Sir Denis Mahon
July 23, 2008
Portrait by Lorenzo Castello
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sir Denis Mahon
Born November 8, 1910 (age 97)
Occupation Art collector and historian
Parents John FitzGerald Mahon
Lady Alice Evelyn Browne
Sir John Denis Mahon CH (born November 8, 1910) is a British collector and historian of Italian art. Considered to be one of the few art collectors who is also a respected scholar, he is generally credited with bringing Italian Baroque painters to the attention of the public and scholars throughout the English-speaking world.
Mahon is part of a wealthy Irish-English family. After attending Eton, Mahon enrolled at Christ Church, Oxford University, where he received an M.A. He spent a year working at the Ashmolean Museum under the supervision of Kenneth Clark, then in 1933 he enrolled at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. It was here that he was introduced to Italian Baroque painting in a series of lectures by Nikolaus Pevsner, who also gave him private tuition. He bought his first artwork, Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph in 1934 in Paris for £120. He subsequently met art historian Otto Kurz, whom he frequently used as an Italian translator, in the late 1930s, and together they travelled to Russia to study Italian masters.
Mahon’s Studies in Seicento Art and Theory, a series of essays promoting Italian art of the 1600s, was published in 1947. In the 1950s, he became a trustee of the National Gallery. In the 1960s, Mahon and Sir Anthony Blunt became embroiled in a nasty, public feud over the iconography of paintings of Nicolas Poussin, a subject where both were recognized experts who had published extensively on Poussin.
In 1999, Mahon, who has received honorary doctorates from the universities of Newcastle, Oxford, Rome, and Bologna, donated his entire art collection to public museums throughout the British Isles and Italy. A leading proponent of admission-free art museums, he was knighted in 1986, and made a Companion of Honour in 2002 for his services to art.
In December 2007, a painting Mahon bought for £50,400 the previous year (and which was considered to be the work of an anonymous follower of Caravaggio) was authenticated by him as a true Caravaggio. It is an early version of the painting The Cardsharps. The painting is thought to be worth up to £50 million.