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18: Jun 18


The emergence of the museum professional in nineteenth-century Britain

Guest edited by Elizabeth Heath.


Elizabeth Heath (Independent), ‘The emergence of the museum professional in nineteenth-century Britain: an introduction’ 18/EH1


Eloise Donnelly  (University of Cambridge / British Museum), ‘’A desire for the National Good’: Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks and the curatorship of Renaissance decorative art in Britain, 1840–1900’ 18/ED1

Abstract: The figure of Augustus Wollaston Franks (1826–1897) looms large in histories of nineteenth century museum practice. His long career at the British Museum oversaw the dramatic expansion of the Museum collections, fuelled by his ambitious acquisition strategy and ability to attract major gifts and bequests. Using new research of material in the archives of the British Museum and V&A, this article discusses the role that Franks played in defining the status of the professional museum curator in the late nineteenth century. Firstly, by examining his approach to the collecting and display of Renaissance art objects at the British Museum, and secondly, by considering his role within the wider museum community in Britain and beyond, it argues that Franks’s appointment in 1851 marks a shift away from the culture of the amateur museum official towards a distinct and systematic approach to curatorship.

Key words: collecting, museum, art market, Renaissance, curatorship, Augustus Wollaston Franks

Elizabeth Heath (Independent), ‘’A man of ‘unflagging zeal and industry’: Sir George Scharf as an emerging professional within the nineteenth-century museum world’ 18/EH2

Abstract: Between his appointment as first secretary (and later director) of the National Portrait Gallery in 1857 and his retirement, just a few weeks before his death in 1895, George Scharf worked tirelessly to build a collection of authentic portraits with which to articulate a narrative of British history.  He was also responsible for maintaining, displaying, interpreting and researching the early collection.  This article focuses in particular upon Scharf’s distinctly professional approach to portraiture research and considers his contribution to wider developments in art historical scholarship and its methodology over the course of his career.  It also seeks to situate Scharf within a network of likeminded individuals – arguably a first wave of emerging museum professionals – and contends that these figures were collectively engaged in carving out a model for proficient art museum practice in Britain, during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Key words: George Scharf, National Portrait Gallery London, professionalization, collaboration, networks, art history, museum practice

Jacob Simon (National Portrait Gallery, London), ‘George Scharf and improving collection care and restoration at the National Portrait Gallery’ 18/JS1

Abstract: In the years following George Scharf’s appointment to the National Portrait Gallery in 1857, he had to face up to the conservation requirements of a growing collection. Before the expansion of museum collections in Victorian Britain, picture restoration had been a matter of satisfying the demands of private owners. But museums and galleries were in the public gaze and faced wider scrutiny, witness the picture cleaning controversies at the National Gallery. In supervising conservation work, museum professionals, often artists by training, had various audiences to satisfy: the visiting public, their museum peers, their trustees and the government. Scharf’s methodical approach to documentation makes his progress easy to follow. This paper identifies the nature of his learning curve, the process of both seeking and providing external advice, and the extent of his trustees’ interest.

Key words: George Scharf, National Portrait Gallery London, museum professionals, conservation, picture restorers, networks of expertise, National Gallery London

Jessica Feather (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art), ‘The career of Sidney Colvin: a transitional moment at the fin-de-siècle’ 18/JF1

Abstract: As director of the Fitzwilliam Museum (1876–1883) and latterly as keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum (1883–1912), Sidney Colvin provides us with a test-case for examining the emergent professional practice of curators at the fin-de-siècle. This article argues that Colvin’s career bears many resemblances to the models sets up by earlier nineteenth-century curators. Colvin’s career demonstrates a continuum in an emerging professional practice which involved a greater agency given to curators in relation to their superiors, standardization of procedure and organization as well as an understanding and demonstrable use of a network of other museum professionals. Yet, Colvin’s career sits on the cusp of further changes concerning curatorial practice. It would be another generation before the Courtauld Institute was established to offer art history degrees, but with his university education and employment of academically trained protégés, Colvin had already raised professional standards, suggesting the potential for a new generation of museum curators.

Key words: Sidney Colvin, British Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum, professionalization, fin-de-siècle, networks

Elena Greer (National Gallery, London), ‘Sir Frederic Burton and the controversy of art-historical expertise at the National Gallery, London, in the late nineteenth century’ 18/JG1

Abstract: This article introduces the curatorial practice of Sir Frederic Burton, the third director of the National Gallery, London.  By assessing his methods and priorities when making acquisitions it considers the individual character of his directorship and the manner in which he was following the mandates of the 1853 Select Committee.  Drawing upon a wealth of correspondence, the article examines the influence of his network of art-world contacts including his trustees, the art-historian Giovanni Morelli, and the artist and dealer Charles Fairfax Murray.  These themes are contextualised within the intense debate surrounding the role of art-historical expertise within the museum that emerged towards the end of Burton’s tenure and which resulted in the curtailing of the authority of the directorship with the Rosebery Minute issued just after his retirement in 1894.

