John Sansom obituary

Other lives: Prolific art book publisher who set up Redcliffe Press in Bristol

My friend John Sansom, who has died aged 82, was a prolific art book publisher who made a huge contribution to the post-1970s culture boom, during which modern British art went from being overlooked and somewhat provincial to having high international standing.

His Bristol-based Redcliffe Press, set up in 1976, and its second imprint, Sansom & Co, published scores of art books and became a prestigious alternative to firms such as Thames & Hudson. Among John’s many successes was David Buckman’s bestselling Artists in Britain Since 1945 (198), an essential dictionary resource both for academia and the UK art market.

Born in Reading, Berkshire, John was the son of Harry, a metal turner, and Nell (nee Parks). After studying at Reading school, he did his national service as a clerk in the RAF. In 1957, he went to work for Berkshire county council, where he learned accounting and business skills before moving west to Swindon, Wiltshire. There he became a branch manager for the Bristol & West building society. In 1959 he met Angela Thompson, a secretary at the Bristol & West, and they married in 1965.

The following year he moved to the society’s head office in Bristol, where he was head of press and public relations, before leaving to work as a financial journalist. He also set up his own PR company before establishing Redcliffe Press.

I worked with him on several major art projects. When he published my book, A Northern School: Lancashire Artists of the Twentieth Century, in 1989, we headed to the north-west, where his daughter, Clara, was then studying at Liverpool University. In Wigan, we visited the apocalyptic expressionist Theodore Major, where John managed to resist the temptation to buy.

Nevertheless, he was an avid and eclectic collector and modern British art adorned the walls of his family’s house in Clifton, much of it acquired in lieu of payment from artists or their galleries. Works by the much-loved Bristol-born Mary Fedden, Henry Lamb, Bernard Meninsky and Nicholas Horsfield were among the gems he collected.

In later years John became more retiring, and Clara took over the running of Sansom & Co, although he handled my new book, David Cobley: All By Himself, on the penultimate day of his life, the art-loving publisher to the very end.

In 2011 John was awarded an honorary degree by Bristol University for “awakening interest in the city and its heritage”.

He is survived by Angela, their daughters, Clara, Jessica and Fiona, three granddaughters, two grandsons and two great-granddaughters.

Peter Davies

The GuardianTramp

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