Richard Verdi, OBE

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Richard Verdi, OBE
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Richard Frank Verdi

7 November 1941
New York, United States of America
Died25 December 2022
Birmingham, United Kingdom
NationalityNaturalised British
Alma materThe Courtauld Institute
Partner(s)John Brooks
Parent(s)Frank and Anne Verdi
AwardsOrder of the British Empire

Professor Richard Verdi (1941-2022) was born in New York to Italian-American parents, Frank and Anne (1912-2007). His mother (née Patano) ran a successful couture business.[1] His only brother, Robert (Bob) Verdi (b. 1944), is a sport writer and journalist.


Richard Verdi attended the Paul D Schreiber high school in Port Washington, New York before taking a degree in music at the University of Michigan, followed by a master’s in art history at the University of Chicago, writing his thesis on Paul Klee. In 1967 he moved to London to take up a fellowship at the Courtauld Institute, where he gained a doctorate (writing a thesis on Poussin’s critical fortunes) and his supervisor was the surveyor of the Queen’s pictures, Anthony Blunt.

Academic career

After his doctorate Richard Verdi became a lecturer in the history of art at the University of Manchester (1968-71) and at the University of York (1972-89), where he rose to be a senior lecturer. Verdi was appointed Professor of Fine Art at the University of Birmingham in 1990 and became director of the Barber Institute the following year. He remained at the University until his retirement in 2007, the year he was appointed Order of the British Empire.

Verdi was a uniquely gifted and passionate lecturer. Former student, David Morrish, Head of Art History at Headington School Oxford provides the following account: ‘Richard was a remarkable teacher – profoundly charismatic, exacting and solicitous. He was also an unforgettable personality – brilliant, serious, passionate, gossipy, opinionated. I studied at York between 1987 and 1990 and had the great fortune to take his papers on seventeenth-century Dutch art and seventeenth-century Spanish art. Both of these papers culminated in week-long, meticulously organised study trips to Amsterdam and Madrid. Not only had every moment of the trips been accounted for – I remember particularly a visit that he arranged to see the portrait of Jan Six – but Richard made sure that we had the money to undertake the trip in the first place as well as to visit London and Edinburgh and Liverpool. I am sure there was much that he did for us as students that we didn’t see or even think about. He felt that we deserved the very best. He gave an enormous amount of himself; he looked exhausted, almost bereft, by the time our four-hour seminars ended.'[2]

University of Birmingham

Paul Spencer-Longhurst, former senior curator at the Barber Institute, senior lecturer in the history of art and author of Richard Verdi’s obituary for the Burlington Magazine (March 2023), summarised his achievements in the Department of Art History: ‘As Professor of Fine Art Verdi immediately refounded the Department of Art History, introducing a Joint Honours course and postgraduate research programme. His approach was always object-based, allowing students to take full advantage of the superb collections just a staircase away from their seminars and lectures. Teaching special subject modules on Poussin, Rembrandt, Rubens and Cézanne, he never tired of lecturing, dedicating much of his time to his students and instituting field trips to London, Belgium and elsewhere. His great knowledge and passionate enthusiasm, backed by a formidable memory, were infectious and equipped many students for distinguished museum, academic, saleroom and art-related careers.’[3]

Writer, curator and lecturer James Hamilton was taught by Richard Verdi at the University of Manchester. They later worked together at the University of Birmingham, where Hamilton was University Curator and Honorary Reader from 1992 until his retirement in 2013. In response to Roger Neill’s obituary of Richard Verdi in The Guardian (Thursday 16 February 2023)[4], Hamilton paid tribute to Professor Verdi’s teaching skills in a letter.[5] In a further written account, he elaborated: ‘Richard came as a breath of fresh air, and in his lectures on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European painting he swept away a very English teaching style of art history with its feet in European philosophies that over-taxed the undergraduate student brain. None of us had experienced the old style of course, so did not miss it, but we did experience the feast of slides Richard created for us, and his tremendous use of detail and narrative to give us an idea of the scale of a painting and of its place in the story of the art of the period. His introductory lecture - introducing himself as well as his subject - gave us the legend within Velazquez’ Las Hilanderas (Prado, Madrid) and showed us how paintings can be composed, divided, balanced, opened up, can stop time, extend time and perform time’s unfoldings. He did not tell us, he showed us; these were lectures, not talks.’[6]

Barber Institute

Amongst Richard Verdi’s many achievements at the Barber Institute, the museum’s former curator, Paul Spencer-Longhurst, noted that he worked hard to open the institution’s core collection to the public by mounting a series of exhibitions based on individual masterworks within the collection, supplemented with loans from around the world.[7] In addition he introduced a public engagement programme featuring open days, established the Friends of the Barber Institute and created workshops for families and schools. He also authored an accessible yet scholarly guide to the collection, published by Scala, which is still in print.

