Published: January 26, 2021
SCARBOROUGH, MAINE – Christopher P. Monkhouse, 73, the former chair of the European decorative arts department at the Art Institute of Chicago, died peacefully on January 12 at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House. The cause of death was a stroke. Born in Portland, Maine, on April 2, 1947, Christopher was the son of William A. Monkhouse, MD, and Agnes Pruyn Linder Monkhouse. He attended Waynflete School, graduated from Deerfield Academy in 1965, and in 1966 studied English country houses at Attingham Summer School, Shropshire, England.
A 1969 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, Christopher earned his master’s degree in art history at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, where he studied with Sir Nikolaus Pevsner. After working at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, he returned to New England to serve as curator of European and American decorative arts at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design from 1976 to 1991. His major exhibitions included “Buildings on Paper: Rhode Island Architectural Drawings, 1825-1945,” 1982, and “American Furniture in Pendleton House,” 1986.
In 1991 Christopher became founding curator of the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Penn., where he assembled its major collection of American, English and European architectural drawings.
In 1995 he was named James Ford Bell curator in the department of architecture, design, decorative arts, craft and sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. A man of boundless intellectual curiosity and energy, Christopher merged his interests in poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a fellow Portland native, and the culture of the American Midwest in the 2004 exhibition “Currents of Change: Art and Life Along the Mississippi River, 1850-1861.” He became Eloise W. Martin curator and chair of the department of European decorative arts at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. In 2015 he curated the institute’s acclaimed “Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840.” Reflecting his love for his native state, he long maintained a summer home in Machiasport and settled in Brunswick on his retirement in 2017.
From his youth, Christopher enjoyed collecting art, antiques, books and ephemera, and created a distinguished collection of American and British architectural drawings. A dedicated researcher and prolific writer, he authored many scholarly articles and contributed to books and exhibition catalogs. In addition, he lectured widely in America, England and Ireland. Above all, Christopher lived a life full of great friendships, mentoring colleagues in scholarship and museum practice. He observed that “I had the good fortune to know what I wanted to do professionally very early in life. I curated my first art exhibition at Deerfield, and I have not deviated from that career track since.”
Actively involved in numerous historical and cultural organizations, Christopher was elected to the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Century Association, Club of Odd Volumes, Friends of the Blaine House and the Walpole Society. He enjoyed memberships at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Historic New England, Maine Historical Society, Portland Museum of Art and Victoria Mansion.
Posted on its Facebook page, the Carnegie Museum of Art wrote, “We are saddened by the passing of Christopher Monkhouse, the founding curator of the Heinz Architectural Center. While at Carnegie Museum of Art from 1991 to 1995, Monkhouse set the foundation for an architecture program that continues today with an ever-growing collection exceeding 6,000 objects. Throughout his career, Monkhouse’s held curatorial positions at Brown, RISD, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. His life and work had a significant impact on how architecture is understood and appreciated.”
Christopher was predeceased by his father and mother, his aunt and stepmother Marjorie Putnam Linder Monkhouse, and his brothers William A. Monkhouse Jr and Frederick L. Monkhouse. Burial in Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery will be private. A celebration of his life will be conducted this summer in Brunswick at a time to be determined. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Christopher’s memory may be made to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 9400 College Station, Brunswick, ME 04011.
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