Art historian Gerald M. Ackerman, Professor Emeritus of Pomona College, died peacefully at his Claremont home on Friday, January 1, 2016. He was 87.
He was born in Alameda, California and grew up in Santa Cruz, the son of Alois and Eva Sadler Ackerman. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1952 and studied at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany before earning his doctorate in art history and architecture at Princeton University.
Professor Ackerman taught for six years at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and then returned to California to teach as associate professor at Stanford University for five years before moving to Pomona College in 1970, retiring in 1989. He was the driving force within Pomona’s Department of Art and Art History throughout the 1970s, and established a strong institutional presence for art history.
Professor Ackerman was a recognized expert in the field of 19th century art and renowned for his book on the French painter and sculptor Jean Léon Gérôme. He published many other books and articles on American and European art and academic theory and is recognized especially for his Bargue-Gérôme Drawing Course. The book, which he wrote with the help of artist Graydon Parrish, is assigned reading in many drawing classes at schools across the country and cemented his reputation among a wide range of realist artists in the U.S. His last work, yet-to-be published, was on the John Nava tapestries at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles.
In 2012, in honor of his work on Gérôme, Professor Ackerman was named an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Minister of Culture and Communication of the French government, one of the nation’s highest honors bestowed on scholars who distinguish themselves through their creative endeavors in the fields of art and literature. The year before, he was the recipient of Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine’s Trailblazer Award. Publisher B. Eric Rhodes said of him, “He was one of the finest art historians of our time and his influence will be felt for generations.”
Professor Ackerman spoke six languages and traveled all over Europe and the Middle East. He was passionate about opera, especially those by Wagner, classical music and reading the numerous books he cherished. He will be remembered not only for his intellect and scholarship, but also for his quick wit and his generosity.
He was preceded in death in 2014 by his husband and life-partner of 52 years, the actor and art historian Leonard R. Simon, who produced four plays Professor Ackerman had written. He is survived by his sister Lois Ackerman Lawson, brother Alois Ackerman, and several generations of nieces and nephews.