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Something for Everyone: Seminars on the History of Collecting

Short Description

The Wallace Collection's curator of Glass, Limoges Painted Enamels and Earthenware, and early Furniture discusses their popular and insightful seminars on the History of Collecting.

Suzanne Higgott

Fine Art

Figure 1: The Great Gallery at Hertford House
Photograph by J. J. Thomson, c. 1888
© By kind permission of the Trustees of the Wallace Collection

Suzanne Higgott, London

The Wallace Collection's wide-ranging seminars on the History of Collecting* were inaugurated in 2003. Open to curators, academics, historians, archivists and all those with an interest in the subject, the seminars act as a forum for the presentation and discussion of new and current research into the history of collections and collecting.

The seminar series was established as part of the Wallace Collection's strong commitment to the research and study of the history of collections and collecting, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Paris and London. Although we expect that papers given at seminars will to some extent reflect the main collection areas within the Wallace Collection, we are keen to encourage contributions covering all aspects of the history of collecting, including:

  • Formation and dispersal of collections

  • Dealers, auctioneers and the art market

  • Collectors

  • Museums

  • Inventory work

  • Research resources

The seminars often present cutting-edge research, frequently around the time of the publication of a speaker’s book or an exhibition catalogue to which they have contributed. There really is something for everyone in the eclectic programme. In 2012, for example, you could have chosen from such diverse subjects as Brendan Cassidy expounding on 'Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798): Dealer in Antiquities and Old Masters', Rachel Parikh discussing 'Collecting in the Mughal Courts: Akbar and Jahangir' or Yvette Staelens speaking about 'Collecting the English Songscape: Cecil Sharp, folk music collector and photographer'. Perhaps you would have decided to attend them all!

Figure 2 (left): Sir Richard Wallace (1818-1890) aged 70. Photograph by J. J. Thomson, 1888
Figure 3 (right): The 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800-1870). Photograph by Etienne Carjat, 1855

Both images © by kind permission of the Trustees of the Wallace Collection.

Sometimes the subject of a seminar unravels like a detective story. This was the case in July 2012, during the run of the exhibition The English Prize: the capture of the Westmorland at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. One of the exhibition's curators, Lola Sánchez-Jáuregui Alpañés, traced for us the intriguing research project which had resulted in the identification of the original British Grand Tourists, dealers, collectors and artists who had consigned 50 crates of artworks, souvenirs and books to the British merchant ship Westmorland, bound from Livorno to London. In January 1779, two French warships captured the Westmorland, and its contents were unloaded in Malaga. These items were subsequently sold to King Carlos III of Spain, who gifted many of them to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, where they were carefully inventoried. Their history was forgotten until the late 1990s, when an investigation of the inventories and the deciphering of initials recorded on the crates enabled the identification of the people who had consigned the crates to the ship and the rediscovery of this fascinating story.

Figure 4: Seized at sea: 'The Capture of the Westmorland’ 
Photo: © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Image Source

Speakers regularly benefit from the specialist knowledge of seminar attendees. For example, when, in November 2013, Freya Gowrley, a PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh, gave a paper on 'A temple to travel: Grand Tour souvenirs in the collection of Jane and Mary Parminter at A la Ronde, Devon', she was able to benefit from the insights of a long-serving guide at the National Trust property, who had travelled from Devon to attend the seminar. Another very rewarding aspect of the seminars is the opportunity they afford to meet others with a shared passion for and knowledge of the history of collecting. Conversations can continue after the seminar has ended, perhaps over a drink with the speaker in a nearby bar.

A call for papers is sent out annually to organizations and institutions with an interest in the history of collecting. In 2013 the diverse range of seminars was given by speakers from the United Kingdom, the Continent and the United States. You can find a short description of the seminars due to be presented in 2014 below.

The seminars are held monthly, excluding August and December. They take place in the Wallace Collection’s Lecture Theatre between 17.30 and 19.00 on the last Monday of the month (rescheduled in May to avoid the Bank Holiday). Papers are generally 45-60 minutes long, followed by questions and discussion.

It is not necessary to book to attend the seminars, which are free. Shortly before each seminar an abstract is sent out to people who have registered their interest in the series. Should you wish to be on this mailing list, please contact:

Carmen Holdsworth-Delgado, Curatorial Assistant
The Wallace Collection
Manchester Square
London W1U 3BN
Tel: +44 (0)20 7563 9515

Seminars in the History of Collecting Programme 2014

The Wallace Collection, Lecture Theatre,
 5.30 pm

27th January:
Mia Jackson, Queen Mary, University of London:
Boulle the Connoisseur: An Incurable Mania

24th Feb:
Peter Humfrey, Emeritus Professor, School of Art History, University of St Andrews:
The Stafford Gallery at Cleveland House and the 2nd Marquess of Stafford as a collector

31st March:
Moya Carey, IHF Curator for the Iranian Collections, Asian Dept, V&A:
Singular Perfection at South Kensington: Collecting 'Persian Carpets' for the V&A, 1873-1893

28th April:
Alexandra Gerstein, Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Courtauld Gallery:
Thomas Gambier Parry (1816-1888) - Collecting the Gothic Revival

19th May:  
Rufus Bird, Deputy Surveyor of The Queen's Works of Art, Royal Collection Trust:
Gilt-bronze mounted porcelain in the British Royal Collection

30th June:
Angelica Groom, Associate Lecturer for the Open University and the University of Sussex:  
Animal collecting at the Medici court: deploying living and stuffed species as an inspiration for art

28th July:
Rachel Finnegan, Lecturer in Tourism & Heritage Studies in the School of Humanities,
Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland:
The 'Curious Collections' of the Reverend Doctor Richard Pococke (1704-1765)

29th September:
Matthew Withey, Curator at the Abbotsford Trust, Melrose:
Sir Walter Scott's home Abbotsford

27th October:
Stephen Lloyd, Curator of the Derby Collection, Knowsley Hall, Merseyside:
The Derby Collection at Knowsley Hall: formation, dispersal and revival

24th November:
Alessandro Nasini, Curator of Photographs, Royal Collection Trust:
Antiquities collected by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, during his 'Eastern Tour' in 1862