Reflections on Christine Guth and Asian Design History at the V&A

December 20, 2016

Christine Guth joined the V&A/RCA History of Design MA course in 2008 to lead its specialism in Asian Design History. Marking her retirement this summer, colleagues reflect on her contribution to the V&A.

Curators from the Asian department, Anna Jackson and Rupert Faulkner, write:

When Christopher Breward, then Head of Research, told us that Christine Guth had applied to be the course tutor for Asian Art our instant response was ‘not the Christine Guth’, one of the world’s most eminent and innovative scholars of Japanese art?’  At a lunch following her interview what we began to discover was not only what a remarkable and unique mind we were gaining, but what a warm-hearted, good-humoured and truly generous and inspirational colleague Christine was to be.

Christine has contributed immeasurably to the intellectual lifeblood of the Asian Department and it has been a great pleasure to work with her and with a number of her students, including Josephine Rout who is now a member of our curatorial team. We will miss Christine immensely, but she will always be an emeritus member of the department and we hope to often welcome her back and involve her in our projects.  In the more immediate future, from May – October 2017 in the Toshiba Gallery, we shall be celebrating Christine’s considerable achievements with a display of Great Wave ephemera that she collected in the course of her research into this global icon.

Christine Guth in Istanbul
Christine Guth on a History of Design study trip to Istanbul in 2014








Dorothy Armstrong, a PhD Student and Visiting Lecturer in History of Design, remembers:

A few weeks ago, during a course evening out, Christine and I were discussing spiders. Apparently, the focus in early modern Japan around textile crafts was so intense that competitions were organized for spiders to see which spun the best web. Many people who have worked with Christine will recognize her unique approach in this anecdote: her breadth of interests, erudition and uncanny knack for choosing a filter which is both unexpected and revealing, her enthusiasm and sense of humour.

Those of us who have been her students will also remember her guidance into sometimes very unfamiliar worlds, her challenge to our many unexamined assumptions, her powerful example of humility in the face of objects and their makers, and scepticism in the face of the stories told about them.  As I begin teaching myself, I bring to it my memory of how I was taught by Christine, her straight talking and her conviction that it is the question, more than the answer, which is important.

Everyone who knows Christine, student or not, will have felt the force of her personal and professional generosity: from emails introducing colleagues who might have mutual interests, opportunities spotted for others and generously passed on, to her zest for the social aspect of the academic life. It will be Christine who organizes the student picnic, and she will bring a whole salmon, marinated in exotic spices!

It is hard to believe she is retiring when she is so intellectually youthful. Of course, what it really means is that she is just moving on to her next set of questions and adventures into new worlds, and she does so with the deep gratitude of her students past and present and our best hopes for her future.



About the author

December 20, 2016

I am Head of Early Modern Studies in the V&A's Research Institute (VARI). The History of Architecture and of Technology are my main research interests. Currently I am working on...

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