A tribute to Brian Finemore


Brian Finemore was one of the handful of students who enrolled in the first year (1948) of the Fine Arts course in the University of Melbourne, so that this brief tribute is written from the standpoint of a former teacher as well as a friend. 

As a student he was remarkable for the width of his interests in literature, the theatre, music and ballet, and for his lively and engaging mind and wit. Even more remarkable was his gift for making friends, to each of whom, I suspect, he revealed a different aspect of his personality. This and his extra-curricular interests were his undoing in his first year. After an interval of several years, he returned to the University to work with great determination and graduate with high honours.

His appointment as Curator of Australian Art was ideal for one whose particular interest was in the 19th century and the interaction of English, French, American and Australian art during this period. He put his main scholarly and creative energies into exhibitions, to the challenge of which he had a hate–love relationship. Before his tragic death he had been involved in organising the staggering total of twenty major exhibitions, each of which left him prostrate with nervous exhaustion and vowing never to undertake another. Some were general, including Australian Landscape Painting, 1964, The Field, 1968, Heroic Landscape, 1970, and Object and Idea, 1973; four retrospectives (Max Meldrum, Norman Macgeorge, Bernard Hall, William Frater); and the remaining were surveys of living artists, including four from Sydney. Brian Finemore pioneered this last type of exhibition with its scholarly catalogues, a service to contemporary art in this country and its history with which his name will always be associated and for which he made many sacrifices, including the completion of his own projected writings on Australian painting, apart from the small monograph on Australian Impressionists in the Longman’s Art in Australia series. 

A stimulating and amusing conversationalist, a colleague devoted to his juniors if sometimes critical of authority, a judge who passionately upheld the values of the aesthete and a curator devoted to the best in the modern but with a strong sense of piety to the past, Brian kept the friends he made in every phase of his career and interests, so that the attendance at his memorial service was an exceptionally large and distinguished one. Like his many acts of kindness, his services to the Gallery and his contribution to Australian art were given without any thought of public recognition, in keeping with his high conception of a curator’s dedicated but essentially anonymous duties. 

Joseph Burke, Herald Professor of Fine Arts, University of Melbourne (in 1976).