Campus & Community

Art historian Seymour Slive, 93

2 min read

Professor emeritus was at Harvard in May to receive honorary degree

Seymour Slive, Gleason Professor of Fine Arts Emeritus at Harvard and one of the world’s leading authorities on 17th-century Dutch painting, died in June at the age of 93. Slive had been battling cancer, but was present at Harvard’s May Commencement, where he received an honorary doctor of arts degree.

A son of Russian immigrants, Slive was born in Chicago in 1920 and earned both his bachelor’s degree (1943) and his Ph.D. (1952) at the University of Chicago. He put his graduate studies on hold to serve in the Pacific Theater with the U.S. Navy during World War II.

A former director of the Fogg Art Museum, Slive understood the brilliance of 17th-century Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Jacob van Ruisdael, and the importance of their rich landscapes and evocative portraits.

Among Slive’s publications are “Rembrandt and His Critics: 1630-1730” (1953), “The Rembrandt Bible” (1959), “Frans Hals” (three volumes, 1970-74), “Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Etchings, and Drawings” (2001), and “Rembrandt Drawings” (2009).

Before his arrival at Harvard in 1954, Slive taught at Oberlin College in Ohio and later at Pomona College in California, where he was assistant professor of art and chairman of the department. Slive became an associate professor at Harvard in 1957 and a fine arts professor in 1961. He was appointed chairman of the Department of Fine Arts in 1968 and served in that position until 1971. In 1973, Slive was appointed Gleason Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard. He was the director of the Fogg Art Museum from 1975 until 1982.

During his directorship, Slive helped establish the Arthur M. Sackler Museum to house Harvard’s collections of ancient, Asian, Islamic, and (later) Indian art in 1985. During his career, Slive was also an exchange professor at the University of Leningrad (1961) and Slade Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Oxford (1972-73.) He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy and of the Dutch Society of Sciences.

Harvard is planning a memorial for Slive in the fall. Details to follow.