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Jennifer Fletcher

This article was previously published in the special edition, ALUMNAE (December 2018).

BA 1960

Jennifer Fletcher is one of the many polymaths who has occupied, and continues to occupy, the halls of The Courtauld. She graduated with a BA from The Courtauld in 1960, having spent her free time playing hockey on the mixed team for the London School of Economics. Her journey to The Courtauld had, however, started on rocky ground. Having attended a grammar school in Birmingham, Fletcher hadn’t been taught Latin. For this, The Courtauld refused entry. She therefore spent a year working full-time as a librarian, alongside learning Latin. Once passing the language exam she gained entrance to the university, beginning her degree in 1957.

After her undergraduate studies, Fletcher started researching a PhD but chose not to continue, taking up teaching instead. It was upon completion of her BA that Fletcher studied with Ernst Gombrich, at that time working at the Warburg Institute. Fletcher had reached out to Gombrich after he had given a lecture at The Courtauld and was effectively supervised by him for a period. She was researching the workshop practice of north-Italian painters. By 1966, Fletcher was back to work, teaching in various institutions, including Camberwell College of Arts and Reading University.

Fletcher was the Slade Professor at Oxford in 1990/91: only the second woman to occupy the role. Never straying too far from The Courtauld, however, she taught here until her retirement in 2002. She is now an Honorary Fellow.

Much praise for her teaching and scholarship can be found through the words of her distinguished students (among them both Neil MacGregor and Gabriele Finaldi). One of her pupils, the artist Jeremy Deller, recalled in an interview that she would often make her tutees stand in front of paintings for hours, “until we hallucinated and envisioned all sorts of things.” Yet her unusual style found a broad audience – her teaching ranged from her MA courses on the art of the court of Philip IV of Spain, supervising PhD students on the Spanish Baroque, to lecturing at the National Gallery on Venetian portraits. Fletcher had an ability to ignite in others an interest for the subjects she herself was fascinated by.

In 2009, to celebrate Fletcher’s 70th birthday, a conference 'In Honour of Jennifer Fletcher' was organised by former students and colleagues at The Courtauld. Her recent 80th birthday was celebrated by a special edition of the Colnaghi Studies Journal.

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