Noted rare book and art dealer John McWhinnie, who lived and worked in East Hampton and Manhattan, died in a snorkeling accident while vacationing in the British Virgin Islands on Friday.
British Royal Police said McWhinnie, 43, and his wife, jewelry designer Maria Beaulieu, were snorkeling on a coral reef on Savannah Bay beach on the island of Virgin Gorda, which is about a half-hour from Tortola.
McWhinnie was at the helm of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, a bookstore and art gallery that specializes in the history of the 20th and 21st century avant-garde in art, literature, photography and design, located in Manhattan and in East Hampton. He managed Glenn Horowitz's flagship East Hampton business for eight years before the joint venture was founded in 2005, according to his website.
Acting Chief Inspector Jacqueline Vanterpool said by phone on Saturday that the couple were having difficulty swimming in a rough current and were pulled out to sea at about 1:25 p.m. A man on the beach tried to rescue them and pulled Beaulieu from the water first. "When he went back for the husband, he could not find him," Vanterpool said.
Police and fire department personnel were called and found McWhinnie floating in the water, unresponsive, less than a half-hour later about 10 to 12 feet from the coral reef, Vanterpool said. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at 1:55 p.m.
The couple had been staying at Rosewood Little Dix Bay Resort. Vanterpool said "some of the beaches do have that kind of troubling water" and that officials try to warn tourists not to go too far out in the bay.
According to Vanterpool, McWhinnie and Beaulieu had some coral in hand when they got caught in the current. "An officer retrieved them from her," Vanterpool said. "It was very sad yesterday."
Vanterpool said an autopsy will be conducted by Monday, though McWhinnie's death appears accidental and is not being treated as suspicious. She did note that he had a dent in the middle of his forehead," which was possibly from hitting a rock.
At the Newtown Lane location of Glenn Horowitz books, McWhinnie shared a space in . Owner Harper Levine said he was still in shock after hearing the news of his close friend's death.
"It's a terrible tragedy for the book and the art world," said Levine who knew McWhinnie since 2001. "The ripples in the art and the book world has already started," he said, adding that McWhinnie was a champion of local artists like Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, , , Peter Sabbath, Jameson Ellis.
Weber flew to be with Beaulieu. After landing, he wrote in an email that McWhinnie was a loyal, generous friend, admired by many. "The only thing that eclipsed John's intelligence is his heart. He loved artists, encouraged us to develop our work, and would become animated and inspired during a studio visit if he saw something good," he said.
McWhinnie had created a lot of the excitement in fine art and rare books. "One of the things John was a genius at was blurring the lines of the disciplines," Levine said. "He was one of the only people who bridged all those different worlds."
For an interview with John McWhinnie, click here.