DICTIONARY OF ART HISTORIANS
A Biographical Dictionary of Historic Scholars, Museum Professionals and Academic Historians of Art
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Tonks, Oliver Samuel
Date born: 1873/4
Date died: 1953
Place died: Poughkeepsie, NY
Head of the Art Department, Vassar College. Tonks graduated from Princeton University undergraduate and received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1903. His thesis topic was on the Greek vase painter Brygos. In 1905 he accepted a position by Allan Marquand (q.v.) at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) to assist as preceptor in the senior Greek sculpture class. When Tonks was hired at Vassar in 1911, he had been the sole appointment of the Department of Art. He remained at Vassar 33 years. Among his accomplishments were the modernization of the teaching of art history, a standardization of the major, and the introduction of lectures and study material. The preceptorial system he introduced remains the foundation of Art 105/106 courses at Vassar. He also reinstated studio art classes and created a professor of “History and Criticism.” In 1927 he issued a survey of Italian art. Tonks retired in 1944, and was succeeded by Agnes Rindge Claflin (q.v.).
Home Country: United States
Sources: "The History and Dispersal of the Vassar College Collection of Casts and Copies Oliver S. Tonks - Innovations in Art History." http://vassun.vassar.edu/~madull/tonks.html; Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. The Eye of the Tiger: The Founding and Development of the Department of Art and Archaeology, 1883-1923, Princeton University. Princeton, NJ: Department of Art and Archaeology and Art Museum, 1983, p.19; [obituary:] "Prof. Oliver S. Tonks." New York Times December 27, 1953. p. 60.
Bibliography: [dissertation:] Brygos. Harvard University, 1903, published,
"Brygos, His Characteristics" Memoirs of the American academy of arts and
sciences 13, no. 2 (1904): 61-117; A History of Italian Painting. New
York: D. Appleton and Company, 1927; "An Interpretation of the so-called Harpy
Tomb." American Journal of Archaeology 11 no. 3 (1907): 321-338