This article analyses the debates about the professionalisation of the study of British art between about 1950 and 1970, focusing predominantly on the activities of the Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, and its attempts to establish “foundations” for art history as an academic discipline in Britain. Art history in post-war Britain is commonly regarded as uninspiringly positivist. This article aims to situate this “pathos of positivism” (Lorraine Daston) within broader institutional debates: much of what is commonly regarded as a conservative streak in British art writing is better understood as an active attempt at “boundary-work” (Thomas Gieryn), carving out a niche for the discipline by contrasting it on the one hand with continental versions of art history, while aligning it on the other hand with similarly positivist and data-driven tendencies in British historical studies. In doing so, the article attempts to re-evaluate the history of British art history on its own terms.
Towards a History of British ArtDOI
When Kenneth Clark, in 1929, was approached to contribute to a new book series on the history of European Art, he declined, stating that such an endeavour would only produce “chaff of German scholarship”.1 Almost habitually, British art historians seem to have taken a self-deprecating stance, assuming their own efforts could not compare with the depth and rigour of continental scholarship. “Art-historical research” was in fact regularly denoted by a word borrowed from German: Kunstforschung.2 Through painstaking work in the archives and galleries of continental Europe, the Forscher (“researcher”) had established the historic outlines and developmental laws of the history of art. In comparison, the qualities of British scholarship seemed to lie in an application of a good dose of common sense. British art writers were—as one newspaper columnist put it in 1918—adept at “absorbing the essential points of [the specialists’] researches and in judging them by the aid of a keen eye and a clear brain”.3DOI
Such statements undoubtedly do a disservice to the rich and varied traditions of art-historical research in Britain.4 Yet they are clear evidence for a widespread sense of academic inferiority that was perhaps not entirely unfounded. The reasons for this were less intellectual than institutional ones: in Britain, art history was rarely taught at university level, while German universities were home to dozens of departments for art history, producing scores of ambitious graduates who continuously added volume upon volume of scrupulous art-historical research to the shelves. A scholar in early twentieth-century Britain who wanted to write on, say, the art of Raphael, had indeed to start by creating large tables to record and compare the expert opinions of dozens of Forscher (not all of them German, but also French and Italian), who had laboured at the coalface and extracted the historical facts from daunting archival depths (fig. 1). Writing about the history of art meant standing on the shoulders of giants—or, to phrase it less encouragingly, to collect the chaff left by the erudite and scrupulous Forscher.
But there was one area in the history of art where, as Ellis Waterhouse argued, there was yet no basis for “gleaning the chaff”: the history of British art.5 Or, as Benedict Nicolson phrased it in 1950: so “little is understood about [English art] that only the broad outlines […] attached by leading strings to constitutional and social history, can at this primitive stage be traced with any confidence”.6 For those interested in the history of British art, there was indeed little foundational literature to draw upon. Survey texts, such as Sir Walter Armstrong’s Art in Great Britain and Ireland (1909) opened, quite discouragingly, with the announcement that the “history of art in the British Isles […] still remains to be written”.7 Each chapter of Armstrong’s book offers not more than a few impressionistic ponderings on famous artists and British national character; it had little to offer in terms of factual discoveries that would have furthered research into the history of British art.8DOI
To many observers, it seemed as if British art was actively sidelined by academic scholarship. This criticism was directed, first and foremost, against the Courtauld Institute. Founded in 1932, it remained the only British institution offering an undergraduate degree in art history until the mid-1960s.9 Yet the art of the national school did not feature prominently on its curricula. The Courtauld’s initial course offerings indeed show a notable absence in this area: none of its “special subject” courses were devoted to British art (figs. 2 and 3). Few members of the teaching staff, dominated as it was by émigré scholars who had fled Nazi Europe, had deeper familiarity (or indeed interest) in modern British art.10 But among Britons, too, it was a common assumption that “in the pictorial arts this country’s achievement has […] been comparatively modest”.11 Many Courtauld students graduating in the post-war period remember the “lingering prejudice against British art at the time”.12 When Michael Kitson, in the early 1950s, told Anthony Blunt that he wanted to write a PhD on Joshua Reynolds, the Courtauld’s director just sniffed at him and said: “Certainly not. You’ll work on Claude Lorrain”.13
Since the mid-1960s, however, a growing number of British-trained art historians—many of whom were associated with the newly established Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art—set out to “revolutionise the whole study of British art”.14 They sought to develop the intellectual and institutional frameworks necessary for writing a scrupulous history of British art, and for reassessing the country’s artistic heritage. This “revolution” and its methodological discontents are the subject of this article. My aim is to shed new light on a period of art historiography that is commonly dismissed as uninspiringly positivist and thoroughly elitist. Until very recently, art history in Britain was commonly considered a stronghold of “patricians”, who were “public-school and Oxbridge educated, closely related in some cases to the aristocracy”; outrightly hostile to “theory” and cultural-historical interpretation, they were “concentrating instead on the physical particulars of individual works of art and on their documentation”—a staunch positivism that allegedly betrayed their “narrowness of vision”.15DOI
