A Great Commerce in Curious Paintings: the role and practices of art dealers and agents in the reception and re-evaluation of pre-1500 European painti

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Fine Art History of Art&Cult Stud


This project will draw upon my existing research interest in, specifically, collecting early Italian paintings in the nineteenth century; providing the opportunity to make a serious, scholarly contribution to the field. Currently, as Assistant Curator of Paintings at Royal Collection Trust, I am furthering research into the pre-1500 Italian paintings. Through this, I have explored Prince Albert's pioneering collecting of 'Primitive' works - using the 2010 Royal Collection Trust exhibition Victoria and Albert: Art and Love as a point of departure. This narrative is of course in part tied to the formation of the National Gallery's collection, not least through the acceptance of Queen Victoria's donation of twenty-five paintings in 1863. Prince Albert's role as consort inevitably limited his ability to travel freely, and I am particularly interested in his relationships with agents and dealers in order to acquire 'Ancient Masters' in the 1840s and 1850s. This includes the networks often engineered by Albert's artistic advisor Ludwig Gruner, who in turn used dealers on the Continent, as well as the relationships with collectors such as Warner Ottley for example. To date, I have given a lecture on Prince Albert and Collecting Early Italian Painting; assisted in curating a display of gold-ground panels at the Cumberland Art Gallery in Hampton Court Palace; and am about to publish a respective 'Collection Online Trail' for the Royal Collection Trust's website.
Secondly, this project knits together my proven research interest with my enthusiasm for working with museum collections and archives. During my National Gallery Curatorial Traineeship (2015-2017), I was based at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull for sixteen months, where I implemented focused research and display projects around a group of twenty Old Master paintings, dating between 1300 and 1700 from the English, Netherlandish, Italian and French Schools. In particular, I established a body of research around Pietro Lorenzetti's gold-ground panel Christ between Saints Paul and Peter (c.1320), bought by the Ferens in 2013. Acquired as a 'Simone Martini' for the collection of the 7th Earl Cowper at Panshanger Manor, certainly before 1913, I worked through the Panshanger Archives (Hertfordshire) in order to further the painting's provenance - thus honing my archive and primary research skills. Extracts from Earl Cowper's diary of his travels around Italy revealed the extent of his networks of agents and contacts - both pre-existing, and those formed on a more fortuitous, ad-hoc basis - as well as his wistful admiration of figures such as Charles Fairfax Murray: 'I felt the want of a Murray very much to tell one the names of the busts' (Rome). This research area formed only one strand of a wide-ranging project. Thus, I would relish the opportunity to have the extended time and resources to conduct a highly-detailed study into the roles and practices of art dealers and agents in collecting early works, as well as importantly expanding my focus to encompass early German and Netherlandish paintings.


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