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Tessa Sidey

Tessa Sidey

12th January 2011

We are deeply sorry to announce that Tessa Sidey, Curator (Fine Art) at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BM&AG), died on New Year’s Day following a long illness. Tessa had been a member of the Museum’s curatorial team for almost thirty years, with a specialism in the collection of prints, drawings and watercolours. She was held in respect and affection by museum and academic colleagues nationally and internationally, both for her personal qualities and for her scholarship and dedication as a curator and art historian. 

Tessa was passionate about the collections at BM&AG, and about sharing her own knowledge and enthusiasm with a wide audience. She felt particularly strongly the importance of the Museum’s Print Room service, which allows any work in store to be made accessible by appointment, and spent many hours showing drawings and watercolours to visitors and leading print room sessions with students and art groups. Tessa developed the Museum’s holdings of works on paper through a series of significant acquisitions, particularly in the field of twentieth-century printmaking, in which she had a specialist interest. She was also the lead curator on dozens of exhibitions and special displays, many of them incorporating her own new research and accompanied by landmark publications, for example Surrealism in Birmingham 1935-1954 (2001). 

In recent years, Tessa had worked with guest curators on a series of exhibitions and publications casting new light on the Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite collection: Millais: Illustrator and Narrator (with Paul Goldman, 2004), Hidden Burne-Jones (with Elisa Korb, 2007) and Ford Madox Brown: The Unofficial Pre-Raphaelite (with Laura MacCulloch, 2008). She was also the lead curator on BM&AG’s multi award-winning Pre-Raphaelite online resource, funded by JISC (www.preraphaelites.org), which has brought the Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite holdings to a wider audience than ever before. 

Among Tessa’s many publications were a catalogue raisonné of the prints of Michael Rothenstein (1993) and Editions Alecto: Original Graphics, Multiple Originals, 1960-1981 (2003), which accompanied an exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery. She also eagerly researched and helped re-establish the reputations of neglected women artists including the painters Estella and Louisa Starr Canziani and the Surrealist Emmy Bridgwater. 

Tessa believed in “have a go” practical involvement in the visual arts. Her Prints in Focus exhibition of works from the BM&AG collection (1997) was supported by student residencies and workshops in close collaboration with Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. 

Tessa’s passion for her subject transcended historical periods and she worked with many contemporary artists including Helen Chadwick, Jim Dine, Patrick Proctor, Hughie O’Donoghue and the renowned Canadian printmaker Jennifer Dickson. One of her final achievements, through the Art Fund International Scheme, was to commission the leading German printmaker Christiane Baumgartner to create a major work inspired by the urban landscape of Birmingham. 

Tessa was a passionate advocate of museums and collecting, a loyal colleague and friend, and a supportive mentor to many students and volunteers.  Her scholarship, dedication and energy were inspiring, and will be deeply missed.

Portrait of Tessa Sidey, Iain Stewart. Copyright Iain Stewart.

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