Dan Klein

Contemporary glass artist

Born: 4 November, 1938, in Bombay.

Died: 28 June, 2009, in London aged 70.

THE death of Dan Klein has deprived the world of glass and decorative arts of one of its greatest experts and supporters. In Scotland, in particular, his loss will be felt acutely: in 1996 he was instrumental in establishing North Lands Creative Glass in Caithness – an enterprise which brought new vitality to the area.

After attending Winchester School he read "greats" at Wadham College, Oxford, from where he graduated in 1961. After Oxford, Klein studied singing and was an opera singer from 1966 to 1978. He was a soloist with Sadler's Wells in London, and from 1968 to 1973 a member of Benjamin Britten's English Opera Group.

In 1978, Klein opened a gallery in London specialising in 20th century decorative arts and contemporary glass. Among numerous shows those devoted respectively to the work of Dr Christopher Dresser, The Aesthetic Movement and Masters of Czech Glass won great acclaim. The last, in 1983, introduced the work of Czech artists Stanislav Libensk and Jaroslava Brychtiov to the outside world. Much of this exhibition was purchased by museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass.

Distinguished British artists such as John Piper, Ivor Abrams and Quentin Bell exhibited their new ceramics in his gallery in one-man shows between 1980 and 1983.

In 1984 Klein was invited to join Christie's in London as director in charge of 20th century decorative arts and was given responsibility for sales in Monaco, Amsterdam and Geneva. In 1989 he became vice-president of Christie's Switzerland while continuing simultaneously in his previous role.

In 1990, he moved to Geneva, where he remained until he left the auctioneers in February 1995. While he was there, numerous world-record prices were established in his sales, including one for Lalique, another for Gall and, in 1994, another for a desk by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Klein was also widely known as an author and he published numerous articles in British, European, American and Australasian magazines. His first book, on Art Deco, appeared in 1974.

Other publications followed including The History of Glass, Decorative Arts from 1880 to the Present Day, In the Deco Style and (in 2001) Artists In Glass: Late 20th-Century Masters In Glass. The last demonstrated the popularity and high standard of the international studio glass scene and Klein's familiarity with it.

Klein served as external examiner to the glass and ceramics department at the Royal College of Art and was on the board of the Pilchuck Glass School in the US. For several years he was one of a panel of five jurors who advised on new designs for Rosenthal in Germany each year. In 1995, he became professor in glass at the University of Sunderland.

However, it is perhaps in Lybster, Caithness, where Klein's charming, helpful and erudite presence will be most sorely missed. In 1996 he was a founder director – along with Iain Gunn and Robert MacLennan – of North Lands Creative Glass and acted as chairman of the advisory council.

To many at the time it seemed an unlikely venture: siting a visionary centre of excellence on the cliffs of the "Grey Coast". But, confounding its critics and with strong local, national and international support, North Lands flourished, each year becoming more enterprising and intellectually stimulating.

Klein was always there – strongly present and supportive – but never upstaging of others. His enthusiasm, expertise and friendship with so many of the world's leading glass artists and gallery owners and curators were largely responsible for establishing North Lands as one of Europe's principal centres in studio glass-making.

Klein made a particularly valuable contribution to North Lands over the past 18 months as honorary artistic director, giving freely of his advice and time in spite of failing health. He was responsible for this year's master classes and International Glass Conference to be held in Lybster in September and was still discussing arrangements from his sick bed a few days before he died. He combined this role latterly with that of president of the Scottish Glass Society.

With his life partner of 22 years, Alan J Poole, Klein bought St Mary's Church in Lybster, where they intended to house their extensive collection of British and Irish contemporary glass. For various practical reasons the project couldn't be realised. However, it was his hope that, in the future, the building could be incorporated into the North Lands set-up.

The collection itself is to be donated to the National Museums of Scotland, in Edinburgh, in the near future. This is a collection of some 300 pieces of work dating from several decades ago to the present day and will be an important and substantial addition to the NMS glass collection.

This, coupled with North Lands, forms part of a highly significant and fitting legacy for Klein's life and work.