William H. Gerdts

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William Henry Gerdts Jr. (January 18, 1929 – April 14, 2020) was an American art historian and professor of Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center. Gerdts was the author of over twenty-five books on American art. An expert in American Impressionism, he was also well known for his work on nineteenth-century American still life painting.

Education and early life[edit]

Gerdts was born in Jersey City, New Jersey.[1] After nine years there, the family moved to Jackson Heights, Queens, where he attended P.S. 69 and Newtown High School.[2] Beginning in 1945 he attended Amherst College.[1] After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in February 1949, Gerdts worked for seven months at the college's newly opened Mead Art Museum.[3] He enrolled at Harvard Law School in September 1949, but after four days switched to the Department of Fine Arts. There he earned a master's degree in 1950 and a Ph.D. in 1966.[1]


Gerdts' professional positions included 380 days as curator of art at the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences (now the Chrysler Museum of Art) and resident director of the Moses Myers House in Norfolk. He was Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Newark Museum (today the Newark Museum of Art) from 1954 to 1966, and associate professor and gallery director at the University of Maryland, College Park from 1966 to 1969. In 1971 he joined the faculty of Brooklyn College, and The Graduate Center, CUNY.[4]

Gerdts was a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University, and Washington University. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a fellowship from the American Philosophical Society.[4] In 1992 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Amherst College, and in 1996 Syracuse University made him an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts.[4]

In 2008–9 Gerdts was Distinguished Lecturer and Senior Advisor for American Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.[5]

Gerdts served as Vice President of the Coe Kerr Gallery in New York.

Complementing his career as an academic, he served on the Art Advisory Council of the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR).[6][7] His years of collecting began with nineteenth century American still life pictures while in Newark.[8] Between 2001 and 2008, Gerdts and his wife of 43 years, Abigail Booth Gerdts, donated over 350 works of art to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.[3]

Following his retirement, Gerdts continued to represent a deeply conservative type of white male-dominated American art history, founded in connoisseurship, and became an outspoken opponent of newer approaches to the analysis of American art. Among the targets of his criticism were Frances Pohl's influential textbook, Framing America: A Social History of American Art (2002 and later) and John Davis, Jennifer Greenhill, and Jason LaFountain's benchmark anthology, A Companion to American Art (2015), with its diverse sampling of contemporary perspectives on American visual culture.[9]


Gerdts died of complications of COVID-19 at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York, on April 14, 2020, at age 91, during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York (state).[10]

Selected works[edit]

Gerdts' published writings encompass some 342 works in 443 publications in 6 languages and 24,892 library holdings.[11][12]

  • 2016 — Two Centuries of American Still-Llife Painting: The Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection. Exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
  • 2013 — (With Nathan Vonk) In Defense of Beauty: Leon Dabo Florals. Exh. cat. Santa Barbara: Sullivan Goss.[13]
  • 2012 — (With Cody Hartley, Frank Goss, and Nathan Vonk) The Pastels of Leon Dabo. Exh. cat. Santa Barbara: Sullivan Goss.
  • 2012 — Once Upon an Island: Stephen Scott Young in the Bahamas. New York: Adelson Galleries. ISBN 978-0-9815801-4-2.
  • 2003 — The Golden Age of American Impressionism. New York: Watson-Guptill. ISBN 0-8230-2093-2.
  • 2002 — (With Brian H. Peterson) Pennsylvania Impressionism. Exh. cat. James A. Michener Art Museum. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812237009
  • 1999 — (With Warren Adelson and Jay E. Cantor) Childe Hassam, Impressionist. Abbeville. Rev. ed. 2000 ISBN 9780789207371
  • 1998 — (With Will South) California Impressionism. Abbeville Press. ISBN 0789201763.
  • 1997 — The Color of Modernism: The American Fauves. New York: Hollis Taggert Gallery.
  • 1996 — William Glackens. Abbeville. ISBN 978-1-55859-868-3
  • 1994 — Impressionist New York. Abbeville Press. ISBN 1-55859-328-4.
  • 1990 — Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, 1710–1920, 3 vols. Abbeville Press.
  • 1987 — The Art of Henry Inman. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
  • 1984 — American Impressionism. Abbeville Press. (2nd ed. 2001)
  • 1981 — The Art of Healing: Medicine and Science in American Art. Exh. cat. Birmingham Museum of Art.
  • 1981 — Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still Life, 1801–1930. University of Missouri Press.
  • 1974 — The Great American Nude: A History in Art. (American Art & Artists series) Praeger.
  • 1973 — American Neo-Classic Sculpture: The Marble Resurrection. Viking Press.
  • 1971 — (With Russell E. Burke) American Still-Life Painting. (American Art & Artists series) Praeger.
  • 1967 — American Still Life Painting, 1913–1967. Exh. cat. American Federation of the Arts.
  • 1966 — "Painting and Sculpture in New Jersey." Ph.D. diss. Harvard University.[14] (published by Van Nostrand, 1964)[15]
  • 1958 — Nature's Bounty & Man's Delight: American 19th-Century Still-life Painting. Exh. cat. Newark Museum.


  1. ^ a b c "Gerdts, William". arthistorians.info.
  2. ^ "The Collector". National Endowment for the Humanities. 2007. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  3. ^ a b Weber, Bruce (12 May 2020). "In Memoriam: William H. Gerdts". The Magazine Antiques. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  4. ^ a b c "Page Not Found". web.gc.cuny.edu. {{cite web}}: Cite uses generic title (help)
  5. ^ "Press Room - PAFA - Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts". www.pafa.org.
  6. ^ "International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR)-Home". www.ifar.org.
  7. ^ "International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR)-About IFAR". www.ifar.org.
  8. ^ McConkey, Kenneth (October 2020). "Obituary: William Gerdts (1929–2020)". The Burlington Magazine. 162 (1411): 915–916.
  9. ^ William H. Gerdts, interview with Bruce Cole. "The Collector." Humanities: The Magazine of the National Endowment of the Humanities 28:5 (Sept/Oct 2007); and William H. Gerdts (under the pseudonym E. Friedovsky), Amazon.com Customer review of John Davis, Jennifer A. Greenhill, and Jason D. LaFountain, A Companion to American Art (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), March 17, 2016.
  10. ^ "William Gerdts Obituary". The New York Times. 19 April 2020. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  11. ^ "WorldCat Identities". www.oclc.org.
  12. ^ "American impressionism /". www.worldcat.org.
  13. ^ "Publications: The Pastels of Leon Dabo". Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery. August 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  14. ^ "Gerdts, William Henry Jr". Proquest Disssertations. ProQuest 302199078. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  15. ^ "Hollis library catalog". Harvard University. Retrieved 17 April 2020.

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