Antiquities, the Art Market and Collecting in Britain and Italy in the 18th century
17-18 September 2020
Birkbeck, University of London
Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the formation and display of country house collections of art and antiquities in Britain, and particularly those created as a result of a Grand Tour to Italy in the eighteenth century. From The English Prize at the Ashmolean Museum in 2012 and the collaboration between Houghton Hall and The Hermitage State Museum, Houghton Revisited, in 2013, to The Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection in 2018, curators and academics have sought to investigate the antiquities, paintings and collectibles that were brought to Britain in such large quantities.
However, the organisation of the art market at that time has received less attention, and far less than it deserves given its fundamental role in the processes by which objects arrived in collections at that time. New contexts for collecting have also emerged, such as the history of consumption and the economic background to the acquisition of so-called ‘luxury’ goods and prestige objects. The art market of the eighteenth century continues to play a vital role in collecting today; with so many of the objects acquired during a Grand Tour since dispersed in house sales and auctions, or bequeathed or sold to museums. The antiquities and paintings that once adorned the galleries of the cultured in Britain are also still to be found for sale, indicating the longevity of their appeal and value for collectors.
This conference seeks to explore the processes by which these collections were formed, interrogating the relationship between the Italian and British art markets of the eighteenth century, the role of the dealers in Italy and the auction houses in Britain, through which many of the objects were later to pass, encompassing in depth discussion of the objects themselves. We invite abstracts of no more than 500 words for 30 minute papers to be submitted to the organising committee by 15th April 2020 (firstname.lastname@example.org) as well as a short CV. We welcome proposals from scholars working in museums, collections and archives, as well as from academics from across disciplines such as History, Art History, Museum Studies and Classics. PhD students and ECRs are particularly encouraged to submit abstracts.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
– Dealers in antiquities between Rome and Britain
– Auctions and auction houses in Britain
– Object biographies of antiquities, old master paintings, modern paintings, rare books, prints and neo-classical sculpture circulating in the 18th-century art market
– Customers and collectors in the 18th century
– Networks and communities of dealers and collectors
– The economic history of the art market
– The afterlife of collections from the 18th century to today
Organising committee: Dr Caroline Barron, Professor Catharine Edwards, Professor Kate Retford
In 1899 Edmund Byng and his wife Mary, Viscount and Viscountess Enfield, were responsible for setting up the Middlesex Branch of the Soldiers and sailors Help Society (SSHS), a national organization set up to help servicemen returning from the Boer War. The problem initiating the Society’s formation, was the lack of assistance from the Government for Soldiers and sailors who once unable to fight, due to disease or injury, were shipped home to the United Kingdom and left to fend for themselves.
The structure of the SSHS in Middlesex, split the county into nine Districts, each run by a District Head. The District then sub – divided into smaller units overseen by District Friends who reported to the District Head. Being a member of the Byng family gave Edmund an advantage in procuring personnel for District and County administrative roles.
Help for deserving servicemen could be initiated at any level within the organization, but the District Friend was the point of contact through which financial, employment, health or housing assistance was provided. This was achieved through informal interviews with the District Friends, followed by a discussion at regular County committee meetings held at Edmund’s London home in St. James’s Square, to ascertain the best form of assistance required.
The years 1899 to 1914 were a dress rehearsal for an even greater challenge for the SSHS. With the onset of the First World War greater numbers of injured and damaged service personnel required the charity’s help. The County organization responded by creating an additional level of administration with three or four Districts grouped together to form a Division, but the war put a great deal of pressure on the Charity’s funds. However, with the introduction of County Local War Pensions Committee as a result of the NAVAL AND MILITARY WAR PENSIONS ACT, 1915 some of the pressure was removed and a symbiotic relationship formed between the SSHS and the Local Committees.
By January 1918 Edmund had been elevated to the Earldom of Strafford. He continued to be the County President of the SSHS beyond the cessation of hostilities, but Mary needed a rest from the rigours of County Secretary. She did not abandon the SSHS but continued as District Head for Barnet in the County of Hertford working for the good of service personnel until 1949.
Throughout this period the SSHS, later the Soldier’s, Sailor’s and Airman’s Help Society morphing into The Forces Help Society, worked closely with Soldier’s, Sailor’s and Airman’s Family Association (SSAFA). In 1997 the two Societies amalgamated and the name “Forces Help Society” disappeared. During a recent to Wrotham Park, SSAFA Archivist Juliet Caplin informed that The Forces Help Society had very little to show, in the way of Archival material, for nearly 100 years of existence.
