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Professor Deknatel Dies; Taught Art for 40 Years


Frederick B. Deknatel, recently retired Boardman Professor of Fine Arts, died Friday of a heart attack. He was 68 years old.

Deknatel, an expert on medieval and modern art, taught at Harvard from 1932 until his retirement last year. He was the author of "Edvard Munch," the first English biography of the Norwegian expressionist. After its publication in 1950, Deknatel was awarded the "Knight's Cross First Class, of the Royal Order of St. Olaf" by the Norwegian government.

Born in Chicago in 1905, Deknatel graduated from Princeton University in 1928. He received a Ph.D. degree from Harvard in 1935 and an honorary doctorate from Alfred University in 1966.

Long Teaching Career

Deknatel began his teaching career at Harvard in 1932 as an instructor in the Fine Arts Department, and he became an associate professor in 1940. Six years later, he was made a full professor.

Deknatel served as chairman of the Fine Arts Department from 1944 until 1949. He assumed his most recent post as Boardman Professor of Fine Arts in 1956.

In addition to his biography of Edvard Munch, Deknatel was the author of a work entitled "Gothic Sculpture in Borgos and Leon, Spain" and several articles on 19th century French painting.

Professors in the Fine Arts Department joined in paying tribute to their colleague's many achievements throughout his 40 years service to Harvard.

Mountain of Strength

"Professor Deknatel was a mountain of strength in this community," John Coolidge, professor of Fine Arts, said. "He served Harvard a long time in a variety of capacities."

"He was a scholar in medieval art, a pioneer in contemporary art, but most of all a great teacher," Coolidge said. "He was the father of the department. I don't think he ever had a student or colleague who wasn't fond of him."

James S. Ackerman, professor of Fine Arts, called Deknatel "one of the most sympathetic people" he had ever known. "Everybody loved him," Ackerman said. "He was the father of the department. I don't think he ever had a student or colleague who wasn't fond of him."

Ackerman praised Deknatel for his "great sensitivity as a critic" and for his role in "bringing a divided department together." He added, "He didn't write much--he was more devoted to musing. I think that in a place where people published so much, this gave him pain."

"I knew Professor Deknatel from the beginning of his career," said Sydney J. Freedberg, professor of Fine Arts. "His views and methods of thinking had enormous influence on more than a generation of undergraduates. On the graduate level, the pupils he helped form went on to become teachers in other schools and curators of museums."

"He was like a stone thrown in the middle of a lake which, by the ripples it causes, has ever-widening influence," Freedberg said.

Seymour Slive, Gleason Professor of Fine Arts, lauded Deknatel for his contributions to the appreciation of modern art. "When Professor Deknatel began teaching modern art at Harvard in the 1930s not many people either knew or cared about the difference between a Picasso or a Matisse," Slive said. "Today things are different. His pioneer work and the scores of students he trained helped bring about the change.

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