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Newton, Eric    né Eric Oppenheimer

Date born:  1893

Place Born:  Marple Bridge (Manchester environs), United Kingdom

Date died: 1965

Place died: London, United Kingdom

Times (London) and Guardian art critic and book author. Newton was the son of L. J. Oppenheimer (d. 1917) and Edith Newton.  His father owned an architectural decoration firm in Manchester.  As Eric Oppenheimer, he was educated at Manchester University, receiving a B.A. in 1914.  After schooling, he joined his family company, L. Oppenheimer Ltd., as a mosaic craftsman, contributing mostly ecclesiastic designs. Newton served in World War I in the British Army, 29th Manchester Regiment, 1914-1918, rising to captain.  During that time he married [Isabel] Aileen Vinicombe in 1915. His father, also serving in military, died of gas poisoning.  He changed his surname to his mother's in 1918 to avoid association with Germany.  While a member of F. Sladen-Smith's amateur dramatic group, the Unnamed Society, Manchester, he met the dress designer and later costume historian Stella Mary Pearce (1901-2001) and fell in love.  He resigned from the decoration firm in 1922, writing occasional art criticism for the Manchester Guardian.  In 1930 he began writing full time criticism for the Guardian. He divorced his wife and married Pearce in 1934.  Early in 1935 Newton delivered twelve BBC radio lectures, "The Artist and His Public," which appeared as his first book the same year.  He moved to London in 1936 to be closer to the exhibitions.  Newton traveled to North America to lecture between 1936 and 1937 on behalf of the National Gallery of Canada. His broadcast series, "The Artist and his Public," 1940, and weekly symposium, "The Critics," both for the BBC, made him a household name. A second book, European Painting and Sculpture, appeared in 1941 by Penguin Press.  Following World War II, his publications tended toward theoretical and esthetics.  In 1947 he left the Manchester paper to be art critic for the Sunday Times in London.  However, after a controversial review of a Royal Academy of Art exhibition in 1950, he was dismissed by the paper, succeeded at the Times by John Russell (q.v.).  Newton returned to Manchester University and completed an M.A. in 1951.  His thesis was on Tintoretto.  Newton turned this into a book on Tintoretto in 1952, most notable for the appendix where his wife, now a noted costume historian, redated seven Tintoretto paintings by the sitter's costumes, convincingly altering the chronology of the painter's style.  Newton returned to the Guardian in 1956, holding the Slade Professorship of art at Oxford for the 1959-1960 year. His most popular work, The Romantic Rebellion, was published in 1962, three years before his death.  He collapsed at his London office and died at age 71.

Newton followed an art-appreciation model of art analysis, akin to that of John Ruskin (q.v.), who's writing he valued.  His esthetic was that art reached its height when it achieved a balance between realism and non-objective.  His books are not generally read today.

Home Country:  United Kingdom

Sources:  Current Biography Yearbook 1956: 461-463; Batts, John Stuart, ed. The Diary of English Art Critic Eric Newton: On a North American Lecture Tour in 1937.  Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997;  Garlake, Margaret. New Art, New World: British Art in Postwar Society. New Haven, CT:  Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art/Yale University Press, 1998; [obituary:] "Mr. Eric Newton Art Critic And Historian." Times (London) Mar 11, 1965, p. 14; "Eric Newton, London Art Critic, Newsman, Author, Teacher and Lecturer Is Dead." New York Times March 11, 1965, p. 33.

Bibliography: [master's thesis:] Tintoretto's Paintings in the Church and Scuola of San Rocco, Venice.  Manchester University, 1951; An Approach to Art: a Pictorial Guide to Twelve Broadcast Talks and Discussions on The Artist and his Public, Mondays, 7 January - 25 March 1935. London: BBC, 1935; European Painting and Sculpture. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1941; British Painting. London: British Council/Longmans Green, 1945;  In My View. London: Longmans, Green, 1950; Tintoretto. London: Longmans, Green, 1952; The Arts of Man: an Anthology and Interpretation of Great Works of Art. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1960;  The Romantic Rebellion. London: Longmans, 1962.