Vassar Quarterly - Spring 2018 - 101
Linda Nochlin '51
Linda Nochlin, who taught art history at Vassar between 1952 and
1980, eventually becoming the Mary Conover Mellon Professor of
Art History at the college, died in October 2017. A highly respected
writer and art critic, Nochlin received acclaim for her provocative
essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" published
in ARTnews in 1971. In it, she shed light on the social, institutional,
and academic constraints that had stifled the progress of female
artists. Nochlin went on to become the Lila Acheson Wallace
Professor Emerita of Modern Art at New York University Institute
of Fine Arts. Here, several of Nochlin's former Vassar colleagues
and students reflect on her life and influence.
ROBERT POU N DER
Professor Emeritus of Classics,
How does one capture the effervescence of
Linda Nochlin, or the exhilaration one experienced in spending an evening with her?
Her groundbreaking scholarship and superb
teaching are well known, but perhaps less
familiar is how stimulating an interlocutor
this well-read woman was, how funny, how
humane. If you wanted to discuss the ballet,
there was no one who loved it more-or
knew more about its history. If the wines of
Burgundy were your thing, Linda met you
more than halfway. If the movies moved you,
they moved her even more. Politics? We won't
even go there.
I visited Linda for the last time several
months before her death. She was physically
diminished, but full of her familiar verve and
acuity of observation. When I left, she gave
me a big hug and said, "A la prochaine." If only.
SUS A N DONA H U E KU R ET SK Y '63
Professor of Art on the Sarah Gibson
Blanding Chair, Vassar College
As a student in Art 105 and other classes in
which she lectured at Vassar, and later as her
colleague here, I remember the beauty and
clarity of Linda's language, which also emerged
in her published writings: easily spoken,
exactly chosen words, unexpectedly combined in plain natural speech, rhythmically
shaped so that suddenly one saw a painting,
and through it to all the passion in the artist's
creative process and in those Renaissance
worshippers for whom it was made.
Her evocation of a worn wooden tub
(for bathing the Christ child) in the Isenheim
Altarpiece: "... some palpable quality of
material-blanched, grainy, soft-looking wood
as though lovingly rubbed and rubbed by
cherishing, fore-warming hands, blanched,
bleached to the basic bones of woodenness."
Linda's speaking voice was so distinctive
that no one who ever knew or heard her will
forget its lucid, resonant tone ... the voice of
a poet or singer.
MOLLY N ESBI T
Professor of Art, Vassar College
Any number of us could contribute a memory
of Linda Nochlin at Vassar. Not so many will
remember her as a student, though it is said
that already she was known for her freestyle
stride, coming toward Main in shorts, red
hair ablaze. Very few will be able to conjure
up the first classes she taught, like the one
More of us will remember the lectures
she gave on 19th-century painting in Art 106
and the way her immensely clear mind let
history and literature and philosophy come
forward so naturally that a painting seemed
to hold the rotation of the earth's axis. Once
she let her politics loose in her writing, the
size of her audience mushroomed. Everyone
now remembers that she was the one who
invented feminist art history at Vassar.
Generations of younger readers in other
people's classrooms in universities around
the world return over and over again to the
fire in the questions she posed. Their heat
now overtakes the memories, which is just
how she would want it.
M A R N I R E VA K ESSLER '87
Associate Professor and Director of Graduate
Studies, Kress Foundation Department of Art
History, University of Kansas
When I arrived as a freshman at Vassar in
1983, Linda had already left to teach at the
CUNY Graduate Center. But Vassar nonetheless was one of many shared things that
initially united us as mentor and graduate
student at Yale, and established the
foundation for a deep and rich friendship.
Linda's presence in my life was great,
and the contours of her absence are slowly
unfurling, profound loss braided with a
sharpened awareness of all that remains.
I have always felt close to Linda when I teach
and write, and since she died, this feeling
has assumed new dimensions. The distant
echo of her lyrical voice, it ties me to her.
The dazzle of her words there on the page,
poetic, indissoluble, material, concrete.
Real as breath, I still see her, that precise
face, those inimitable and grand gestures
inscribing the air around her, the afterimage
fresh, the clink of marvelous bracelets and
VA S S A r Q U A r T E r LY