Lynn Robert Matteson, Ph.D., age 75, died at Serenity House hospice facility in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Tuesday, April 21, 2015, just seven hours following his transfer there from the Intensive Care Unit at Keck Hospital of USC in Los Angeles.
Born in Phoenix, Ariz., on Sept. 7, 1939, Lynn was the son and only child of Alva Grenville Matteson (born in Kansas in 1900 and died in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1945) and Caroline Charlotte Espinoza Matteson Merrill (born in Arizona in 1915 and died in Concord, Calif., in 1999). While he was still a toddler, Lynn’s parents moved from Arizona to Southern California, where he had distinct childhood memories of their East Los Angeles neighborhood now known as Mariachi Plaza.
After his father’s premature death due to lung disease, Lynn and his mother moved to Stockton, Calif., then to the Mission District of San Francisco when he was an adolescent. Lynn came of age in the San Francisco of the Beat Generation writers such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, stand-up comedians such as Lenny Bruce and Jonathan Winters, and spent many (underage) evenings exploring San Francisco’s nightlife, sitting on the stoop of nightclubs to eavesdrop on famous jazz musicians and comedians performing at clubs such as The Hungry I.
Lynn attended Balboa High School, named after Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa (hence the school’s motto: “First on the Pacific!”), where his intelligence and potential was recognized by a teacher, Mike Terzian, who taught an after-school art history class for especially gifted students. Mr. Terzian became one of Lynn’s most important mentors, encouraging him to pursue a college education. Lynn was the Valedictorian of his graduating class in 1957, delivering his Valedictory address from the stage of War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. During this era he also developed a keen interest in sacred music, and sang Gregorian chant in a church choir.
While working the night shift as an orderly at Cowell Hospital in Berkeley to put himself through college, Lynn attended the University of California-Berkeley. There he obtained all three of his advanced degrees, starting with a bachelor of arts degree in history in 1962. He went on to study with the renowned French historian of art and architecture of the medieval era, Jean Bony (1908-1995), earning a master’s degree in 1965 with his thesis on the stained glass windows in the west façade of Chartres Cathedral in France. Lynn’s Ph.D. in art history was awarded in 1975, with his dissertation titled “Apocalyptic Themes in British Landscape Painting, 1770-1850.”
Although he initially trained as a Modernist, Lynn changed his focus to European art, and spent most of his career teaching 18th and 19th century European Art. His specialty was British and French Romantic painting, especially the art of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), Theodore Gericault (1791-1824), and John Martin (1789-1854), whose art Lynn championed before it was widely known. Lynn was a Chester Dale Fellow from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the first recipient from the West Coast. This was significant as before his receipt of this grant, much of the Eastern art establishment disparaged the intellectual seriousness of scholars west of the Mississippi. The prestigious fellowship enabled Lynn to study various art collections in England for a 2-year period. He later returned to London for another year and came to know that city, as well as the museums and churches all over England, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany and Spain extremely well. Rome was his favorite city and he knew every neighborhood.
Lynn’s distinguished career as an educator began in 1965, when he was hired to teach Art History at the University of California-Davis. Attracted to the fun-loving artists in the art department, he became friends with the pioneering studio art faculty who are now internationally recognized as some of the most important artists working in America during the 1960s. He regularly played tennis with Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, and Roy De Forest, and was also friendly with Manuel Neri and William T. Wiley. He became acquainted with many of their graduate students who went on to become famous in their own right, such as Deborah Butterfield, Bruce Nauman, David Gilhooly and Peter Vandenberge. During the UC Davis years, Lynn regularly appeared as an art critic on a television show on KQED-TV in San Francisco. Also during this period, Lynn married a fellow art historian, Mary Ann Perse, who was a specialist in Asian ceramics. The marriage ended in divorce after 12 years, and she went on to establish Kaikodo Gallery in Japan and New York City.
In 1980, Lynn was recruited by the University of Southern California, where he obtained tenure and remained Associate Professor of Art History for the remainder of his teaching career. He published countless articles, including the entry on French painter Theodore Gericault in the International Dictionary of Art, as well as reviews of exhibitions ranging from German Expressionist sculpture to British landscape painting. Lynn had an almost photographic memory for images, which is how he discovered the Still Life painting of Flowers and Fruit by Paul Gauguin hanging in the Haggin Museum in Stockton, California. Until Lynn’s recognition of it, the painting had been listed as “lost — whereabouts unknown” in the Gauguin catalogue raisonné.