Much of British art history in the post-war period was indeed dominated by an explicit commitment to historical positivism. But, as I hope to demonstrate in the following, this was primarily driven by a desire to professionalise the study of art, and to match the expertise of continental scholarship—and thus to bring the study of British art on par with the work done on other national schools. I propose that there is an ethos to this positivism that is precisely not “patrician”, but rather characterised by a renunciatory streak that aimed to selflessly assemble data that could serve as the foundations for future research—what Aby Warburg once called “truffle pig services”.16 In this spirit, this article’s title—The Rise and Fall of the “Clerks”—alludes to Julien Benda’s famous essay La trahison des clercs, playing intentionally with the untranslatability of the word “clercs”.17 While the French word conveys a venerable intellectuality, the literal English equivalent—“clerks”—smacks of administrative pedantry. In a way, this was precisely what a range of British post-war art historians such as Ellis Waterhouse (1905–1985), Basil Taylor (1922–1975), or Oliver Millar (1923–2007) promoted. Their aim was to establish “fundaments of knowledge” by performing literally a clerical task: the systematic documentation of British art.18DOI
Historiography frequently juxtaposes this commitment to positivism unfavourably with continental approaches, in particular the interdisciplinary “cultural history” developed by the Warburg school.19 British “pragmatism” and hostility to theory is indeed a trope cherished by Britons and foreigners alike, and many have thus contrasted English common sense and German idealism as opposing world-views.20 This article aims to challenge such a dichotomy between “continental” and “insular” modes of writing art history. The relation between Germanic and British approaches to the history of art was, I will argue, rather more nuanced. Though many British art historians aimed indeed to develop a genuinely “national” methodology that steered clear from certain continental approaches, they emulated at the same time the great tradition of German historical positivism which also enjoyed renewed attention in British historical studies of the 1960s.DOI
When viewed in a broader, comparative perspective, the positivism of the “clerks” appears not so much as a uniquely British approach, but as a typical early step towards the institutionalisation of art history in any country’s academe. British art history, however, indeed experienced a belated institutionalisation, meaning that, to many, it appeared out of step with developments elsewhere. In the 1960s, British art increasingly also attracted the attention of American scholars (and collectors)—many of whom had much fewer qualms about a theory-driven, and indeed often speculative, approach to art. In a final step, this article argues that the activities of the “clerks” can also be understood as a defensive gesture. By insisting on the need for comprehensive documentation, the “clerks” hoped to defend their (national) patch of expertise against a takeover from overseas.
Fundaments of KnowledgeDOI
DOI The rise in fortunes for the study of the history of British art is closely connected with the initiatives and ambitions of one man: Paul Mellon. As Douglas Fordham stated, “few academic disciplines have been as profoundly impacted by the patronage of a single individual as that of British art history”.21 Mellon was heir to one of America’s biggest business fortunes and, as the son of an English mother, he was familiar with British culture since his childhood. During his student days in Cambridge, he became an avid Anglophile with a particular penchant for horse racing and shooting.22 From the late 1950s, he amassed a substantial collection of British art, focusing in particular on eighteenth-century painting. In 1962, he founded the Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art (PMF), the brainchild of the art historian Basil Taylor, who became its first director (fig. 4).23 Taylor had previously worked in a variety of roles for the BBC, the Royal College of Art, and as advisor to Paul Mellon’s collecting activities. As the PMF’s first director, he set out to devise an ambitious programme for promoting research in the history of British art. Taylor contended that the foundation’s primary aim was to “increase[e] the authoritative literature on the subject” of British art.24 This is evidently an understatement. The foundation indeed published books—some still held in high regard today. But in order to enable scholars to increase the body of “authoritative literature”, the foundation also set up an extensive programme of grant-giving to both individuals and institutions. It simultaneously worked towards building an infrastructure to facilitate future research by means of creating a photographic collection and editing reference works on British art history. Lastly, the PMF aimed to create training opportunities for a new generation of professional art historians by sponsoring two lectureships in British art at the universities of York and Leicester.DOI
All of these activities were designed, as quoted, to establish the “fundaments of knowledge” that would lay the ground for future studies on British art.25 For Taylor, this meant not only developing institutional frameworks, but also cultivating a distinct methodological approach, suited for the study of the British school. As he wrote in 1955: the “historian of art whose interests and training have been controlled by a study of continental conditions and the sequence of continental styles may well find uninteresting, even unimportant what is, in fact, most characteristic of English art”.26 Taylor was a specialist in the art of George Stubbs and sporting art more broadly—a very English genre indeed. For this subject area, neither Wölfflinian “history of style” or Warburgian “iconology” seemed adequate tools, as both were shaped and devised according to the conditions of Italian Early Modern art.DOI
For scholars whose eyes were conditioned to identify and analyse erudite neoplatonic symbolism, much of British art history seemed somewhat plain. Consequently, when writing about British art, German-trained art historians focused predominantly on those instances where “British Art and the Mediterranean” (the title of a highly successful exhibition organised by the Warburg Institute in 1941) intersected.27 The result was necessarily an odd picture of modern British art, with only one plate (no. 61) devoted to William Hogarth; Godfrey Kneller and Thomas Gainsborough briefly mentioned once or twice (plates 52, 69); and George Stubbs or Joseph Wright of Derby not featuring at all.28 Scholars such as Edgar Wind rather focused on “Grand Manner” painting, and the reception of continental art theory in works such as Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses. This allowed them to write an intellectual history of British art that was aligned with the Warburg school’s more traditional priorities, such as classical receptions and pictorial symbolism. Studying the works of Reynolds, Wind, for example, proposed a correlation between the paintings and ideas and arguments found in philosophy, notably David Hume, but also Alexander Pope and Giordano Bruno.29DOI
