County Museum Goes to Boston to Fill Key Post

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has filled the crucial post of curator of European paintings and sculpture with Philip Conisbee, who will move West from Boston with the belief that “L.A. is the city of the future.”

“I think that the potential for developing the museums out there is very, very good at the moment and this presents a real challenge,” Conisbee, who will start his new job on Nov. 16, said in a telephone interview.

“I’ve got my surfboard waxed. You can quote me.”

Raised and educated in London, Conisbee, 42, has been curator of French paintings at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts since 1986.


County Art Museum director Earl A. (Rusty) Powell said Conisbee was hired after an international search, “because he is an extremely capable and gifted young man. He fits into our program ideally.”

The new curator specializes in 18th- and 19th-Century French art, an important area for the museum, Powell said.

Conisbee is an expert on Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779), a key French still-life and genre-scene painter, “and we have ‘The Bubble Blower,’ one of Chardin’s greatest masterpieces,” Powell said. While strong in 19th-Century sculpture, he added, the museum has a “modest” collection of paintings from that period, a collection he hopes Conisbee will help enhance.

The first thing Conisbee plans to do in his new job is to “consider some major acquisitions.”


“I’d like to always buy beautiful, high-quality works that the L.A. public would enjoy whatever period the works come from,” he said. He wouldn’t name the pieces he has “lined up” for acquisition, but said, “I’d like to strengthen the museum’s 19th-Century French art holdings.”

In addition, the Belfast-born curator said he would like to present a “major 19th-Century French art show in the near future,” featuring Impressionist art or works from the earlier Romantic period.

“Nineteenth-Century French art is something that needs promotion in L.A.,” he said, noting that the city’s last major exhibit of that kind was “A Day in the Country,” the museum’s 1984 blockbuster show of French Impressionist paintings.

Conisbee, who has not discussed his curatorial plans with Powell, said he also wants to showcase the museum’s permanent European art holdings.

“I’d like to occasionally mount more modest exhibitions carefully focused on major works in the collection. It’s important to help the L.A. public understand the nature of the period. And, as I make new acquisitions, I’d like to rehang some of the permanent galleries in my own style.”

Conisbee succeeds Scott Schaefer, who resigned about a year ago and who was also previously with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts--a coincidence, Powell said.

Before moving to Boston, Conisbee held various key posts, including art history professor at England’s University of Leicester. While there, he curated exhibits on such topics as Neoclassic French drawings and 17th- through 19th-Century plein-air landscapes. “Van Gogh and Millet,” an exhibit he co-curated, is scheduled to open in December at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

He completed his graduate research at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, and has lectured in the United States.