Juliet was keen to share the existence of the Wrotham collection of SSHS papers with researchers to the SSAFA Archives. She believed the Byng’s were not along in organizing the county administration for the Help Society and would be delighted in hearing from any other Historic House Archivist, whose family Archive portrayed involvement with either of the two charities. Juliet may be contacted at Juliet.email@example.com .
The Historic Houses Archivists Group (HHAG) exists to encourage the best possible care, preservation and awareness of privately owned family and estate archives. This is achieved through regular meetings of HHAG Archivists, but also through collaboration in many guises.
John D’Arcy of Fonthill Estate and Derek Maddock of Sudeley Castle have collaborated on the art collection (at Sudeley) and associated paperwork (at Fonthill) of James Morrison. Morrison’s collection, amassed as a result of his business acumen, dissipated with future generations. The marriage of Morrison’s great grand daughter, Mary Morrison, to Major John Henry Dent-Brocklehurst led to 140 paintings, from the collection, moving to Sudeley Castle. Although the collaboration was not totally successful it has opened other areas for future research between the two Estates.
Dr Peter Burman is pursuing a collaborative project between the Hopetoun Papers Trust at Hopetoun House and the Archives of the Earl of Annandale & Hartfell, with a view to developing a better understanding of the outstanding historic town of Moffat. In his summary appraisal of the project he states that “one of our primary objectives is to encourage inter-archive collaborative research so that we can better understand the connexions between us all and also encourage one another to work at making our archives more accessible, intellectually and physically”.
The Archivist at Renishaw Hall, Christine Beevers, is certainly raising the accessibility of the collections depicting the events of the Sitwell Family and associated papers of family friend and artist John Piper. Over the past four years Renishaw Hall has collaborated with the University of Sheffield Hallam starting with the Brothers in Art event in 2016, the brothers being Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell. Students from the Creative Writing degree course were invited to tour the house, using the paintings by John Piper, of Renishaw Hall housed within, to create their own responses, in poetry or prose, of John Piper vision of Renishaw 70 years previously.
The link with Sheffield Hallam continues today with Dr Claire Drewery, of the English Department, inviting Christine to give a lecture on the collections at Renishaw. This will give the students an insight into the various aspects of archival and curatorial work in historic houses, but also encourage the use of the collections as inspiration for future dissertations.
Sheffield University has also collaborated with another Derbyshire historic house, Chatsworth. An initial scoping project and a series of MA work placements led in 2015 to three PhD studentships funded by the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme. The students’ work focused on the lives of servants and estate workers over three centuries, and alongside their academic research, the students made a significant and enduring impact on interpretation and engagement at Chatsworth. The success of these projects led in 2019 to two further AHRC-funded PhD studentships: Louise Calf’s project focuses on the history of Chatsworth’s Victorian Theatre, and Lucy Brownson is researching the history of Chatsworth’s archives, with a particular focus on how women’s lives and voices have shaped the collections across time and space.
Not an academic link, but a collaboration of note initiated by Christopher Hunwick, at Alnwick Castle, for a group digitisation project through Ancestry.com. One set of records common to almost all Historic House Archives are estate farm and cottage tenancies. These records are name-rich and quite detailed. The coverage offered across the Group is significant, both in chronological and geographical terms, making the project appealing to Ancestry.com. The benefits for HHAG members are; they gain a digital surrogate of a key record series useful as desk based archaeological survey in planning applications and make available to the public a significant genealogical resource.
The Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families Association (SSAFA) Archivist, Juliet Chaplin, recently visited Wrotham Park, Barnet, North London to view the extensive collection of Soldier’s and Sailor’s Help Society (SSHS) papers. The latter started in 1898 with a view to helping returning Soldiers from the Boer War receive much needed help once deemed no longer fit to fight, something the Government of the day failed to provide. The 6th Earl and Countess of Strafford were instrumental in setting up the Middlesex Branch and continued to support the branch at various levels until the 1940’s. The SSAFA Archives have very little information about the SSHS and are very keen to forge strong links with County collections around the UK.
Collaborations enable Historic Houses to broadcast the extent of their collections, opening their Archives to a wider audience. Sharing examples of archive participation, encourage fellow Historic House Archivists to try new methods of opening their collections to new sets of researchers. If you would like to become a collaborator and are an Archivist of a Historic House or Estate, in England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland then contact Derek Maddock, Membership Secretary of the HHAG, on firstname.lastname@example.org .
This article will appear in the March 2020 edition of ARC.