For a historian of British sporting art (or of topographic landscape painting, or of portraiture), such approaches promised very limited rewards. But this does not mean that Taylor and many of his colleagues were not intrigued by the achievements and protocols of Germanic scholarship—quite the contrary. What British art historians were attracted by was, however, not the sophistication of iconological analysis, but the German knack for sober, uncompromising, factual research—what Michael Kitson once called the “Teutonic Genius for cataloguing and compilation on a gargantuan scale”, an outlook that he described as blithely disinterested in “theory”.30DOI
This spirit of “compilation” was personified by men such as Fritz Saxl, the Director of the Warburg Institute, whose scholarly life was dedicated to meticulous research for a monumental Catalogue of Astrological and Mythological Illuminated Manuscripts of the Latin Middle Ages.31 The projects fostered by the Warburg Institute in London were similarly encyclopaedic and included a Bibliography on the Survival of the Classics, the Corpus Platonicum Medii Aevi, and a never-realised encyclopaedia of the Middle Ages.32 All these endeavours are united by a penchant for large-scale cataloguing work, documenting, and systematising vast amounts of information.33 Notably, such efforts were met with fierce disapproval from more philosophically minded Warburgians such as Edgar Wind, who thought that Saxl’s projects “would reduce a whole generation of scholars into compilers”.34DOI
Many other art-historical émigrés, such as the medievalist Otto Pächt or the Byzantinist Hugo Buchthal produced similar feats, systematising an “appallingly great number of items”, as the latter described his own task.35 None of these projects surpassed, however, the scale of another émigré’s labours. Beginning in 1950, Nikolaus Pevsner systematically catalogued the built environment of England, producing an astonishing forty-six guidebooks organised by region in the series Buildings of England over twenty-five years.36 Basil Taylor was Pevsner’s producer on the BBC’s Third Programme, and it seems entirely plausible that Pevsner’s initiatives provided a model for Taylor’s aims for the PMF.37 Taylor responded enthusiastically to Pevsner’s initial proposals, and suggested immediately to take his fieldtrips to the buildings of England as the basis for a new BBC production on “rural rides”.38DOI
Saxl’s and Pevsner’s was a form of historical positivism that resonated with the very “pragmatism” that, to many, defined “Englishness” both in art and thought.39 A commitment to large-scale projects of documentation and cataloguing allowed for promoting an “English” method for “English” art—while embracing the key virtues of continental Forschung at the same time. What Pevsner did for architecture, the PMF hoped to do for the visual and applied arts. Its flagship endeavour was a dictionary of British artists. In at least ten volumes, the project hoped to index and document all British “painters in oil and watercolours” (as well as selected miniaturists, book-illustrators, caricaturists, and engravers), from the 1530s to the early twentieth century.40 A prospectus demonstrates the enormous ambitions of the project, with many entries copiously illustrated and referenced (figs. 5 and 6). The Dictionary of British Artists was intended as a comprehensive reference work. In its initial stages, little energy was spent on the actual researching of entries; the focus was the systematic sourcing of artist names from records such as historic exhibitions catalogues or local directories. The result are staggering lists of unknowns—from “Abbeyson, M. (fl. 1828)” over “Allwood (fl. 1776)” to “Andrews Miss C. (fl. 1799)”. Many of these names have only a single mention in the archival record, for example, in an exhibition catalogue (fig. 7).41 But historical unimportance was no argument for exclusion: Taylor repeatedly argued for the need for data-driven “statistical research”—for example, a compilation and quantitative analysis of the contributions to the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy or Society of Arts.42 The aim was to create “big data” resources that would provide a valuable infrastructure: material to be mined by future researchers of the history of British art.
The establishment of the foundation’s photographic archive pointed in the same direction. In March 1964, the PMF hired a photographer who was tasked with systematically documenting little-known works of British art, for example, paintings passing through the London salesrooms.43 The ambition (and cost) of this endeavour was enormous: the PMF attempted nothing less than to systematically create “a complete photographic record” of certain areas of British art, for example, English prints.44DOI
The foundation also sponsored photographic campaigns on individual artists, normally under the direction of scholars external to the PMF, who were working towards a catalogue raisonné; photography for these projects was carried out for them by the foundation as a “grant-in-kind”. One such project was the catalogue raisonné of Allan Ramsay, directed by Alastair Smart, professor at Nottingham University. The correspondence between Smart and the PMF highlights the latter’s intent on casting the net as wide as possible. The photographic campaigns explicitly extended to works that were unlikely to be by Ramsay, as well as to works that Smart himself had never seen. The intention was to create a resource that aims beyond the “proximate” goal of establishing a catalogue of Ramsay’s works. Smart argued that it “would be extremely useful to have documentation of pseudo-Ramsays”, in order to work towards a much more comprehensive documentation of art in Britain.45 The staff of the PMF agreed, couching the benefits of such a procedure once again in the language of “data”: a “very comprehensive campaign of photography […] could produce valuable data for scholars”.46DOI
In the eyes of some critics, this mode of operation bordered on being “an uncritical assembly of everything called British”.47 For Taylor, however, this lack of selection criteria (beyond the required “Britishness”) was a necessary consequence of the task at hand. Taylor’s commitment to documentation demonstrates a clear distinction between method and knowledge. The Paul Mellon Foundation’s aim was to provide “fundaments of knowledge” by performing literally a clerical task—building the resources, data, and statistics that could subsequently be selected and analysed by others. The PMF’s own activities thus operated purely on a propaedeutical level, acting as a service provider administering a corpus of “big data”, for the benefit of future scholarship.
