The spatial aspects of connoisseurship: Agnew’s and the National Gallery, 1874-1916

Clarke, AV ORCID: 0000-0003-3017-9905
(2018) The spatial aspects of connoisseurship: Agnew’s and the National Gallery, 1874-1916. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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This thesis develops and applies a new spatial approach to the study of Old Master connoisseurship, analysing the activities of British art dealers Agnew’s and the National Gallery, London, as comparative case studies in the period 1874-1916. By considering connoisseurship as a located practice, my work adds a new dimension to existing historical analyses of connoisseurship, expertise and professionalization, as well as bringing a new strand of socio-economic understanding to the study of gallery architecture. The first section of this thesis concentrates on the spatial aspects of connoisseurship as practised by the staff at the National Gallery and Agnew’s. Using textual, particularly archival, sources, connoisseurship is defined more broadly than has been traditional. A key ‘triumvirate’ of connoisseurship is identified, suggesting that the three most important criteria assessed in the artworks under consideration were attribution, condition and beauty. Beyond this triumvirate, the differing acquisitional priorities of the two institutions led to additional judgements of categories such as importance, representativeness and saleability. Having established a definition for connoisseurship, the spaces in which connoisseurship was carried out are then considered, with the increased mobility of both connoisseurs and artworks in this period highlighted as a particular factor. These spaces of connoisseurship are broadly categorised into private spaces under institutional control; private spaces outside institutional control; and public and semi-public spaces. These categories are each discussed for their differing effect upon connoisseurship; however, various attributes with a particular impact on the connoisseurial process—such as lighting, or access to paintings—are also identified across these categories. Drawing together these identified criteria of connoisseurship with the spaces of connoisseurship, this section closes with the characterisation of a practical model of analysis applied by the Agnew’s and National Gallery staff in this period. In particular, it is argued that their judgments were heavily reliant upon visual analysis, to the exclusion of provenance research and technical testing, for largely spatial reasons. In particular, each connoisseur depended upon a large, individual ‘mental canon’ of comparative images, encountered either in person or in reproduction. The second section of this thesis discusses the approaches adopted by the National Gallery and Agnew’s with regard to display, arguing that the type of connoisseurship adopted by the staff at these institutions was reflected in their exhibition spaces. Here, the fruits of their connoisseurial practice were promoted with a view to encouraging connoisseurship, in turn, on the part of the visiting public. The National Gallery’s exhibition rooms were used to highlight a strong narrative of the chronological development of Western art in tandem with the hierarchy of schools. This aim was facilitated by the various expansions to the Trafalgar Square site erected over the period in question, but hampered by a consistent lack of capacity and the need to protect its collection for posterity. Agnew’s, meanwhile, invested in new, purpose-built premises in Liverpool and London in the 1870s, featuring dedicated exhibition rooms along with the type of architecture and interior design that would appeal to its middle and upper-class clientele. Here and in the firm’s home city of Manchester, Agnew’s launched an annual series of exhibitions, showcasing the firm’s particular expertise in the connoisseurship of watercolours and Old Master oil paintings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: History, Art History, Museum Studies, Connoisseurship, Art Dealing
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Histories, Languages and Cultures
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 01 Feb 2019 13:29
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2023 06:35
DOI: 10.17638/03020283