Thomas Bodkin

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Thomas Patrick Bodkin
Born (1887-07-21)21 July 1887
Died 24 April 1961(1961-04-24) (aged 73)
Resting place Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin
Nationality Irish
Alma mater Royal University of Ireland
Known for
Parent(s) Matthias McDonnell Bodkin
Relatives Sir Hugh Lane (uncle)

Professor Thomas Patrick Bodkin (21 July 1887 – 24 April 1961) was an Irish lawyer, art historian, art collector and curator.

Bodkin was Director of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin from 1927 to 1935 and founding Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham from 1935 until 1952, where he acquired the nucleus of the collection described by The Observer as "the last great art collection of the twentieth century".[1]


Bodkin was born in Dublin, the eldest son of Matthias McDonnell Bodkin, a nationalist journalist, judge and Member of Parliament. Graduating from the Royal University of Ireland in 1908 he practised law from 1911 until 1916 while collecting art privately, influenced by his uncle Sir Hugh Lane. With the death of Lane in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915 Bodkin was charged with ensuring that Lane's collection of art was displayed in Dublin – a dispute that would only finally be settled in 1957 and about which Bodkin was to write Hugh Lane and his Pictures in 1932.[2]

Bodkin left the legal profession in 1916 to become a Governor of the National Gallery of Ireland, being appointed Director in 1927. He also served in 1926 on the committee that commissioned the design of the new coinage of the Republic of Ireland from Percy Metcalfe.[2]

In 1935 Bodkin left Ireland on being appointed Director of the newly established Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Barber Professor of Fine Art at the University of Birmingham. The funds available to the Barber Institute for the purchase of new works compared favourably even to some national museums[3] and Bodkin was able to make a string of exceptional purchases in the depressed art market around the time of the Second World War. The collection that in 1935 had numbered just seven works, by 1939 held major pieces such as Tintoretto's Portrait of a Youth (1554), Simone Martini's St. John the Evangelist (1320), Poussin's Tancred and Erminia (1634) and Whistler's Symphony in White No. III (1867).[4] Bodkin retired in 1952 but retained control over acquisitions until 1959 – his successor as Director and Professor Ellis Waterhouse wistfully referred to Bodkin's wayward later purchases as "Acts of Bod".[5]

Bodkin was also an active broadcaster and author, publishing personal reminiscences and translations of modern French poetry as well as works of art history and criticism.[3] In particular his The Approach to Painting (1927), an introduction for a popular audience, ran through many editions over the succeeding 30 years.

A few years before his death he appeared on the BBC panel show Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? identifying curiosities from around the world, along with museum curator Hugh Shortt and archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler.

He was awarded the Civil Division of the Order of St. Gregory the Great for services to his church.[6] A bust of Bodkin, previously exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1958, was donated to the Barber by its sculptor, Sir Charles Wheeler, President of the Royal Academy and a personal friend of Bodkin's, on the latter's death.[6] Bodkin's remains were interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.[6]

He was the subject of This Is Your Life in March 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC’s Costa Green Studios in Birmingham.


  1. "The Barber Institute of Fine Arts". Museums Gateway U21. Universitas 21. Retrieved 21 March 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sorensen, Lee. "Bodkin, Thomas (Patrick)". The Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved 21 March 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Garlick, Kenneth (2004). "Bodkin, Thomas Patrick (1887–1961)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 October 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Fisher, Mark (2005). "Barber Institute of Fine Arts *****". Britain's Best Museums and Galleries: From the Greatest Collections to the Smallest Curiosities. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 205–207. ISBN 0-14-101960-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Robertson, Giles (February 1986). "Sir Ellis Waterhouse". The Burlington Magazine. 128 (995): 111–113. JSTOR 882391.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Unlabelled press clipping of contemporary obituary, in Royal Birmingham Society of Artists archives

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