Beatrice Farwell Duncan passed away a few months shy of her 90th birthday. The sadness of relatives, friends and colleagues is mitigated by the knowledge that through the five decades of her professional career, and 18 years of retirement, she led a rich and very social life, staying involved in many cultural pursuits and keeping up numerous friendships, lucid and witty to the last. Bea’s father Arthur, a noted composer with a migratory temperament, led choirs in New York, taught music at Cornell and Berkeley, and briefly settled in Santa Barbara to found the Community Chorus; thus Bea came to be born here.
She grew up in Michigan, though, graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and started graduate studies in art history at New York University. While at work on her Master of Arts degree she enlisted as a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a position soon upgraded to staff lecturer. This was Bea’s first career; it started an amazingly long time ago, in 1943. Alfred Moir, a baroque specialist and founding father of the art history program at UCSB, persuaded Bea to join the university staff in 1966. While teaching here, she pursued doctoral studies at UCLA, getting her Ph.D. in 1973. Bea went on to play a central departmental role, both as a gifted teacher who guided many dissertations to successful completion, and as graduate advisor and chair.
Bea’s outstanding scholarly productivity was devoted to French art, beginning with a dissertation on Manet and the nude. A bold departure from the traditional focus on pyramidal compositions a la Wölfflin, or religious symbolism a la Panofsky, it merited publication in Garland’s Outstanding Dissertation series. Bea organized a small but legendary exhibition at the University Art Museum in 1977, titled The Cult of Images: Baudelaire and the 19th Century Media Explosion. Its fame was such that 30 years later, visiting scholars from Europe would still request to be introduced to the author of this pioneering inquiry into mass-produced, low-brow imagery, which has since become the province of “Visual Culture” studies. In 1989 followed another major, catalogued University Art Museum exhibition, on French 19th century caricature.
Bea’s innovative research was rewarded with one of the biggest grants ever won by UCSB art historians, as well as a fellowship year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, in Washington, DC. And while grants do not always translate into actual publications, Bea insured, with exemplary attention to research challenges and institutional diplomacy, that all 12 of her volumes on French Popular Lithographic Imagery were duly published by the University of Chicago.
At a time when UCSB counted few female professors and even fewer in influential positions, she assumed important duties on campus-wide committees, chairing some of them and receiving a confidential appointment when former chancellor Barbara Uehling’s strained faculty relations called for tactful review. Beatrice became a respected community figure as well, with her many years of service on the board of the Santa Barbara Art Museum still remembered and appreciated today. She also served on the governing board of the College Art Association, and with her many ties to colleagues and institutions on the East Coast she naturally assumed the role of the art history department’s principal “ambassador” to the wider professional world.
Given her great intellectual and social openness, her retirement from UCSB in 1991 was marked by new departures. For example, Bea reinvigorated her musical interests, traveling from coast to coast to hear concerts and actively participating in the Santa Barbara Music Club and the Santa Barbara Quire of Voyces. She also entered into a harmonious marriage with Dudley Duncan, a retired UCSB sociology professor, with whom she shared a passion for art, music, and the proceedings of the Santa Barbara Humanist Society.
Following Dudley’s death and the sale of her home, Bea moved into the Maravilla Retirement Community, maintaining her social connections with unabated mental freshness, despite declining physical mobility. No colleague can remember ever hearing a negative remark about Bea. Inimitably, she bridged independent thought and iconoclastic research with perfect social grace. Beatrice Farwell Duncan’s wisdom, wit, and generosity will be missed by all who knew her.