The Pathos of PositivismDOI
DOI The work of the PMF was but one example for the penchant for foundational (“clerical”) projects that dominated British art historiography in the post-war years. Many outcomes of these labours have indeed become classic reference works in their field, for example, Howard Colvin’s Biographical Dictionary of English Architects, 1954.48 Almost all of them are characterised by an ethos of discipline and austerity. In 1946, Oliver Millar, then aged 23, began a “Journal of Historical Portraits of the Stuart Period [Principally], Noted in Visits to Private Collections and Public Galleries of which no catalogue was available” (fig. 8).49 This was the beginning of a lifetime of gallery visits, dedicated to assembling a comprehensive corpus of the historic genre he had set out to study. Millar’s early entries are still flavoured by aesthetic delight in the treasures he encountered, and he gushed about “priceless pictures of Continental schools—Velazquez, Rubens, Botticelli, Cimabue, Titian, Giorgione and Goya”.50 Over the years, such moments of surprise and enjoyment are increasingly voiced not with an authorial “I”, but with an impersonal “one”, and relegated into a distanced category of experience.51 Many of Millar’s visits were evidently conducted under “slightly hurried” conditions, and the manifest pressure to achieve comprehensive coverage.52 Pevsner often felt the same when surveying and cataloguing whole country houses in a mere twenty minutes or so.53 Contemplative enjoyment was not the prerogative of the systematic gatherer of factual information.DOI
It is perhaps no coincidence that many British art historians of the post-war period had worked, for periods at least, in libraries, or similar professions dedicated to information management rather than interpretative scholarship. Taylor, for example, worked as librarian at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s. Another example is Christopher Wright, who worked for the Courtauld’s Witt Library. From the 1970s, he compiled finding aids such as Old Master Paintings in Britain: An Index of Continental Old Master Paintings Executed before c.1800 in Public Collections in the United Kingdom (1976).54 In preparing this book, Wright systematically wrote to curators of collections, asking them for lists of the works in their possession, which he edited and published. He programmatically stayed away from any synthesis or assessment, for example, by critiquing or discussing attributions. Reviewers were justly awed by the “heroic amount of work” that went into producing such a “compilation”.55 At the same time, they were puzzled by the dutiful yet indiscriminatory way of compiling information, indicating that the author was a decent librarian but a poor art historian: “Mr Wright has simply not asked himself enough questions”.56DOI
But asking questions is precisely not the clerk’s domain. For many, the format of an interpretative and summative monograph was indeed not the epitome of scholarly aspiration. In 1941, Waterhouse published his first book on Joshua Reynolds. He began by stating that the “ideal book on Reynolds would run to about four fat volumes and would record all the sittings and the days of the month of each”.57 The art historian’s aim was comprehensive documentation, not biographical or aesthetic appreciation. Waterhouse’s book thus provides only a short biographical essay and a long (though provisional) checklist of works, with additional indices of sitters and collections. The book’s purpose is primarily to serve as “useful” tool enabling future work.58 Other scholars followed a similar pattern. Alastair Smart, for example, first published a monographic study of Allan Ramsay in 1952, expressing his hope that a more comprehensive “large Catalogue” was yet to follow.59 Art historians such as John Pope-Hennessy concurred and evoked a similar dichotomy between (pleasant) narrative and (serious) documentation: Kenneth Clark’s The Gothic Revival (1962) might be an interesting work of “the history of ideas”, but only his catalogue of the Leonardo drawings in Windsor Castle was considered as “real history”.60DOI
Such statements indicate a programmatic disentanglement of historiographic “narrative” (the interpretative presentation of insights), and positivist “fact”, that is, the foundational groundwork enabling future interpretative writing. Waterhouse is a prime example for such a practice; in 1962, he published Italian Baroque Painting. As the preface informs the reader, there “are no footnotes in this book, because it is meant to be that kind of book”. The guiding principle, Waterhouse alleges, is “to look at pictures for the pleasures they give”; only occasionally the author made “a necessary concession to the history of art” by including works that might be historically significant but aesthetically lacking.61 This “easy literary style” has been praised as Waterhouse’s most characteristic contribution—and celebrated as the kind of gentlemanly insouciance that many regard as quintessential for a British art writer, for better or worse.62 Waterhouse clearly cultivated this identity with publications such as Italian Baroque Painting—but this self-stylisation also reveals a split scholarly personality. Waterhouse also researched books such as Roman Baroque Painting (1937)—as the subtitle informs, “a list of the principal painters and their works in and around Rome”.63 Here he publishes a repository of facts, compiled during extensive fieldwork in Roman churches—a work that has little of the air of his more essayistic publications. Publishing lists is rather, once more, a clear invitation for others to take up the line of enquiry—and to potentially reap the fruits of Waterhouse’s foundational research.DOI
This ethos was behind the many “check lists” that Waterhouse published, whether on Roman churches, Reynolds, or Gainsborough. By definition, the “check list” is not a polished catalogue, but (as the title of Waterhouse’s seminal publication on Gainsborough stated) a “preliminary” inventory—an open notebook (or rather: card index) of an individual researcher.64 Publishing a checklist precisely did not mean to record a definitive state of knowledge. Instead, each checklist was intended to open a conversation, and new avenues for future research. This offer was indeed taken up, and after publication of a checklist, many correspondences ensued.65 The checklist, in short, was a multiplier, a medium to solicit collaboration and further data input by other interested parties. They were also an attempt to break the “comparative isolation” in which students of British art were working—an instrument for initiating dialogue and exchange.66DOI
Once again, this is a spirit shared with émigré scholars such as Fritz Saxl, who ended many of his articles, for example, on the Celtic Ruthwell Cross, on a humble note, describing his own research as a preliminary unearthing of facts, done in the hope that “others surveying the whole field afresh […] will be in a better position to advance final solutions”.67 The ideal method for tackling the most salient research questions was consequently seen in collaborative forms of research, as each field of study “surpasses necessarily the powers of a single person”.68DOI
