Obituary for Elisabeth FitzHugh

Posted on Jan 27, 2017

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Galleries

On January 13, 2017, Elisabeth West FitzHugh died at the age of 90 in Mitchellville MD. Elisabeth lived in the DC region since 1956. She was born on July 30, 1926 in Beirut, Lebanon. She gained her B.A. in Chemistry Vassar College in June 1947 and her M.S. in Archaeology of Western Asia at the University of London Institute of Archaeology, June 1954.

Work history:

Jan 1949-June 1950: Assistant to the Curator, Museum of American University of Beirut, Beirut Lebanon

Oct 1950-June 1951: Worked on archaeological expedition of Oriental Institute of Chicago in Jarmo, Iraq

Nov 1954-July 1955: Reference librarian, Library of American University of Beirut, Beirut Lebanon

1956-1958: Assistant in Technical Research, Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC. She assisted R.J. Gettens in establishing a laboratory and laboratory procedures at the Freer, and set up the analytical protocol for the Freer’s catalog of Chinese bronzes.

1958-1964, 1969-1976: Analytical Chemist, Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC

1976-1991: Conservation Scientist, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC

1991-2011 Part-time Research Associate (after retiring from government service), Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC

She was an authority on Chinese Jade and bronze, Oriental lacquer, and Japanese painting, and specialized in the chemistry of art conservation.

She authored many research publications and was editor of the Gettens Memorial Volume of Ars Orientalis (Vol. XI), and Volumes 2 and 3 of the handbook of artist’s pigments. She was particularly proud of her work on two previously unidentified early Chinese synthetic pigments, now called Han blue and Han purple.

She was a driving force in the art conservation profession, starting with her Editorship of IIC Abstracts (now AATA Abstracts, online) (1965-68) and serving as Treasurer of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC) American Group (1970-73), Her contributions to the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) include serving as the Chair of the Ethics and Standards committee (1980-82), Vice President (1982-84) and President (1984-86), as well as being the Editor of the Journal of the AIC 1989-1995.

She received the R. J. Gettens Award from the AIC in 1990 and was made an Honorary Member of the AIC in 1992. She received the 1999 Heritage Preservation Award from College Art Association. She received the 2002 Forbes Prize from the IIC. She was an awarded Honorary Fellowship in the IIC in 2016. She was a Council Member of the Washington Conservation Guild.

The family of Elizabeth Fitzhugh is organizing a celebration of her life on Sunday, February 19th from 11am to 1pm at the Collington Retirement Community in Mitchellville, MD. More details on the event can be found at Please forward that link to anyone that might be interested and RSVP if you can attend. For more information please get in touch with Will FitzHugh at or 301-518-1091.

In lieu of flowers please considering donating in Elisabeth’s name to American Near East Refugee Aid or the National Audubon Society.