Lynn had a tremendous intellect but humble demeanor, and was always one of the most popular lecturers on campus. In 1988, he was appointed Dean of the USC School of Fine Arts (SOFA), which at that time encompassed both art history and studio art (now separated into USC Dornsife and USC Roski School of Art and Design, respectively). He was given one year to make SOFA self-supporting, with the difficult task of reversing the school’s need for subsidy by the USC central administration, or face closure. Through painful budget cuts and creative fundraising, Lynn accomplished the feat, but at great cost to his personal health. Even while Dean, he thought that capturing the imagination of undergraduates was so important that he continued to teach the introductory survey courses himself. After five years, he stepped down from the deanship and returned to his first love of lecturing. A vast army of Lynn’s former students are today working as teachers, art dealers, museum curators, writers and researchers across America, thanks to his belief in their potential.
After his retirement from USC, Lynn continued to review new art books for Choice, a professional publication for university librarians for which he published over 100 reviews during the course of his career. Lynn also recorded extensive interviews of art world notables for the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art, the world’s largest resource of the visual arts in America. His interviews with San Francisco art dealer John Berggruen, sculptors John Buck and Deborah Butterfield, and painters Roy De Forest and Manuel Neri, are all available online at www.aaa.si.edu. Lynn was invited to speak as a eulogist at Roy De Forest’s memorial service in 2007, gracing the occasion with his eloquent observations and memories.
Lynn’s reputation as a foodie was established early, and he was known for his love of cooking. In Berkeley he lived downstairs from Alice Waters at the time she was starting her legendary restaurant Chez Panisse, and enjoyed eating the leftovers she would bring home to her neighbors. Although he liked to cook Italian food and dabbled in Indian cuisine, he was famous for his expertise in Chinese cooking. He even cooked a Chinese banquet at his Santa Barbara home for special guest Julia Child.
In addition to art, Lynn had a deep love of music, and was extremely knowledgeable about classical music, opera, jazz, and mid-20th century popular singers. He was also a voracious reader with a wide range of interests, but there were two areas in which he read virtually everything ever published — Virginia Woolf and the circle of English intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group, and the Cambridge Five, the group of Englishmen working as spies for the Soviet Union from the 1930s to 1950s that included art historian Anthony Blunt, who Lynn once met in person. Lynn was a longtime member of the Chelsea Arts Club in London, a bohemian but venerable institution founded in 1890 by a group of artists that included American painter James McNeill Whistler.
In 1998 Lynn received the gift of a liver transplant, which literally restored him to life. He shared the same first name with his second wife, writer Lynn P. Kirst, a fourth generation Californian whom he met when she was obtaining her degree in art history at USC. They used their newfound time together to travel extensively all over the world. In recent years Lynn suffered several life-threatening health situations, but he always amazed everyone by his ability to recover and carry on. He also wanted everyone to become an organ donor, so that others could receive the gift of life as he had.
Special thanks goes to the legions of fine physicians, surgeons and nurses, both in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, who helped keep Lynn alive over the years. Of particular note are Richard R. Lopez, Jr., M.D. and Allen L. Hoffman, M.D., lead surgeons on the team that performed Lynn’s liver transplant nearly 17 years ago. At Keck Medical Center of USC, thanks goes to transplant coordinator Delia Palma, as well as Lynn’s doctors Vaughn Starnes, M.D., who performed two open heart surgeries; hepatologists John A. Donovan, M.D., Tse-Ling Fong, M.D., and Jeffrey A. Kahn, M.D.; cardiologist Jerold S. Shinbane, M.D., and nephrologist Arshia Ghaffari, DO, MA, MBA. In Santa Barbara, thanks goes to internist Paul S. Aijian, M.D. and the entire staff at the Santa Barbara Artificial Kidney Center. Despite the many life-threatening medical situations he faced over the years, Lynn was a model patient who never complained or indulged in self-pity. His gentle demeanor was the hallmark of his fine character, and as he was “sotto voce” until the end, most people never knew of his accomplishments.
Among Lynn’s many friends is documentary filmmaker Susan Jensen, who fortuitously filmed one of his art history lectures given in 2008 on the European Grand Tour. That film has now been uploaded to YouTube and can be watched in its entirety by clicking here.
Lynn was preceded in death by his parents, as well as his half-sister, Margaret Matteson Gray (1925-2008) of Pawhuska, Okla., an Osage princess who the product of his father’s first marriage. His wife and soul mate of 31 years, Lynn P. Kirst of Montecito, Calif., as well as his parents-in-law, Philip and Colleen Kirst, also of Montecito, survive him. Additionally, he is survived by his Bay Area cousins Caroline and Maria De La Rosa, and many admiring friends.
Lynn’s funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 8 in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, where he married his beloved Lynnski. The church is located at 1300 East Valley Road in Montecito. Burial and graveside services will be held the next day, Saturday, May 9 at High Noon at Santa Barbara Cemetery, 901 Channel Drive, Montecito.
Given that music was Lynn’s favorite art form, memorial donations will be gratefully accepted by Community Arts Music Association (CAMA), 2060 Alameda Padre Serra, Suite 20, Santa Barbara, CA 93103.