Both Saxl and Waterhouse (and Taylor, and Millar) shared a research ethos that Lorraine Daston described as the “pathos of positivism”.69 Historical scholarship in nineteenth-century Germany in particular praised the accumulation of archival “data”, to be exploited by future generations, as the epitome of academic integrity. Exemplary for this spirit were institutions such as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, collecting and editing all documents on Germanic medieval history, or the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes (the precursor of the modern Max Planck Institutes). These institutions were also held in high regard among British historians and were championed as the blueprint for the future of historical research in Britain. Support for this model of Germanic scholarship was voiced regularly at the highest echelons of British historical studies. At the turn of the century, John Bagnell Bury, Regius chair in Cambridge argued that “a complete assemblage of the smallest facts of human history will tell in the end” the “truth”. But this is a “labour […] performed for posterity—for remote posterity”.70 Assembly of “big data” is praised as the epitome of a disinterested ethos of research, as a selfless, truly scientific activity: “if we draw what conclusions we can for the satisfaction of our own generation, we never forget that our work is to be used by future ages”.71 Historiography is always preliminary, and what lasts is only the data mined—not its interpretation.DOI
This ethos found fresh purchase in the post-war years, for example, in an address to the Royal Historical Society by David Knowles, the Regius Professor of History at Cambridge. In a survey of the “Great Historical Enterprises”, he programmatically included projects such as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, in order to redeem “German historical scholarship” that “was for long unduly neglected in this country”.72 Knowles promoted the ideal that historical research should be primarily documentation—guided not by individual research interests, but by a duty to document for posterity. 73 Such methodological statements were aimed to counter the popular “Whig interpretation of history”, where, as Herbert Butterfield had argued influentially in the early 1930s, a master-narrative on Britannia’s rise and glory had taken precedence over factual details.74 In post-war Britain, leading historians such as John Ernest Neale and Stanley Thomas Bindoff argued for an analytic approach to the past that would break down big narratives into small factual areas of study—for example, through prosopographic studies of a large number of individuals.75 The spirit of flagship historical projects such as the new History of Parliament (based on thousands of individual biographical entries) was not entirely dissimilar to the ideal embodied by the Paul Mellon Foundation’s Dictionary of British Artists.DOI
In this context, the aims of scholars such as Basil Taylor might thus appear less of an anomaly than when compared to the writings of contemporaneous art historians such as, say, Edgar Wind and Erwin Panofsky. Within British historical studies, his aims and methodological tenets were indeed cutting-edge. When Taylor, in 1964, argued for the need for “statistical” research, he was at the forefront of thinking about the need for more “numerical study” that many concurred “must soon become important to everyone seriously interested in social change”.76 This was also strategically savvy, as it allowed for integrating art history into the academic canon: at most universities, the subject was first taught as a subsidiary to British history.77. A focus on document-based, prosopographic and monographic projects undoubtedly helped to embed art-historical research in existing departmental frameworks, and to secure allies in more established disciplines. The PMF’s decision to fund the University of Leicester seems a direct result of such considerations. Here, an important contact for Taylor was William George Hoskins, founder of the Department of English local history.78 Local history had seen a substantial increase in academic interest since the 1950s, as it afforded a small-scale, forensic frame of enquiry that stayed clear of the big narratives of whiggish national history.79DOI
The art-historical “pathos of positivism” can thus also be understood as an attempt at building institutional frameworks for a subject that still had little standing in British academia. Art history, in the eyes of many, was still “open to suspicion”, and had to continuously prove its credentials as “serious” field of study.80 Taylor, too, conceded that British art history of the 1960s was “obviously a very soft subject indeed”.81 Appealing to the language of “data” thus seems to be a classic example of what science studies have described as “boundary-work”: an attempt to define what counts as science and what does not.82 Aligning the subject firmly with the conventions of “serious” historical scholarship was a viable route for overcoming the common perception of art history as a slight and impressionistic subject.DOI
In many respects, British art history in the 1960s went through a process of negotiating its disciplinary identity in the same way as it had been done several decades earlier—but along similar lines of argument—in other countries, from Germany to Poland to Mexico.83 In most international academes, a “propaedeutic” phase of documentation served as the first step towards an institutionalisation of the subject—commonly conjoined with an appeal to the need for preservation and appreciation of national heritage.84 When regarded from such a comparative, structural perspective, the work of the “clerks” appears not only less unusual, but also less “English” than some liked to think.DOI
The “pathos of positivism” with its emphasis on historic research as a supra-individual task also cultivated a more direct way to build institutional frameworks. Projects such as the Dictionary of British Artists were built on the premise of collaborative research. A project of this scale “inevitably entails soliciting the co-operation of curators and librarians and of making full use of the facilities for research which they are willing to provide”.85 The Foundation itself mainly assumed a “clerical”, administrative function, for example, by sending questionnaires about their holdings to local archives, libraries, and museums (figs. 9, 10 and 11). The PMF staff also liaised with “Regional Contacts”, who recommended local research assistants and began to compile comprehensive lists of artists by area.86 Such a decentralised gathering of information resulted—almost as a by-product—in a survey of the state of art-historical (or perhaps: antiquarian) scholarship across the country. Local institutions were thus connected with and embedded in a national framework, resonating again with the increased appreciation of local history. The PMF invested deliberately and decisively into the regions by granting substantial financial support to smaller museums and heritage societies.87 This was also reflected in the decision to support lectureships in the history of British art at the universities of Leicester and York—both relatively recent foundations in the Midlands and North of England respectively.
