Seminar Programme

The Institute of Historical Research at the School of Advanced Studies of the University of London hosts our seminar on Collecting & Display. The monthly seminars take place at the Institute, Senate House, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU. Seminars begin at 6.00 and last approximately one hour. 

PLEASE SEE THE CONFERENCES PAGE FOR RECENT UPDATES AND CALL FOR PAPERS


PLEASE NOTE THAT IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN RECEIVING EMAILS FROM US YOU SHOULD CHECK THAT YOU HAVE GIVEN US YOUR UP TO DATE ADDRESS AND MAKE SURE THAT THE EMAILS ARE NOT GOING STRAIGHT TO SPAM.   IF YOU ARE HAVING DIFFICULTIES, PLEASE CONTACT collecting_display@hotmail.com


The Society for the History of Collecting has recently been formed to encourage communication among scholars in the field through its website https://societyhistorycollecting.wordpress.com and events.  The international forum Collecting and Display  will continue its activities, holding monthly seminars, organising conferences and publishing.  The two organisations are intended to be complementary.  To contact the Society please see its website or email  sochistcoll@gmail.com.

LONDON 2019

NEXT SEMINAR:   

Monday, 7th January 6 p.m. - Imogen Tedbury will speak to us on

‘To mould a great museum collection’: Robert Langton Douglas (1864-1951) and the transatlantic art trade

Robert Langton Douglas is sometimes considered an idiosyncratic dealer, perhaps owing to his colourful and multi-faceted career as, variously, chaplain for the Church of England in Italy, scholar of Renaissance art, captain in the war office during WW1, agent for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1909-1920) and Director of the National Gallery of Ireland (1916-1923). He began to deal in Sienese painting, the field which he fondly called his ‘own school’, before purposefully expanding his expertise to encompass a broad range of Old Master paintings, drawings, sculpture and decorative arts. He had long cherished an ambition to be a museum director, and saw the role as one of ‘moulding’ or ‘shaping’ great collections. Yet later in his career, he argued that dealers could also shape collections as they were empowered by the choice of which institutions to approach and thus responsible for their stock’s resting place.

Utilising unpublished archival resources and drawing on the physical examination of paintings that passed through his hands, this paper re-examines the strategies used by this key but neglected dealer. As an agent he took as little as 5% or expenses in acquiring works for his museum clients. He sometimes gifted smaller artworks to museums, to cultivate relationships and seal transactions. Douglas also worked closely with his own restorer to present paintings as ‘untouched’ treasures from ‘sunk’ British collections, an ironic but shrewd response to market demands. As the history of collecting, display and restoration intersect, it is hoped that this case study will stimulate discussion around the roles that dealers can play in ‘moulding’ or ‘shaping’ museum collections, as well as their lasting impact on artworks’ physical histories.

Imogen Tedbury is an art historian interested in the longer lives of artworks, from the time of their making to their more recent histories. Her research explores the intersections between the history of taste and the physical history of art, with a special focus on medieval and Renaissance art in the long nineteenth century. The scholar-dealer Robert Langton Douglas forms a special subject of her research. She received her AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD from the Courtauld Institute of Art and the National Gallery. This project explored the collecting, reception and display of early Sienese painting in Britain. She has received grants from the Getty Research Institute, the ICMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where she was a J. Clawson Mills Fellow in the Robert Lehman Collection. She is the Assistant Curator of the Picture Gallery and Art Collections at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Monday, 4th February - Elsje van Kessel will speak to us on

Ships, Inventories, and Asian Goods in Europe c. 1600

This paper asks what knowledge of early modern ships and their cargoes can contribute to the history of collecting. In what sense can we describe a ship laden with objects as a collection, and what are the possible benefits of such an approach?

These questions derive from van Kessel’s project Stolen Ships and Globalisation: Asian Material Culture in Europe c. 1600. The period around 1600 was a tipping point in the history of early modern globalisation: the Portuguese empire reached its zenith around this time, and the Dutch Republic and England were just beginning to take over Portuguese-Asian sea routes and trading posts. The project studies the successes and failures of early modern globalisation against this background through a focus on art objects and their interaction with human beings and ideas. Central to the research are the analysis of the seizures of Portuguese cargo ships by the English and the Dutch and the aftermath of these events. The project reconstructs the cargoes of these ships and responses they evoked.

This paper will look in particular at a range of textual sources from the archive, such as bills of lading and inventories of stolen goods. These record the types of objects on board: apart from spices, Chinese, Japanese and Indian (art) objects like precious stones, jewellery, silks, porcelain, lacquer, and furniture. As this paper will show, they also shed light on the ways people and objects related, and how the meanings of objects changed in the course of their trajectories. While the journeys of objects at sea usually remain an implicit assumption, an essential yet unstudied phase in the life of a collectible, here they take centre stage.

 Elsje van Kessel is Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews.  She holds a PhD from Leiden University, and is the author of The Lives of Paintings: Presence, Agency and Likeness in Venetian Art of the Sixteenth-Century (De Gruyter, 2017). She has received numerous fellowships, grants and awards: among others, an annual stipend at the Centre Allemand d’Histoire de l’Art, grants from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Museum and the Leverhulme Trust. Elsje’s research is broadly concerned with the viewing, use and display of early modern art. In her monograph The Lives of Paintings, she examines how and why people in Titian’s Venice treated certain paintings and other works of art as living beings.

Elsje’s current major research project is ‘Stolen Ships and Globalisation: Asian Material Culture in Europe c. 1600’. Recently awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, the project aims to study the circulation of Asian art objects between Portugal, England and Holland at the turn of the seventeenth century, in particular as a result of piracy and privateering.

Monday, 4th March - details to follow

Monday 13th May










The Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU