Dr Jon James Lamont Whiteley was an art historian of international renown, a teacher to generations of Oxford students and a much-loved figure in the community for the brilliant talks on art given over many years at the Ashmolean, writes Prof Catherine Whistler.

While he spent most of his life in Oxford, from his student days at the university to his 36 years as a curator at the Ashmolean, Jon never forgot his Scottish roots, evident in his soft Aberdeenshire accent and puckish sense of humour.

Read more: Could you create a work of lockdown art for Ashmolean Museum?

Unusually for someone prominent in the world of museums and academia, Jon started his public career as a film star.

Born in Monymusk on February 19, 1945, he was the son of two primary school teachers. Having been talent-spotted at the age of six when his recital of The Owl and the Pussycat at the Aberdeen Music Festival was broadcast, Jon went on to act in five films.

His debut in Hunted, with Dirk Bogarde in 1952, was followed by a performance in 1953’s The Little Kidnappers that won him a junior Academy Award.

Read again: 'Dr Whiteley was a friend to everyone'

Directed by Fritz Lang in Moonfleet (1955) – Jon’s favourite film – and in The Weapon (1956), he worked again with Bogarde in The Spanish Gardener (1956). However his education took priority over acting, and he left the glamour of the cinema without any regrets.

Like many art historians, Jon had wanted to become a painter. But with his profound love of art and his keenness to communicate that understanding as widely as possible, he found great satisfaction as a curator and teacher. He read History at Pembroke College, going on to study History of Art with Prof Francis Haskell, an inspirational scholar who became a lifelong friend.

Read more: 'Pick up a pen and get writing your masterpiece' says Oxford Playhouse

He married a fellow graduate student, Linda Wilson in 1972. Jon’s academic interests lay in French 19h-century art, and the significance of his work in this field was recognized by the French government with the title of chevalier or Knight of the Order of the Arts and Letters in 2009, an extraordinary honour.

In 1975 Jon was appointed to a relatively new role at Christ Church, where the Picture Gallery had opened in 1968 to display the college’s major old master collections to the public. This led to experiments with exhibitions of modern art – including the first ever on Dora Carrington - as well as working with the distinguished drawings specialist, James Byam Shaw.

Oxford Mail:

In May 1978 he moved to a university position at the Western Art Department of the Ashmolean Museum. In his first years there, Jon saw the need for outreach and education beyond a university audience, energetically promoting with Michelle Sykes the foundation in 1981 of what is today an exemplary learning department. While he shaped the Ashmolean’s collections with many beautiful and significant acquisitions, Jon also worked tirelessly to ensure that the works of art were as accessible as possible, and that visitors were made to feel warmly welcome.

The passion for art and music which made Jon’s public talks so memorable was underpinned by rigorous scholarship. As the curator mainly of Northern European art, ceramics and musical instruments, Jon produced important catalogues and academic publications. His many exhibitions on themes as wide-ranging as Oxford portraits, the art of Leonid Pasternak, the Pre-Raphaelites, the landscapes of Claude Lorrain, or the violins of Stradivarius, had pleasure and enjoyment at their heart, always based on deep knowledge.

Jon died on May 16. While his scholarly distinction will be justly commemorated, his friends and colleagues will remember him above all as an exceptionally kind, generous and honourable individual. He is survived by his wife, Linda, his son William and daughter Flora, his two grandsons, and his sisters Fleur and Marsali.