Spaces of Connoisseurship

Judging Old Masters at Agnew’s and the National Gallery, c.1874-1916


In Spaces of Connoisseurship, Alison Clarke explores the ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ of judging Old Master paintings in the nineteenth-century British art trade. She describes how the staff at family art dealers Thomas Agnew & Sons (“Agnew’s”) and London’s National Gallery took advantage of emerging technologies such as the railways and photography. Through encounters with pictures in a range of locations, both private and public, these art market actors could build up the visual memory and necessary expertise to compare artworks and judge them in terms of attribution, condition and beauty. Also explored are the display tactics adopted by both commercial outfit and art museum to showcase pictures once acquired. In a time of ever-spiralling art prices, this book tackles the question of why some paintings are preferred over others, and exactly how art experts reach their judgements.

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Alison Clarke, Ph.D. (2018), University of Liverpool/National Gallery, London, is Special Projects Manager at Newcastle University. Her work has appeared in Getty Research Journal, Victorian Network, and ‘Money in the Air’: Art Dealers and the Transatlantic Market, 1880-1930 (Getty, forthcoming).
List of Illustrations

 1 On Institutions, Subjects and Dates
 2 On Sources and a Spatial Methodology

Section I: Connoisseurship and Acquisition: The What, Where and How

1 What? The Criteria of Connoisseurship
 1 Avoiding the ‘Limbo of Mistaken Acquisitions’: Attribution
 2 ‘Much Painted on & Spoilt by Some Vandal’: Condition and Restoration
 3 A ‘Very Dull’ Velázquez: Beauty and Aesthetics
 4 Selecting Typical Specimens: Representativeness and Importance
 5 ‘Should Think Unsaleable’: Negotiating Customer Appeal

2 Where? Examining Paintings at Home and Abroad
 1 Beyond Texts: Moving on from Dematerialised Connoisseurship
 2 Mobility: Artworks and Connoisseurs
 3 The Spaces of Connoisseurship
 4 Spatial Factors Affecting Connoisseurship
 5 The Chronology of Connoisseurship

3 How? The Supremacy of Visual Connoisseurship
 1 Categorisation and Comparison: Viewing Artworks in Person
 2 ‘My Treacherous Memory’: Comparison from Reproductions
 3 Visual Experience and the ‘Mental Canon’
 4 Provenance: Archives and Libraries as Alternative Spaces of Connoisseurship?
 5 A Lack of Evidence for Technical Testing
 6 Connoisseurship and a Model for Perceptual Expertise

Section II: Connoisseurship and Display: Exhibiting Expertise

4 The National Gallery and Display
 1 Public Ownership, Public Criticism
 2 The Trafalgar Square Building and its Extensions
 3 Walking through Art History: Rooms, Schools, Chronology and Hang
 4 The Aesthetics of Display: Décor and Lighting
 5 ‘Where Can These Pictures Be Hung?’ Disruptions to Display

5 Agnew’s and Display
 1 Private Ownership, Public Reputation
 2 ‘Lent from Various Great Houses’: Special Exhibitions

Conclusion and Final Thoughts
 1 A Cautionary Tale
 Primary Sources
 Secondary Sources
Historians and art historians in the broad fields of the history of collecting, art market and museum history, particularly (but not exclusively) in the Victorian/Edwardian periods; museum and heritage professionals.
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