Walter W.S. Cook Annual Lecture

Dr. Walter W.S. Cook (1888 - 1962) was the founding director of the Institute of Fine Arts and a historian of Medieval Spanish art. Cook received his doctorate from Harvard University and joined the faculty at New York University in 1926 where he served as a professor of art from 1932 to 1953. Of all his achievements, Cook is most remembered for his energetic leadership in developing the Institute of Fine Arts into one of the most prestigious centers for graduate study in the field of art history.

Cook’s legacy is his resolve to change the way art historical research and education is attained. He believed that the graduate art history program should engage in special relationships with New York’s art collections. To achieve this, in 1936 he moved the graduate art history program from NYU’s Washington Square campus to the Upper East Side and later named the research center the Institute of Fine Arts. This location is central to the city’s most renowned museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Cook ingeniously utilized New York’s cultural resources from this advantageous location, in line with the Institute’s mission of objects based research.

Cook further realized his vision of turning NYU’s graduate art history program into an advanced research institute by placing priority on acquiring faculty who were leaders in their respective art historical fields. He utilized his position as the Director of the IFA to appoint prominent German and Austrian scholars (forced to flee during the Nazi era) such as Erwin Panofsky, Walter Friedländer, Karl Lehmann, and Julius Held.  These professors were deeply involved with the evolution of the modern discipline of art history and essential to Cook’s transformative vision for the Institute.

The Walter W.S. Cook Alumni Lecture Series was inaugurated in 1959 on the occasion of the dedication of the James B. Duke mansion, the current home of the Institute of Fine Arts. The series, which invites prominent alumni to speak in honor of Dr. Cook, is organized by the IFA Alumni Association.

For the program of the memorial held in 1962 in honor of Dr. Cook, click here [PDF]
For an archive of past Cook lecturers, click here [PDF]

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