in Britain 1530-1790, 1953.

    Selected Bibliography

    Sculpture in Britain, 1530-1830. Baltimore: Penguin Books 1964, “Flaxman and the Eighteenth Century. A Commemorative Lecture.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 19, no. 3/4 (July 1956): 269-282; Early Flemish Painting. New York: Praeger, 1968; and Gunnis, Rupert. The Collection of Models by John Flaxman, R.A. at University College London. London: Athlone, 1967; and Millar, Oliver. English Art, 1625-1714. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957; English Sculpture 1720-1830. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1971; and Blunt, Anthony. The Nation’s Pictures: a Guide to the Chief National and Municipal Picture Galleries of England, Scotland and Wales. London: Chatto and Windus, 1950.


    Carter, Miranda. Anthony Blunt: His Lives. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2001, p. 216; [obituary:] Summerson, John. “Margaret Whinney.” Burlington Magazine 117, no. 872 (November 1975): 731-732; Summerson, John. “Margaret Dickens Whinney, 1894-1975.” Proceedings of the British Academy 68 (1982): 637-642; Blunt, Anthony. “Dr Margaret Whinney Service to the Courtauld Institute of Art.” The Times (London) September 5, 1975, p. 16.


    "Whinney, Margaret." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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