Key words: connoisseurship, Frederic Burton, Directorship, National Gallery, Rosebery Minute, acquisitions

Charlotte Drew (University of Bristol), ‘The colourful career of Sir. John Charles Robinson: collecting and curating at the early South Kensington Museum’ 18/CD1

Abstract: John Charles Robinson was a ‘Renaissance man’ of the Victorian art world: a curator, collector, critic, connoisseur, design teacher and even a practicing artist. As the first curator of the South Kensington Museum collections, between 1853 and 1867, he desired to teach ‘good taste’ and educate the visitor in the art of connoisseurship. The collecting networks he created and the influential scholarship he produced were vital to the Museum’s popularity in the early years and ensured its firm establishment as an internationally significant institution. At the Museum, Robinson’s carefully arranged display schemes aimed to teach good aesthetic judgment and raise the status of the decorative arts. This article explores Robinson’s pivotal public role as the curator of the South Kensington collections and the crossovers found in his methods for collecting, curating and connoisseurship in the public and private sphere.

Key words: museum studies, John Charles Robinson, South Kensington Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, connoisseurship

Elizabeth Pergam (Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York), ‘John Charles Robinson in 1868: a Victorian curator’s collection on the block’ 18/EP1

Abstract: With the discovery of the register for Sir John Charles Robinson’s sale, held at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris 7–8 May 1868, it is now possible to shed light on the dispersal of this Victorian curator’s early collection of paintings and drawings. By examining the objects in the sale, who bought them, and how they were written about, we are able to correct earlier misperceptions of Robinson and his career at this moment, as well as draw broader conclusions about the role of the curator, the art market, and cross-channel relationships. Robinson stands as an exemplar of the recognition of curatorial expertise in the connoisseurship of paintings, drawings, and decorative arts at a period of rapid museum growth and concomitant shifts in the market for works of art both in Britain and the Continent.

Key words: John Charles Robinson, South Kensington Museum, collecting, art market, Old Masters, Sir Francis Cook, private collecting, auctions, Hôtel Drouot

Deborah Stein (Independent), ‘Charles Callahan Perkins: early Italian Renaissance art and British museum practice in Boston’ 18/DS1

Abstract: Art historians have highlighted Charles Callahan Perkins’ pivotal role in promoting London’s South Kensington Museum (‘South Kensington’) as the model for the new Boston Museum of Fine Arts (‘Boston Museum’) incorporated in 1870. In particular, scholars have pointed to the MFA’s embrace of the South Kensington’s central and distinguishing tenet, a belief in art history’s ability to elevate the educational level of the public and the industrial design of everyday objects. However, there has been no systematic identification of the specific South Kensington museum practices adopted by Perkins, nor of the form that they took under his all-encompassing direction. This article addresses these lacunae. It also asserts that the centrality of early Italian Renaissance art to not only the South Kensington’s educational mission, but also that of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, was at the heart of Perkins’ accomplishments in Boston — ones that have largely been understated since his death in a carriage accident in 1886.

Key words: Italian Renaissance art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, South Kensington Museum, Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, Charles Callahan Perkins, art museums, 19th century, art historiography, 19th century

Susanna Avery-Quash (National Gallery, London) and Corina Meyer (University of Stuttgart), ’’Substituting an approach to historical evidence for the vagueness of speculation’: Charles Lock Eastlake and Johann David Passavant’s contribution to the professionalization of art-historical study through source-based research’ 18/AQM1

Abstract: During Charles Eastlake’s directorship of the National Gallery (1855-65), the collection was transformed into a visual survey of the history of western European painting. He acquired hitherto unrepresented schools of painting and implemented new ways to display and catalogue them. His knowledge was indebted to interactions with leading figures of the art world, especially on the Continent. This article explores his early and seminal friendship with Johann David Passavant, who became director of the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, focusing on their unpublished correspondence of the mid-1840s, preserved in Frankfurt University Library and the National Art Library, London. The article shows how their discussions increased their understanding of the origins and early development of oil painting and honed their art-historical methods of working into an empirical, source-based and collaborative practice. These matters were important for the impact they had on Eastlake’s pioneering book Materials for a History of Oil Painting (1847) and on Eastlake and Passavant’s work as museum directors.