Notable acquisitions for the Barber Institute, University of Birmingham

Richard Verdi made many important acquisitions during his tenure, including:

Isaac Blessing Jacob by Matthias Stom (acquired 1994)

Portrait of Bartolomeo Savona by André Derain (acquired 1997)

Still Life with Musical Instruments (c.1660) by Evaristo Baschenis (acquired 1997)

Portrait of a Carmelite Prior by Peter Paul Rubens (acquired 1999)

Ripe Cornfield, Evening (1896) by Arthur Illies (acquired 2000)

A Mother and Child by the Sea (1840) by Johan Christian Dahl (acquired 2002)


Author of the entry on Nicholas Poussin for the Encyclopaedia Britannica[8]

Book and exhibition reviewer The Burlington Magazine, London, from 1974.

Verdi, R. (1983). Paul Klee 1879-1940, His Life and Work. Nottingham Castle Museum & Museum of Modern Art Oxford.[9]

Verdi, R. & Alfrey, N. (1983). C. M. & E. J. Detmold A Centenary Exhibition (exhibition brochure). Barber Institute of Fine Art.

Verdi R. (1985). Klee and Nature. Rizzoli.[10]

Verdi, R. (1987). Nicolas Poussin: Venus and Mercury (exhibition catalogue). Dulwich Picture Gallery.[11]

Güse, E-G., Grewenig, M. M. & Verdi R. (1991). Paul Klee: Dialogue with Nature. Prestel; distributed in the USA and Canada on behalf of Prestel-Verlag by te Neues.[12]

Verdi, R. (1992). Nicolas Poussin ‘Tancred & Erminia’ (exhibition catalogue) Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.[13]

Verdi, R. & Rosenberg, P. (1995). Nicolas Poussin 1594-1665. (exhibition catalogue) Zwemmer/Royal Academy of Arts.[14]

Verdi, R. (2007). The Parrot in Art: from Dürer to Elizabeth Butterworth (exhibition catalogue) Scala.[15]

Verdi, R. (2014). Rembrandt’s Themes: Life into Art. Yale University Press.[16]

Verdi, R. (2020). Poussin as a Painter: From Classicism to Abstraction. Reaktion Books.[17]

Verdi, R. (2022). Cézanne (World of Art). Thames & Hudson (second edition).[18]

Verdi, R. (2023). Velázquez (World of Art). Thames & Hudson.[19]

Private life

Richard’s lifelong partner was John Brooks, an army officer[20], whom he met in 1968 at a Hugo Wolf concert. They were together for thirty-five years, until John’s death from cancer in 2003. As Hannah Higham notes in her obituary,[21] they shared a love of literature and music, especially Bach, Mahler, Beethoven and Schumann. Richard and John were both vegetarians and devoted to animals, especially parrots. They enjoyed looking after their two white cockatoos, Mr Lotte and Mr Lilli, who played a huge part in their lives for over a decade.


  1. Ranieri, L.K. (25 February 2014). "Verdi, Anne".
  2. Submission to the author of this page
  3. Spencer-Longhurst, Paul (March 2023). "Obituary: Richard Verdi (1941–2022)".
  4. Neill, Roger (16 February 2023). "Richard Verdi obituary".
  5. Hamilton, James (20 March 2023). "Letter: Richard Verdi obituary".
  6. Submission to the author of this page.
  7. Neill, Roger (16 February 2023). "Richard Verdi obituary".
  8. Verdi, Richard (28 May 2023). "Nicholas Poussin".
  9. "Paul Klee, 1879-1940, his life and work |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  10. "Klee and nature |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  11. "Nicolas Poussin, Venus and Mercury : [exhibition] Dulwich Picture Gallery, 15 Oct. 1986-18 Jan. 1987 |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  12. "Paul Klee : dialogue with nature |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  13. "Nicolas Poussin "Tancred & Erminia" : Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery 14 October 1992-3 January 1993 |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  14. "Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665 |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  15. "The parrot in art : from Dürer to Elizabeth Butterworth |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  16. "Rembrandt's themes : life into art |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  17. "Poussin as a painter : from classicism to abstraction |". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  18. "Cézanne (World of Art)". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  19. "Velázquez (World of Art)". Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  20. Neill, Roger (2023-02-16). "Richard Verdi obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-06-03.
  21. Highham, Hannah (22 March 2023). "Remembering Richard Verdi, art historian and long-time director of the Barber Institute, who has died, aged 81".

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