In this intellectual climate, “synthesis” was a common smear word, decrying a form of impressionistic essayism that the serious scholars strove to overcome. Taylor, in particular, cultivated an almost pathological aversion against any attempt at summarising a subject before the facts were established in their fullest extent. His scorn was even poured over thoroughly positivist endeavours such as the Oxford History of English Art, one of the earliest attempts to systematically survey the nation’s art history. Published in nine volumes from 1949 to 1978, the series was edited by the former director of the Courtauld Institute, the medievalist Tom Boase. There is a certain antiquarian flair to many of these books, and most reviewers—justly perhaps—found them dominated by “too many facts and too few sparks of insights”.88 Boase’s own “method” was, as Kenneth Garlick remarked, “microscopic” and enumerative: he was seemingly unwilling to identify “underlying causes” of historic developments, or structure the narrative around “dominant themes”—historiography not as explanation but documentation.89 And yet, Taylor’s criticism of Boase’s volume on nineteenth-century art was exceedingly harsh, and he judged the “result as far as the survey of painting is concerned […] ludicrous and disastrous”.90 Taylor evidently deemed any attempt to summarise this vast area as premature: “it will be very easy to dash ahead into projects and enterprises which are really too ambitious for the present stage of knowledge and which will in consequence be built upon the sand”. Unfailingly, Taylor advocated for more groundwork instead of “glamorous schemes” that might seem “prestigious”, yet should be considered wholly unserious.91DOI
In making such statements, Taylor firmly aligned himself not only with the German tradition of “compilation”, but also with the “modernists” in British historical studies pushing back against the “Whig interpretation of history”. At the same time, he positioned himself clearly against another academic tradition, namely, American art history. Since the mid-1960s, the study of British art had almost become “an academic fashion” in the United States.92 The American university system boomed from the 1930s and its significant financial and intellectual power became a major factor for the development of British art history.93 The canon of British art was decidedly shaped by the buying interests of Americans, and many contemporaries quite naturally ascribed the re-evaluation of artists such as Wright of Derby or Reynolds to this influence.94DOI
For many art historians, the United States was a mecca of opportunities. In the 1930s, countless “Hitler émigrés” found positions, often in regional institutions such as the University of Iowa (William Heckscher), Oberlin College in Ohio (Wolfgang Stechow), or the University of Louisville (Richard Krautheimer).95 Naming these institutions is not just a matter of historical curiosity, but it can also demonstrate just how widespread art history as a discipline was in American higher education. For British scholars, North America was equally attractive. An astonishing number of high-profile British art historians have either trained or worked in the United States: Pope-Hennessy first taught in Yale in 1955 and Waterhouse studied (with a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship) at Princeton, under Frank Jewett Mather.96 Benedict Nicolson spent six months as an intern at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, where he first underwent practical training cataloguing Italian drawings.97 The list could be continued. Funding from institutions such as Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies was equally important for British academics such as Alastair Smart.98 Taylor, too, benefited from American money—even before he worked for Paul Mellon, he had received a grant from the Ford Foundation.99 For British scholars seeking more permanent employment, America was also exceedingly attractive, since academic job opportunities on home soil were still few and far between.100 Even established scholars such as W.G. Constable, director of the Courtauld Institute, were willing to leave Britain for positions on the East Coast. Well into the 1960s, lecture tours in the United States were paraded with pride on dust jackets of book publications and provided the recipient of such invitations with a handsome additional income.101 In 1977, Waterhouse summarised: art historians have “been accepted as a valid kind of human being for much longer in the United States than […] in England”.102DOI
In the field of British art studies, however, the vigour and volume of American scholarship seems to have been frequently perceived as a threat to local fiefdoms. In reviewing American scholarship, British art historians almost habitually seem to highlight differences in national temperament, as a way of discrediting the research efforts from overseas. In 1955, for example, Paul Oppé (a renowned specialist and collector of British works on paper) penned a scathing review of a monograph on Thomas Girtin, with an introductory essay by a young American art historian, David Loshak. Apart from a long list of detailed objections on connoisseurial questions, Oppé also launched a series of attacks ad hominem, discrediting Loshak’s work as a poorly revised thesis—“presented for an M.A. degree, not a doctorat”. More importantly, however, Oppé characterises the American’s research as the product of “an alien atmosphere and at a distance from the original drawings”, leading almost necessarily to “distortions of fact and theory”.103 In other words, British art researched by non-Britons is necessarily suspect.DOI
It is easy to see why Oppé did not like the book. Loshak explicitly stated that he attempted “to go beyond the minutiae of connoisseurship and biography; to look at phenomena of style from a broad historical standpoint”.104 In order to achieve this, the author constructed abstract, classifying categories, such as an “Elegiac School [of drawing], in which the degree of psychical distance […] was commonly attained during the Romantic period”; landscape idylls become evidence of a “neurotic, escapist art”, and are seen as symptomatic for “a generation historically destined to struggle for […] freedom”.105 Loshak’s book was meant as a “corrective” to an art history that relies on the “bare bones of undisputed fact”—that is, everything that Oppé and many of his British peers valued.106DOI
