ICOM International Committee for Museums and Collections of Costume, Fashion and Textiles

All news

September 29, 2020

Remember Madeleine Ginsburg

by Bianca du Mortier, curator and conservator of costume at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (The Netherlands)

Today I’ve learnt that Madeleine Ginsburg (former curator of costume, V&A), the lady I owe my job and my early career to, has passed away on the 14th July.

The first time I met Madeleine was at the viewing for a costume sale at Christie’s South Kensington in the summer of 1980.

I don’t remember how/why we started talking but upon hearing that I was from the Netherlands and studying costume history, she told me that the curator of costume at the Rijksmuseum would soon retire and advised me to make an appointment to visit the storage. I took her advise went to see the ‘hidden’ collection and a few months later applied for the position. To my utter amazement I got the job and Madeleine was more than happy her suggestion worked out. The Rijksmuseum sent me to Madeleine to teach me how successfully mount a costume on a mannequin.

She had an interesting method: she provided me with an 18th-century dress, a mannequin, loads of tissue paper and left. She would only return in 2 days. It was quite a challenge! Madeleine taught me then that shoulder blades, tummies and buttocks are always essential.

Whenever I was in London in those early years we would meet and discuss both professional as well as private matters. She became my ‘professional godmother’ with my real godmother also living in London. I owe a lot to Madeleine and have always held her in the highest respect.

I’m saddened by the fact that an inspiring, kind mentor and knowledgeable colleague had left.

Bianca du Mortier, July 2020.




Madeleine Ginsburg (1928-2020) was the first specialist curator of dress at the V&A Museum, London. “In 1957, aged 26, she was appointed as a research assistant in the museum’s textile department, she retired as assistant keeper of dress in 1988. At the time, the V&A’s costume collection was internationally renowned and fashion established academic subject” (op. cit. The Times, Thursday July 30, 2020).

She became a member at ICOM in 1976, and then a member of the international committee Costume. She served the board of IC Costume in 1980-83 and 1983-86.

ICOM Costume members remember her and hold her in high esteem.