Kenneth C. Lindsay (1919-2009)
Art historian and professor, Kenneth Clement Lindsay was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on December 23, 1919. He studied mathematics, chemistry, and art history at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1941. Before the war, he worked as a chemist and Chief Ale Taster at the Pabst Brewing Company.
In 1943 Lindsay was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a cryptographer at the London headquarters of the U.S. Army Signal Corps’ Signal Intelligence Division before his unit was called to the front. Landing at Utah Beach within three weeks of D-Day, he marched through France with U.S. Third Army. Soon after the end of hostilities, he applied for a transfer to the MFAA. In July 1945 he was assigned to the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, where he worked alongside Monuments Men Capt. Walter I. Farmer and Capt. Patrick J. Kelleher. Established in the Landesmuseum in June 1945 by Capt. Farmer, the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point served as the sorting house for all works of art owned by German museums, churches, and private collectors. Through its doors passed the collections of sixteen Berlin state museums along with seventeen other prominent German collections. One of Lindsay’s most memorable experiences at the collecting point was the uncrating of the ancient Egyptian Bust of Queen Nefertiti. The limestone statue, which dates from the fourteenth-century B.C., had been evacuated for safekeeping from the Neues Museum in Berlin to the salt mine at Merkers. Lindsay later recalled the special moment at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point when the bust was first removed from its protective casing saying, “Within an instant, every man in there fell hopelessly in love with her – that face – absolutely beautiful.”
Orders from the U.S. Army to transfer 202 German-owned paintings to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. were met with much derision by the Monuments Men and Women, in particular those working at the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, including Lindsay. Believing the order was a disastrous public relations move that would damage future restitution efforts, 32 MFAA Officers assembled in Wiesbaden to give their names in support of a document known as “the Wiesbaden Manifesto.” In their written protest, the officers boldly called the plan “neither morally tenable nor trustworthy.” While Lindsay did not physically sign the document, he was vocal in his support of its sentiments. In 1998, over fifty years after the incident, he published an article entitled “Official Art Seizure under the Military Cloak” in the journal Art, Antiquity, and Law.
Upon his return to the United States in 1946, Lindsay began his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin. He received a Master’s degree in art history in 1948 as well as a Ph.D. in 1951. In 1949, he studied at the École du Louvre as a Fulbright Fellow. In 1951, following a brief period as Professor of Art History at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Lindsay began a nearly forty-year career at Harpur College, Binghamton University (SUNY, State University of New York). There, he founded the college’s first programs in art history and studio art, including graduate programs in art history at the Master and Doctoral levels. An energetic and universally beloved professor, he gave lectures on almost every period in art history, including a few he created, such as Fakes and Forgeries, Erotic Art, and Duchamp Heritage. As the department grew, he helped establish an extensive art library, a photographic archive, and an art museum, the Binghamton University Art Museum. He retired in 1989 as Professor Emeritus of Art History.
Lindsay possessed a brilliant mind which, combined with his tireless spirit, resulted in a long list of publications. An expert on Wassily Kandinsky, his most notable publication was Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art (with Peter Virgo, 1982). Through his own research, Lindsay was able to prove that a watercolor by Kandinsky, which had long been accepted as the artist’s first abstract work, was actually created three years later, thus altering the timeline of early modern art. He also proved that two Kandinsky murals at the Guggenheim Museum and two at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) were actually two halves of the long-lost Campbell Panels (named for the set’s original owner, Edwin Campbell, founder of Chevrolet Motor Company). In celebration of Lindsay’s findings, the two museums hosted a joint exhibition.
Ken Lindsay died in Johnson City, New York on March 2, 2009.
In 2013, the Binghamton University Art Museum opened The Kenneth Lindsay Museum Study Room in tribute to his “lifelong commitment to the study and protection of works of art and his inspirational teaching through direct observation and the immediate experience of works of art themselves.” His papers, which detail his experience as a Monuments Man, are conserved at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy of Kenneth Lindsay (private collection).