Fred Ross Remembers Christopher Wood

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Fred Ross Remembers Christopher Wood

February 4, 2009

It is with a very heavy heart that I report that Christopher Wood is gone. Christopher Wood and more recently his wife Rosie have been among my family’s dearest friends for the past two decades. A true innovator and pioneer in art history, Christopher was one of perhaps three or four people most responsible for the re-appreciation of the entire Victorian era’s fine art. Today we freely recognize the giants of that time, like Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, J.W. Waterhouse, Frederick, Lord Leighton, Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Sir John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Frank Dicksee, Edmund Blair Leighton, William Powell Frith , and Edward John Poynter, etc., as among the greatest painters that mankind has ever produced. But when Christopher was first touting them to his colleagues and friends in the 1960’s, they and their artwork were in disgrace, displayed almost nowhere in the entire UK, but a basement room in the Tate Museum which hung but 11 or 12 works that are among the hundreds of masterpieces that now occupy no less than 8 major galleries on the main floor today. As recently as 1978 that basement room was still the only venue which I remember visiting with my family just one year after starting to collect myself after discovering Bouguereau in 1977.

Christopher was only 4 years older than I, but he had beaten me by a decade in his knowledge of this era. I didn’t meet him until the late 80’s, but we became fast friends and I would never visit a London presale exhibit again without learning his thoughts about what hidden treasures might be on the block this time around.

Once while showing him our collection on one of his visits to New York, I excused myself to take an important call. Before I returned, I heard streaming from our living room some of the finest jazz piano playing I’ve ever heard. I thought Thelonius Monk had suddenly materialized in my home. Without a hint of shyness he joyously treated us to at least 40 minutes of nonstop improvisation as we would call out one favorite song after another which he would instantly transform into numerous creative renderings. His handling of “Honey Suckle Rose” and "Aint Misbehavin” were among his most memorable. And this from one of the world’s top scholars of Victorian and Edwardian Art. If only I had realized last July when we dined together at one of his favorite haunts near New Bond Street,… perhaps I would have… could have… should have made certain to tell him how much he meant to us all.