Taylor had similar feelings about American scholarship, which he regarded as detached from the firm factual footing required for sound research. One such example was the exhibition Romantic Art in Britain, curated by Frederick Cummings and Robert Rosenblum at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1968. The curator’s broad statements about the “leading characteristics of the Romantic period” were, predictably, not to Taylor’s liking. He judged the catalogue “a rather frightening document”, evidence of “perfervid speculation”. Once more, this unfortunate characteristic seems part and parcel of the transatlantic spirit: “I think perhaps it is easier for us over here to recognise how much we do not know and have to learn”.107 Detached from the soil and source, American scholars are thus tout court declared prone to ungrounded speculation.DOI
An interesting shift has taken place here. In earlier decades, the anathema for any pragmatic British researcher was the “mystical emotional Monism of the Germans”—epitomised in its most clichéd form in Thomas Carlyle’s Professor Teufelsdrockh (the main character of his novel Sartor Resartus).108 But, by the 1950s, the baton seems to have been passed on to the Americans, many of whom had embraced the broad, culturalist interpretations promoted by approaches such as Erwin Panofsky’s iconological method. In Britain, on the other hand, fact-loving émigrés such as Fritz Saxl shared their host nation’s suspicions about Panofsky and his “general reflections about the Renaissance spirit etc.”.109 Such attitudes resonated surprisingly well with British scepticism against the “dizzying aether known as the history of ideas”.110DOI
Ironically, both Oppé and Taylor were heavily involved with North American collectors. Oppé served as advisor to the National Gallery Canada and secured them important pieces on the London market.111 Taylor, as advisor to Paul Mellon, was of course even more complicit in the “drain of works of art from Great Britain”, that had long been bemoaned in the national press and among researchers alike.112 This might be an indicator that Oppé’s and Taylor’s anti-Americanism was less a true conviction than a defensive gesture: an attempt to defend a fiefdom under threat. While British researchers still assembled their “patient and widespread” repositories of facts, American scholars were storming ahead with their takes on British history and heritage—and garnered more public attention than the British efforts ever managed to attract.DOI
The differences in agenda and approach became apparent in 1964, when the Paul Mellon Foundation organised a three-day conference on British art at Yale University. When it came to assessing the state of play, the American perspective on the subject could not have differed more strongly from the received wisdom cultivated in Britain. Robert Wark (Huntington Museum) opened the session on eighteenth-century art by declaring that the “eighteenth century has probably been the most intensively studied period of English art”; future research should thus prioritise “studies dealing with ideas, trends, or broad general topics”, as well as the “intellectual and theoretical background” of individual artists.113 Scholars such as George Heard Hamilton (Clark Art Institute) seconded this, criticising much of the older literature for “ignor[ing] the symbolic content of their subject”.114 Robert Rosenblum, in a similar manner, highlighted the need for “thematic rather than monographic studies”, as well as “the importance of not viewing British art in isolation”.115 This is a striking contrast to the priorities of most British delegates.116 Peter Newton (University of York) hoped to gain new insights “simply by analyzing a large amount of new material”117; Dennis Farr (Tate Gallery) “called for the establishment of an archive on British art along the same lines as the Dutch Bureau or the Archives of American Art”.118 Taylor finally suggested a “critical bibliography of books of travel and tours”.119 Compared to the ambitious ideas of his American colleagues, this must have sounded like a parochial and comparatively unimportant project.DOI
By the mid-1960s, the study of British art was threatened to be overtaken by this new art-historical force. The British side’s insistence on the preliminary state of the field, and the need for additional “foundational” research thus seems like an academic’s version of Penelope’s thread: a stalling tactic to slow down the advance of a superior force. The plea for positivism increasingly began to resemble what Anthony Grafton has so memorably described as the reaction of a “slow-footed fullback” to the “evasive tactics of a fast-moving striker. Just kick the legs out from under your opponents—show that they have misread, or misinterpreted the documents—and you need not bother to refute their arguments”.120
This constellation leaves the legacy of the “clerks” in an ambiguous and precarious position. On the one hand, they considerably advanced the study of art history in Britain and worked towards building institutional frameworks. An astonishing range of modern university departments—many of them at the new “plate glass universities”—were founded by scholars who had moved in the orbit of the “clerks”, or benefited from their work. And yet, this belated institutionalisation left British art history in an uneasy “contemporaneity of the non-contemporaneous”—to use a phrase popularised by the philosopher Ernst Bloch.121 While British scholars put in place the institutional frameworks for their subject, their international partners had moved on to a different ethos of research.DOI
