In Memoriam: Julius Lewis (1931-2018)

In Memoriam: Julius Lewis (1931-2018)

December 14, 2018

Julius Lewis

In Memoriam: Julius Lewis (1931-2018)

On July 25, 2018, our former student, friend, and supporter Julius Lewis passed away. Along with the Rhoades Foundation he oversaw, Julius counts as one of the closest friends that art, architecture, and art and architectural history at the University of Chicago, including the Department of Art History, has ever had. Julius was a Maecenas in the truest sense of the word, a patron for the arts who, like that Gaius Maecenas, supported what he was intellectually and passionately invested in. For Julius that was above all the classical tradition in art and architecture. It was also the lifelong learning associated with that tradition and the liberal arts education he so cherished having received in the College and our department, earning his BA from us in 1950 and his MA in 1954. He was a brilliant, and proud, alumnus of the University, in that quintessential UChicago way, with strong passion and strong judgment.

Julius wrote his thesis on “Henry Ives Cobb and the Chicago School.” Best known to UChicagoans as the creator of the central quadrangles, Cobb designed 18 of our campus structures—ranging from the very first building, Cobb Lecture Hall (1892), to the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin that Julius was particularly interested in, through that eponymous gate eight years later: this was the art, the architecture, that was around him, that as a young man Julius could and did first study first-hand.

Beyond these formal studies, Julius remained intellectually invested in our discipline’s core skills—close looking at original art works, buildings, and sites; connoisseurship; knowledge of materials, techniques, and conservation, and, of course, research. Julius remained forever invested in the future of our department and our discipline, of our College and our library, curious about the work and minds of newly arrived colleagues and students, visionary and generous in his giving after graduating from some Law School in New Haven and launching his legal career back in Chicago amidst another architecturally significant environment, on the 80th floor of SOM’s Sears Tower, connecting like-minded friends across the world, rallying like-minded supporters across the city, and forging a sense of informed and collective giving on our Visiting Committee until its merger with the Humanities Council in 2013. 

Julius created endowments for the acquisition of art and architecture books and for our Regenstein Library’s participation in the Borrow Direct program, allowing collection sharing that students and faculty benefit from greatly and daily. “Libraries contain civilization,” Julius explained his transformative gift with characteristic brevity, incisiveness, and urgency. He created an endowment for doctoral research in art history, in honor of longtime UChicago President Hannah Holborn Gray, who he respected as one of our country’s greatest university Presidents ever. And he took quiet pride in the way his endowments over a decade ago to our department and the Art Institute for the Rhoades Exchange Program, which includes an AIC curator teaching a class at UChicago and a UChicago doctoral student interning at the AIC, laid the groundbreaking foundation for our Mellon Foundation sponsored Chicago Objects Study Initiative.

We will miss seeing art and sharing our work with him, we will miss his frank and incisive critiques and, as one colleague put it, his “droll and acerbic comments.” Julius’ disciplinary and intellectual legacy, like the art and architecture he loved, in Chicago and the world over, will be with us always, and with generations of UChicago minds to come.