Andrée Jeanne Rosenfeld (1934–2008)

01st June 2009

Claire Smith

Sometimes giants are softly spoken. Sometimes they are not very tall. Sometimes they do not tower, because they have created a field of towers. Such was the case with Andrée Jeanne Rosenfeld.

Andrée was born in Belgium in 1934, five years before the start of World War II. She had a younger brother, Jean, who became a research scientist. Her mother, Dr Yvonne Rosenfeld (née Cambressier) was one of the first women in Europe to obtain a PhD in physics. Yvonne was a great photographer, with a wonderful sense of light and composition, and bequeathed to her daughter a fine aesthetic sense. Andrée’s father, Professor Léon Rosenfeld, was a world-renowned physicist, founder of the journal Nuclear Physics, and a colleague and friend of Niels Bohr who shared his investigations of quantum theory. In 1940 Léon Rosenfeld accepted the Chair of Theoretical Physics and Mechanics at Utrecht University, which he held until 1947. When the Nazis invaded Holland he gave seminars secretly in his home to Jewish students and he supervised young Jewish scholars, including Abraham Pais, the American physicist and biographer of Alfred Einstein, who had to submit his thesis by 14 July 1941, after which date the Nazis had decreed that no Jewish scholar could be granted a doctorate.

Andrew Rosenfeld
Image caption: Andrée Rosenfeld at Early Man Rockshelter, Cape York Peninsula, 1974 (photograph by Darrel Lewis, published in Australian Archaeology 68:84).

The primary language of the Rosenfeld family home was French, though they were also fluent speakers of Dutch and, later, Danish and English, and in the 1970s Andrée became proficient in Spanish. Her upbringing was middle-class, middle-century European – cultured, ordered, under-stated. Andrée carried these qualities with her all her life.

After the war, the family moved to Manchester in England. Both Andrée and Jean followed their father into science. Andrée enrolled in a Master of Science, later upgraded to a PhD. Her thesis topic was the sedimentology of caves, consistent with her scientific interests, but it did not satisfy her interest in the human dimensions of the past. Though she did not pursue this line of research, the scientific training informed her subsequent work.

Andrée accepted a post as a curator at the British Museum in London, and gave guest lectures for the Department of Anthropology, University College London (UCL). She was an enthusiastic and accomplished teacher, who mentored young scholars who would later become leaders in the anthropology and archaeology of art, including Howard Morphy, of the Australian National University (ANU), and Robert Layton, of Durham University. In collaboration with Peter Ucko, Andrée was a major force in the establishment of material culture studies at the Institute of Archaeology at UCL and, later, in her own right at the ANU. At UCL, she undertook ‘practiceled research’ that involved marvellous and memorable experiments, including the digging of earth ovens and the brewing of beer, and at the ANU she integrated ethnographic dimensions into the study of art, including an Iban weaver as a scholar in residence.

Andrée’s first book, The Inorganic Raw Materials of Antiquity (Rosenfeld 1965), was a seminal exploration of the importance of raw materials in terms of their source and transportation to the sites where they were used. In this book, Andrée provided critical demonstrations that Egyptian expeditions were mounted to Sinai to obtain supplies of turquoise and tin and that lapis lazuli occurred in restricted areas in Western Asia and flowed along trade routes from these points. While subsequent studies have shown the value of this area of research, Andrée’s role was that of trailblazer.

While she was in the United Kingdom, Andrée and her then partner Peter Ucko produced the classic Palaeolithic Cave Art (Ucko and Rosenfeld 1967), a volume which has not been surpassed, and which is still quoted extensively, over 40 years later.

When she came to Australia in 1972, Andrée had an established international reputation in archaeology. In 1973, she accepted a post at the newly-established Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the ANU, and taught courses in the Archaeology of Art, Material Culture and the Prehistory of Australia. She remained a member of this Department until her retirement in 1997. During this period she established rock art research at the ANU and actively promoted it as a serious field of research in Australia.

After her appointment at the ANU Andrée initiated a number of projects that were critical to the development of archaeology in Australia. She undertook ground-breaking excavations at the Early Man site in Cape York Peninsula (Figure 1) that related rock art to changes in excavated evidence and produced the first firm demonstration of the Pleistocene antiquity of Aboriginal rock art (Rosenfeld et al. 1981). A little later, she undertook a study for the Australian Heritage Commission, Rock Art Conservation in Australia (Rosenfeld 1985), the book she enjoyed writing the most, which laid the groundwork for rock art conservation in Australia. In 1988, she convened a session at the First Congress of the Australian Rock Art Research Association in Darwin, which produced a major book on the subject (Bahn and Rosenfeld 1991).

At the ANU Andrée was supervisor and/or mentor to many of the current generation of rock art researchers, including Mike Morwood, Jo McDonald, Kelvin Officer, Darrell Lewis, Paul Taçon and Ursula Frederick. In recognition of her service the ANU is establishing the Andrée Rosenfeld Foundation Chair of Rock Art Research, and her former students and friends are making a serious attempt to establish an International Centre of Rock Art Research in Australia.

Andrée’s work transcended the divide between the Humanities and Science. At the celebration of her life in Canberra on 6 March 2009, her friend and colleague, Mike Smith, mentioned that she had once described rock art research as a field with ‘a lunatic core and a sane fringe’. Andrée’s steadying influence on this subdiscipline, and her application of scientific rigour to the archaeological study of art produced substantive outcomes for the discipline, both nationally and internationally.

Andrée retired from the ANU in 1997 and then moved to Rathdowney in Queensland, where she developed her interest in designing and producing textiles. Her notes on this material demonstrate the blend of scientist and humanist. She always had dogs and usually a cat, and at Rathdowney she added donkeys that she saved from the knackery. Her mind was always active and she made some wonderful new friendships in retirement, not only with textile makers and members of the local community, but also with new researchers who sought her wisdom, such as June Ross, of the University of New England. Andrée’s influence went far.

Her smooth adjustment to retirement was due to the quality of her personal life. She told me once that she never worked on a Sunday, and she always advocated keeping a sensible balance between personal and professional lives. While Andrée enjoyed the good things of life, she did not accumulate possessions mindlessly. Her friend and colleague, Mary-Jane Mountain, said that Andrée discarded one item of clothing whenever she bought a new garment. Over five decades these two were joined by a deep friendship, regularly cemented by a love of ‘creamy, sticky cakes, strong coffee and ice-cream’.

Andrée Rosenfeld’s passing leaves a beloved son, Bill, and grandchildren who gave her great pleasure in her latter years. However, there are many, many people whose lives were touched by Andrée. I am glad to be among them. I shall remember her for her elegance, grace, sharp intellect, intellectual generosity and kindness. In his obituary for Leon Rosenfeld, G.E. Brown (1974) states that Rosenfeld contributed more substantially and influentially than he would allow people to say. Like father, like daughter.

Selected Publications

Bahn, P. and A. Rosenfeld (eds) 1991 Rock Art and Prehistory: Papers Presented to Symposium G of the AURA Congress, Darwin 1988. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Brown, G.E. 1974 Leon Rosenfeld. Nuclear Physics B 83(1):i-viii. Rosenfeld, A. 1965 The Inorganic Raw Materials of Antiquity. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Rosenfeld, A., D. Horton and J. Winter 1981 Early Man in North Queensland. Terra Australis 6. Canberra: Department of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University.

Rosenfeld, A. 1985 Rock Art Conservation in Australia. Special Australian Heritage Publication 2. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Ucko, P. and A. Rosenfeld 1967 Palaeolithic Cave Art. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Claire Smith
Andrée Jeanne Rosenfeld (1934–2008)
June 2009
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