U.Va. Art Historian and Painter Dies

(Updated Jan. 22, 2010 with corrected address and directions, and correction that David Summers is not retired.)

January 21, 2010 — Lydia Gasman, a retired art history professor at the University of Virginia, died Jan. 15 in Charlottesville. She was 84.

Gasman, who grew up in Romania, was on the U.Va. faculty from 1981 to 2001. She was an expert on symbolism in Pablo Picasso's artwork.

"She contributed as much to Picasso studies as anyone," said David Summers, a retired art history professor who knew her well.

He and Gasman had an exhibition of their paintings scheduled before her death. The exhibit coincides with her memorial service on Friday. The U.Va. McIntire Department of Art and Les Yeux du Monde Gallery will hold the memorial celebration at 4:45 p.m. at the gallery, 500 W. Main St.

Gasman lived through the bombing of Bucharest during World War II and adjusted to life in Romania for a while. After graduating from the University of Bucharest in 1948, where she received her degree in humanities and law, she went to the Academy of Fine Arts. She became a successful, award-winning painter in Bucharest, but finally decided to escape the Communist regime.

She first made her way to Israel, where her brother was living, then to Paris and then to New York, after marrying an American. She earned her master's and Ph.D. from Columbia University, and she taught art history at Vassar College from 1968 until 1972 and at the University of Haifa, Israel from 1972 to 1975.

Summers described Gasman as "a very brilliant, passionate person. ... A visionary. She was demanding and generous," he said.

Undergraduates flocked to her classes on modern art. "No one had ever seen a professor aflame like her when she was teaching," Summers said.

— By Anne Bromley

New York Times obituary