Key words: Eastlake, Passavant, National Gallery London, Städelsches Kunstinstitut Frankfurt, history of oil painting, professionalization, provisionality

Lucy Hartley (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), ‘‘How to observe’: Charles Eastlake and a new professionalism for the arts’ 18/LH1

Abstract: This essay examines the changing role of the museum professional and the practice of connoisseurship in the middle third of the nineteenth century in Britain. My case in point is Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, a successful painter who assumed a position of unparalleled power in the major institutions and government initiatives for art. My argument falls into three parts. The first part shows how Eastlake’s essay, “How to Observe” (1835), contains the rudiments for a professional aesthetic; the second part tells why controversies over picture-cleaning and acquisitions defined Eastlake’s first tenure at the National Gallery as keeper and caused his resignation; and the third part assesses what organizational changes Eastlake effected in his second tenure at the gallery as its director and their impact on professionalism for the arts. The contention is that Eastlake transformed the study of, and access to, art in the Gallery and thereby initiated broader changes for art professionals and art institutions in the nation.

Key words: connoisseurship, National Gallery, picture-cleaning, acquisitions, Parliament, public opinion

Anne Galastro (University of Edinburgh), ‘‘The arduous and responsible duty of arranging, classifying, and hanging…’: William Borthwick Johnstone and the nascent Scottish National Gallery’ 18/AG1

Abstract: This paper explores the work carried out by the Scottish National Gallery’s first Keeper and Principal Curator, William Borthwick Johnstone, in laying the foundations for a new national art institution in Scotland. It considers his role in launching and establishing the Scottish National Gallery as a place of cultural importance. Examining the approach adopted by Johnstone to prepare the Gallery for opening, his reflections on how best to display the disparate works that formed the inaugural collection, and his endeavours to produce a catalogue, it assesses the impact he had on the evolving institution.  Johnstone’s career provides an informative case-study of mid-Victorian values and priorities in the emerging public art gallery.

Key words: William Borthwick Johnstone, Scottish National Gallery, professional curator, national art institution, gallery catalogue, display strategies

General articles

Jessamine Batario (The University of Texas at Austin), ‘What could have been and never was: the intellectual context of Clement Greenberg’s “Byzantine Parallels”’ 18/JB1

Abstract: In its sustained analysis of pre-modern art outside the context of an exhibition, ‘Byzantine Parallels’ is an anomalous text in Clement Greenberg’s published oeuvre. The purpose of Greenberg’s essay comes into higher relief when examined against the backdrop of his unpublished and unrealized body of work. ‘Byzantine Parallels’ is a surviving testament to Greenberg’s deflated attempts to legitimize abstraction in the face of criticism leveled specifically by art historians, namely Bernard Berenson and Lionello Venturi. This paper also traces Greenberg’s understanding of the socio-historical contexts surrounding modern abstraction through his reading of Talbot Rice, a byzantinist, whose interpretation relies on theories advanced by Wilhelm Worringer and Georg Simmel. This intellectual history considers the study of Byzantine art during the early twentieth century as intertwined with modernist discourse, encouraging the two temporal sub-fields of art history to find common ground beyond visual form.

Key words: modernism, byzantine, abstraction, opticality, periodization, comparativism, ekphrasis

G.A. Bremner (University of Edinburgh), ‘The expansion of England? Scotland, architectural history, and the wider British world’ 18/GB1

Abstract: This article makes a case for both recognizing and understanding the unique Scottish contribution to the history of architecture in the British colonial world. It argues that the disaggregation of ‘Britishness’ vis-à-vis empire has been a fundamental part of the historiography of British imperial studies for quite some time, but has yet to affect the history of British architecture in any significant way. It is suggested that architectural historians can learn much from the methods and techniques employed by New Imperial and Four Nations historians in understanding what it means to talk of a ‘British’ empire and therefore a ‘British imperial architecture’. In so doing the article considers the place of Scotland in the general history of British architecture, identifying the problems and opportunities, before providing several examples in practice that demonstrate how and why the Scottish dimension in British colonial architecture can be rethought in historiographic terms.

Key words: architecture, historiography, empire, British, Scotland, colonial, imperial

Victoria Horne (Northumbria University), ‘”Our project is not to add to art history as we know it, but to change it.” The establishment of the Association of Art Historians and the emergence of feminist interventions, 1974-1990’ 18/VH1

Abstract: This article charts the establishment of the UK Association of Art Historians and its publishing organ Art History in the period 1974 to 1990. It investigates the synergetic relationship between that professional organisation and emergent feminist perspectives on art history, considering how both forces restructured disciplinary boundaries in the context of rapidly expanding higher education sector.

