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. 



The Society for the History of Collecting has recently been formed to encourage communication among scholars in the field through its website 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



NEXT SEMINAR:  6 p.m. 

Monday, 16th April, 2018

Alice Otazzi will speak on:

«Les derniers venus sont aujourd’hui les premiers».

English prints collections in 18th-century Paris.

This paper aims to investigate the (re)discovery of English art in 18th-century Paris.  The English artistic tradition was not greatly admired in the previous centuries and it was just around the middle of the 18th century that an interest  developed towards this art. In a comparative approach that will involve both literature and philosophy, the principal promoters of Anglomania will be discussed, highlighting the interaction between general culture and artistic outcomes. The examination of Parisian sales catalogues and some French public archives will allow the identification of the presence of English works of art offering further reasons for reflecting the origin of a specific taste in connection to the concept of an English school, which will represent the discriminating factor in the analysis of the dynamics of the reception of the English school in 18th-century France.

Reconstructing a panorama which has been since underestimated, she will examine the presence of English works of art, predominantly prints, that dominated the Parisian scene during the 70’s and 80’s. Undertaking this investigation allows the outlining of English artists who were collected in France, bringing to light names nowadays almost unknown. Studying private (Marquis de Beringhen, Marquis de Paulmy, Duc de Richelieu, Princesse de Lamballe) and royal collections (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette) it will be possible to understand the reasons behind this practice of collecting and its evolution during the 18th century. At the beginning of the century, English prints were collected because of their specific technique, mezzotint or, later, crayon manner, and in the second half of the 18th century for the name of the artist himself or the subject they represent. Finally, some post-mortem inventories hold information on the display of these prints, enabling to deepen and complete the analysis of the collection of English prints in Paris.

Alice Ottazzi is currently a Teaching Assistant in History of Art Criticism and Museum Studies, Università degli Studi di Torino, Department  of Humanities.   Her PhD is in progress, jointly supervised by Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne.

She is also responsible for the section “Drawing” of the handbook Il Cricco Di Teodoro Itinerario nell’arte (Zanichelli Editore S.p.a., Bologna).   She was a contributor to the catalogue of the exhibition L’Europe et les mythes Grècs : Dessins du Musée du Louvre XVIème – XIXème siècles, exhibition curated by C. Loisel, Fondation Teloglion, Thessalonica, 2012 as well as Témoignages d’une condicio sine qua non. La réception des procédés de fixage des pastels dans la littérature artistique du XVIII siècle, in B. Jouves & A. Delaporte (Eds.), Réception critique de la restauration. XVIIIe-XXe siècles, Éditions du GRHAM, 2017.

Monday, 14th May

Barbara Pezzini will speak to us on

The truth about Agnew’s and Duveen (1900-1930)

Major private and public collections worldwide - such as the London National Gallery, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Washington National Gallery of Art - contain a wealth of pictures from the stock of art dealers Agnew’s and Duveen. Often works were purchased from one firm to the other or even held in joint stock. Famous pictures of shared provenance include Philip IV by Diego Velázquez (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Man with a Falcon by Titian (Omaha Museum of Art), and Portrait of James Christie by Thomas Gainsborough (Getty Museum, Los Angeles). Both Agnew’s and Duveen managed a conspicuous flow of works of art from London towards collectors in the United States, and both firms dealt in the same sectors of the art market: European old-masters and British eighteenth century portraits. 

The relationship between the two firms, however, has so far remained largely unexplored. Were Agnew’s and Duveen ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’, allies or opponents? Using hitherto unexplored primary sources from the Agnew’s archive at the National Gallery and the Duveen archive at the Getty Research Center, the paper will examine this question and present the origins and development of their relationship from 1900 to 1930. Agnew’s and Duveen’s rapport changed dramatically in these thirty years. In the early 1900s, when the newcomer Duveen captured the trust of the more senior Agnew’s, there was a respectful competition which evolved into a collaboration in the course of the 1910s. But in the 1920s Duveen’s attempted, in covert and not so covert manners, to annihilate Agnew’s, and this paper will investigate Duveen’s offensive strategies and Agnew’s coping mechanisms. In addition, and crucially for a seminar dedicated to collecting and display, this paper will focus on the relationship that both dealers fostered with public and private collectors, as it was essential to the survival, and instrumental to the demise, of their firms. 

Barbara Pezzini is a London-based art and cultural historian with a wide range of publications on the art market, including reconstructions of fin-de siècle exhibitions of British painting, the Futurist shows in London, the relationship between dealers and scholars in the early twentieth century and their interactions with the art press.   She is particularly interested in the study of the intersection of the art market with art criticism and art practice and how these are reflected in art prices.   Barbara is the recipient of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award between the National Gallery and the University of Manchester to study the relationship between the National Gallery and Agnew’s (1850-1950) and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Visual Resources.   She is also part of a joint National Gallery/King’s College London project on (re)presenting data from the stock books of  the dealers Thos. Agnew & Sons.

Monday, 4th June

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 cargos 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 my 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. My 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 cargos 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 objects’s journeys 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 a Lecturer in Art History at the University of St Andrews. She completed her Ph.D. at Leiden University, the Netherlands, in 2011, and held an annual stipend at the Centre Allemand d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris before moving to Scotland. She is the author of The Lives of Paintings: Presence, Agency and Likeness in Venetian Art of the Sixteenth-Century (De Gruyter, 2017). Elsje has received numerous fellowships, grants and awards: among others, grants from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Museum, and, most recently, a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.

Elsje’s research is broadly concerned with the viewing, use and display of art in early modern Europe. Ongoing research focuses on the art of display in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Venice, Paris, and Lisbon. Her major current research project, from which the present paper is drawn, looks at the circulation of Asian material culture between Portugal, England and Holland c. 1600. Further research and teaching interests include portraiture, early modern art theory, early museums, the visual arts in literature, and theories of presence and the agency of things.

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