Raymond Ward Bissell died peacefully at home with his beloved family on Saturday, October 26, after a long life filled with enthusiasm for art, architecture, antiques, gardens, and his many friends. A noted art historian specializing in Italian and Spanish Baroque art, Ward taught for 35 years at the University of Michigan. He was a passionate and exciting speaker who inspired many students and had a following of retirees who audited his classes.
Ward’s early work on the painter Artemisia Gentileschi was ground-breaking, coming long before women artists became the subject of scholarly research. He wrote several books, including Orazio Gentileschi and the Poetic Tradition in Caravaggesque Painting (1981) and Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art (1999). There were many articles and presentations, some in Italian. Ward continued his scholarly and connoisseurship activities up to a few weeks before his death, providing expertise to owners, dealers and auction houses about paintings attributed to both Orazio and Artemisia.
This warm, kind and fun-loving man was known for his corny sense of humor especially his puns. He was a huge fan of UM sports and ended every Friday lecture during football season with “Go Blue!” He loved to be surrounded by beauty, collecting art and antiques with the same verve he brought to all his endeavors. In retirement, Ward became an artist himself, making wooden wall sculptures inspired by Louise Nevelson but imbued with his own sensibility.
Ward was born in 1936 in New York City and graduated from Towson High School in Maryland. He attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate student, initially in pre-dentistry; he changed his major when an art history course sparked his lifelong passion, and he went on to earn a PhD in the History of Art in 1966.
Ward taught at the University of Wisconsin for seven years. He then returned to the University of Michigan as a Professor in the Department of the History of Art in 1971. He was a popular teacher, thesis director, and advisor, and directed and taught in the UM Study abroad program in Florence Italy many times. He loved teaching with the actual works of art on hand.
He is survived by his wife of 31 years, Tina (Goldstein), their son Alex Alden Bissell, and Ward’s daughter Kathryn Reed (Rob) of Rockville, Maryland and grandchildren Adam and Lillian Reed. Also surviving are Ward’s beloved brother Robin and sister-in-law Sandy, and their children, Stephanie, Jill and Robin. Ward was very close to Tina’s family and will be missed by sisters-in-law Carrie Eder (Mickey) and Holly Goldstein, and nephew Sam Eder. Ward was preceded in death by his parents, Raymond and Irvina Bissell, and his son Mark Weston Bissell.
In accordance with Ward’s wishes there will be no funeral, but a celebration of life is planned for mid-November. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any donations be made to either the UM Department of History of Art Undergraduate Internship Initiative or to the UM Museum of Art fund for new acquisitions. Both efforts support direct engagement with original works of art, an experience Ward believed was essential for everyone.