Key words: feminism, publishing, professional organisations, British art history, discipline, counterpublics, new art history


Ann Jensen Adams (University of California, Santa Barbara), ‘Franciscus Junius:  Philology and the survival of Antiquity in the art of northern Europe’: Art and Antiquity in the Netherlands and Britain.  The Vernacular Arcadia of Franciscus Junius (1591 – 1677) by Thijs Weststeijn, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2015, 452 pp., 178 colour & b/w illus. €129,00/ $164.00, ISBN13: 9789004283619, E-ISBN: 9789004283992 18/AJA1

Abstract: Franciscus Junius was librarian to Thomas Howard and Alethea Talbot, Earl and Countess of Arundel, and curator of the most important collection of antiquities north of the Alps.  His text De pictura Veterum published in 1637, a collection of ancient texts on ancient art, with commentary, was intended as a complement to the collection and guide to its study.  He translated the text into English as On the Painting of the Ancients in 1638, and into Dutch as De Schilder-konst der Oude in 1641.  Thijs Weststeijn’s book is the first comprehensive study of this work, examining its origins, the differences between editions and translations in light of their different audiences, and its impact upon art lovers, artists, and subsequent artwriting.  Finally, he locates Junius’ project in the context of northern efforts to recover their own Anglo-Dutch Germanic past which remained alive for the ‘modern’ world.

Key words: Thijs Weststeijn, Franciscus Junius, Gerardus Vossius, De pictura Veterum, On the Painting of the Ancients, De Schilder-konst der Oude, seventeenth-century art theory, ancient rhetoric and artwriting, Batavians

Ingrid Vermeulen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), ‘Challenging the myth of Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694-1774)’: Valérie Kobi, Dans l’oeil du connaisseur. Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694-1774) et la construction des savoirs en histoire de l’art, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2017 18/IV1

Abstract: Kobi re-evaluates the role of Pierre-Jean Mariette (1694-1774) in eighteenth-century art history by focusing on his art publications rather than on the collections owned or compiled. She makes a valuable contribution to the knowledge about the social-cultural dimensions of his work – entailing the cult of the ‘honnete homme’ and the international scientific collaborations. About the scientific dimensions of his work she sheds light in particular on the process of knowledge creation from collection to several forms of publication, and on the ideologies that motivate scholarly production. Also several detailed case studies, such as those devoted to the carved gem of Michelangelo and the Bouchardon publications are valuable. Connoisseurship is hereby defined not only as the expression of refined artistic taste, but emphatically also as the instrument of scientific scrutiny. In this respect Kobi potentially contributes to the deconstruction of the myth of Mariette. Although this will not diminish the image of Mariette as a connoisseur, yet, it does change the understanding of his connoisseurship.

Key words: Mariette, connoisseurship, art historiography, social-cultural practice, scientific knowledge creation, myth

Patrick Werkner (Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien), Rezension zu: Nathan J. Timpano, Constructing the Viennese Modern Body. Art, Hysteria, and the Puppet. New York/London: Routledge, 2017 (Studies in Art Historiography) 18/PW1

Abstract: Die detailreiche und bis in kleinste Verzweigungen recherchierte Studie analysiert eine Reihe von Aspekten, deren gemeinsamer Fokus das Figurative in der Bildenden Kunst der Wiener Moderne ist. Protagonisten der Publikation sind Egon Schiele und Oskar Kokoschka, denen der Großteil der Untersuchung im Zeitabschnitt 1909-1918/19 gewidmet ist. Der Fokus auf Marionette und Puppe stellt das bildnerische Werk Kokoschkas und seine frühen Bühnenstücke sowie Schieles Malerei und Grafik in einen zeitgenössischen Kontext, in dem Bühnenwerke Arthur Schnitzlers und die Marionettenbühne Richard Teschners ebenso als mögliche Einflüsse diskutiert werden wie der damalige Hysteriediskurs.

Key words: Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Figuration, Expressionismus, Wiener Moderne, Hysterie, Puppe

Brief reviews

Axel Christoph Gampp (Institute of Fine Art, Basle University), ‘On Michel Yonan, Messerschmidt’s Character Heads, Maddening Sculpture and the Writing of Art History’: Michel Yonan, Messerschmidt’s Character Heads: Maddening Sculpture and the Writing of Art History, New York and London: Routledge 2018 18/ACG1

Richard Woodfield (University of Birmingham), ‘New light on sweetness: a brief review of Joseph Imorde’s book on Carlo Dolci‘: Joseph Imorde, Carlo Dolci: A Refreshment, Studies in Iconology 8, Leuven-Paris-Bristol, CT: Peeters 2017 1/RW1

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