Seymour Slive, a former director of the Fogg Art Museum and fine arts professor emeritus, died on June 14, two weeks after receiving an honorary degree at Harvard’s 363rd commencement. He was 93.
Family, students, and colleagues remembered Slive as an energetic and passionate man who was engaged with art at Harvard in numerous roles.
William W. Robinson, curator of drawings for the Harvard Art Museums, emphasized Slive’s ability to do multiple jobs at one time.
“[He] invented multi-tasking before anybody heard the word,” Robinson said.
Before coming to Harvard, Slive hoped to be an artist, according to his eldest daughter Katya Slive.
“He always told a story that he had a mentor that wanted to take him to Paris and his mother nixed it,” Katya Slive said. “He always had a bit of a bohemian spirit.”
After fighting in World War II, Slive attended graduate school at the University of Chicago through the G.I. Bill. In the mid-1950s, he began teaching at Harvard.
Slive taught an introductory fine arts course, and, according to Katya Slive, he was voted most popular teacher multiple times.
“He was a passionate teacher,” Katya Slive said of her father. “His greatest joy was teaching kids who were going into science and law because he knew they were really bright and wanted to give them an insight into the humanities.”
Robinson echoed her sentiment.
“Especially as an undergraduate lecturer he knew how to keep it lively,” Robinson said. “He inspired a lot of undergrads and advised a lot of Ph.D. candidates who went on to propagate the field.”
Slive’s area of expertise was 17th century Dutch painting, and his scholarship includes definitive works on the Dutch painters Jacob Van Ruisdael and Frans Hals.
Bruce L. Edelstein, a former student of Slive’s, characterized two seminars he took with Slive as eye-opening experiences.
“To see Golden Age landscape painting through his eyes was to become attuned to everything that is important, innovative, and exceptional about the representation of the natural world by seventeenth-century Dutch artists,” Edelstein said.
Slive approached understanding art by focusing on the physical object rather than symbolism, practicing a method known in the field as connoisseurship.