Laurie Adams, Art Historian

Sept. 29, 1941 - June 19, 2015
Laurie Adams, Sept. 29, 1941 - June 19, 2015

Apart from a year at the Sorbonne in the early 1960s and another living in London in the early 1970s, Laurie M. Adams lived all of her 73 years in New York. For the past 60 years, she divided her time between New York City and East Hampton, as her parents had before her.

Dr. Adams, a prominent art historian, educator, psychoanalyst, and author of more than two dozen books, died on Friday in New York City. She had been ill with primary peritoneal cancer for the past seven years.

Dr. Adams was an early faculty member of the City University of New York’s John Jay College, joining a year after its founding in 1964. She taught there from 1966 until 2011, when she became a professor emerita. Her academic specialties were the Italian renaissance and the application of psychoanalytic theory to art historical subjects, which she also taught at CUNY’s Graduate Center.

A prolific author, Dr. Adams’s best known works include “A History of Western Art,” “Art Across Time,” “Art and Psychoanalysis,” “The Methodologies of Art,” and “Italian Renaissance Art.” She was also editor in chief of the art history journal “Source: Notes on the History of Art” from 1984 until this year.

Up until the early 1990s, the leading art history textbook was by H.W. Janson and did not include a single female artist, said her husband, John B. Adams. “Although Laurie knew, liked, and respected Janson, she thought that this was absurd, and also felt that Janson wrote far too densely for the average student. Although she would not have called herself a feminist, her ‘Western Art’ textbook was the first to give proper weight to women artists and it was written in a much more accessible style. Nowadays, of course, it is usual for such books to be written by teams of writers, but Laurie wrote every word herself.”

After initial difficulty in finding a publisher, Brown & Benchmark, now a part of McGraw-Hill Higher Education, published “A History of Western Art” in 1993. It is now in its fifth edition. From that time, Dr. Adams was rarely without a book in progress. A Chinese edition of her two-volume “Art Across Time” is scheduled for publication this year.

She was born on Sept. 29, 1941, in New York City to Daniel E. Schneider, a psychiatrist, and the former Helen Nelson. From an early age, she spent summers in East Hampton with her parents.

Dr. Adams attended the Brearley School in New York and Sophie Newcomb College at Tulane University, from which she graduated in 1962. She earned a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1964 and a Ph.D. in art history from Columbia University in 1967.

She and Mr. Adams were married in 1970. They built a house on Spaeth Lane in the early 1970s and were members of the Maidstone Club in East Hampton and the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett. Dr. Adams was also a member of the Colony Club in New York City. She was an enthusiastic tennis player, a keen crossword and Scrabble player, a skillful photographer, an inveterate traveler with a special love of France and Italy, and a collector of contemporary art, her husband said.

In addition to Mr. Adams, two daughters, Alexa Adams and Caroline Adams, both of New York City and East Hampton, survive, as do four grandchildren.

A memorial event is planned for later this year at a time and place to be announced.

Her family has suggested memorial contributions to the Brearley School, 610 East 83rd Street, New York 10028.