This is truly a day of mourning to those of us in this field. This great woman’s research was a cornerstone of my own 18th century research. Unknowingly, she was a mentor to me through her authorship in articles, books and lectures. She brought true scholarship to a field, which in most of the twentieth century was written about by historians who looked at the 18th century through a looking glass of nostalgia and revival. I am truly a more knowledgeable and learned historian because of her work. She is a historian who I have quoted as THE 18th century textile expert countess times in my papers and lectures. This is a sad loss to all of us who adore and respect 18th century costume and textiles and their cultural research. The following is her obituary which was released only about an hour ago in The Guardian at http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/apr/20/natalie-rothstein-obituary.
Natalie Rothstein obituary: Much-admired curator of silks at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Natalie Rothstein, who has died aged 79, was an outstanding curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum whose chosen field was woven silks. She focused in particular on the development of the English silk industry from 1600 to 1850. The core of her work was published in the magisterial and very beautiful book Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century in the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, published in 1990 and accompanied by an exhibition entitled Flowered Silks. In the book, Natalie traced the emergence of the English silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite, making clear her particular importance within the industry. Garthwaite's designs were bought by the major mercers, woven by master weavers and worn by men and women of the highest rank.
Natalie was a one-off: once encountered, never forgotten. She had a fighting spirit and a wicked sense of humour. As a curator, she was a brilliant all-rounder: practical as well as erudite; equally concerned with storage and access to the objects, caring for junior members of staff and suggesting projects that might encourage articles or provoke continuing research.
She was born in East Finchley, north London, to Andrew, a leftwing historian and writer, and Edith, whom he met at a meeting of the Fabian Society. Natalie was educated at Camden school for girls and St Hilda's College, Oxford, where she read modern history. In her second year, she decided to become a museum curator and set her sights on the V&A, a goal she achieved by winning an open competition to become a museum assistant in 1952.
Initially assigned to the art library, she transferred at the first opportunity to the curatorial department of textiles, where she was to work from 1955 until her retirement in 1990 – a sharp contrast to present-day concepts of career development. Natalie knew what she was about: the V&A was then part of the department of education, with responsibility as a national museum to serve the entire nation and be free of entry for all. These basic duties, which she later battled to preserve, suited the egalitarian principles that had been passed on by her socialist parents. The museum had been founded with the specific aim of teaching the importance of skilled craftsmanship combined with good design.
The growing collections were divided, largely according to the materials of which they were made, into curatorial departments. When Natalie joined the textile department, the postwar task of reinstalling the museum's collections was slowing and research into aspects of the collections increased. Peter Thornton, then assistant keeper in the textile department, was collecting material for his book Baroque and Rococo Silks (1965) and needed someone to identify and trace the people behind the names inscribed on the museum's collection of silk designs. The job was given to Natalie, enabling her to research lives and inter-relationships within the silk industry.
Despite the difficulty of finding a suitably qualified tutor, Natalie spent her spare time working for a research MA at the University of London, resulting in an impressive 1961 thesis, The Silk Industry in London 1702-1766. She seized every chance to continue her studies of silk production in England, and travelled to France to attend the technical courses held in Lyon that enabled her to master the terminology and to understand the working of the looms on which silks of varying complexity were woven.
Finding time for such excursions became more difficult as she rose through the ranks of the departmental staff. Serving the public, dealing with much more than woven silks, answering queries from around the world and training new staff leaves little time for detailed research. But, in 1987, Natalie edited, and wrote several introductory essays for, a facsimile of a fascinating manuscript in which a well-to-do 18th-century woman (Barbara Johnson) recorded in great detail the clothes she bought, with samples of the fabrics and trimmings.
After her retirement, Natalie was in great demand as a lecturer, writer and consultant. She travelled widely, often in search of wild flowers with friends, while she enjoyed time in her cottage in the Chilterns, with her cats, and her beautiful garden, in which she continued to host memorable parties.
Her brother Andrew predeceased her. She is survived by her sister-in-law, Maureen, and her nephews Henry and Tom.
• Natalie Katherine Anne Rothstein, curator, born 21 June 1930; died 18 February 2010