After the Yale conference, it was almost another decade until T.J. Clark and others launched their polemical attacks on the “old” art history122—and a full fifteen years before new debates on the future of the study of British art upset the field in the most dramatic way—the vitriolic response to David Solkin’s exhibition on Richard Wilson in 1982 being the much-cited turning point.123 And yet, a wind of change had already reached Britain’s shores in the 1960s from across the Atlantic. In a 1968 review of Benedict Nicolson’s monograph Wright of Derby, Lawrence Gowing (then Professor of Fine Art in Leeds) wrote in a defensive tone that Nicolson’s tome very much engages with themes such as “social history”—only to praise, in the following sentence, the author’s “relaxed, untiring way” of writing. For Gowing, there is no doubt that Wright’s art, in its essence, is not about “the social relation between this and that or the intellectual other”, but about “something simpler […] yet ultimately not less grand”. But support for such an approach was dwindling; Gowing felt a growing horde of more theory-minded scholars breathing down his neck: “the iconologists, sociologists, patronage experts and provenance men [will] be down on one like a load of bricks”.124DOI
When Benedict Nicolson died in 1978, a tribute was published in the Burlington Magazine, the publication he had edited for over thirty years. Here, he is praised in the now-familiar categories, as “an historian, devoted to establishing the framework of documented fact about artists”. Nicolson is lauded as stalwart of “objective and impartial scholarship”, and as one of the key innovators who accelerated the development of British historiography “from an amateur to a more professional approach”.125 The article was signed by “J.B. Bury”. The author, John Bernhard Bury, was a prolific amateur art historian who published extensively on Latin American art, besides having a successful career as an oil executive.126 For his note on Nicolson, he chose to sign only with his initials. It seems as if he tried to channel the legacy of his grandfather of the almost same name: John Bagnell Bury, the great historian of the Byzantine empire and, as seen, a champion of historical “truth”, uncovered by rigorous, data-driven historiography. Five years after the publication of Hayden White’s Metahistory (1973), such statements had become an anachronism, driven by a truculent nostalgia that was ill-suited for drumming up support for the old priorities, legitimate as they may have been.DOI
In 1970, the Paul Mellon Foundation was re-formed as the “Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art”, an organisational change necessitated by the excesses of Basil Taylor’s unchecked spending. The new organisation was run under the auspices of another of Mellon’s foundations, the Yale Center for British Art, and pursued a more prudent approach to grant-giving. This also led to a shift in intellectual priorities. By 1974, the Centre’s leadership argued that “much more emphasis should be put on general interpretation, and that we should try to avoid the kind of monograph which has a narrowly conceived introductory essay followed by a catalogue raisonné”.127 The ethos of the “clerks” had fallen victim to the tides of time: they might have been pioneering builders of institutional frameworks, but their legacy was almost immediately overshadowed by the fact that much of their work was perceived as intellectually outdated by their international peers.
The research for this article was supported by the Paul Mellon Centre’s “Research Collections Fellowship” 2021/22. My thanks to Charlotte Brunskill, Mark Hallett, and Martin Postle for their advice and support.
About the author
Hans C. Hönes is Senior Lecturer in art history at the University of Aberdeen. He has published extensively on art historiography since the eighteenth century, and has written and edited books on: Heinrich Wölfflin (Wölfflins Bild-Körper, 2011), eighteenth-century antiquarianism (Kunst am Ursprung, 2014), and art history and migration (Migrating Histories of Art, co-ed. 2019), among others. A new biography of Aby Warburg (Tangled Paths. A Life of Aby Warburg) will be published by Reaktion Books in spring 2024. His research in the history of art history in Britain was supported by a Research Collections Fellowship 2021/22 by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
Quoted after James Stourton, Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilization (London: Collins, 2016), 75.1
Benedict Nicolson, Diary: Jan–June 1939, Paul Mellon Centre (PMC) Archive, LBN/1/13 (entry Thursday 10 January). See also Susie Harries, Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life (London: Chatto & Windus, 2011), 138; and Roger Fry, “Art-History as an Academic Study”, Last Lectures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939), 2.2
Anon., “Death of Sir Walter Armstrong: Art Critic and Writer”, Times, 9 August 1918, 9.3
On British art writing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries see, most recently: Hans Christian Hönes, “Untranslatable: Gottfried Kinkel, ‘Kulturgeschichte’ and British Art Historiography”, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 84, no. 2 (2021): 248–68; and Sam Rose, Art and Form: From Roger Fry to Global Modernism (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019).4
Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1530–1790 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1952), xiii.5
Benedict Nicolson, “Editorial”, Burlington Magazine 92 (March 1950): 63.6
Walter Armstrong, Art in Great Britain and Ireland (New York: Scribner, 1909), v. Armstrong’s book served as a textbook for a course on “History and Theory of Fine Art” at Aberdeen University in the 1920s/1930s; see Aberdeen University Calendar 1931/32, 195.7
See the critique in Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1530–1790, xiii.8
Benedict Nicolson, “The Teaching of Art History in British Universities”, Burlington Magazine 103 (May 1961): 163.9
The situation in medieval art history was different and émigré scholars such as Peter Brieger (Toronto) and George Zarnecki (Courtauld) became leading authorities in the field.10
Michael Kitson and Alexandra Wedgwood, English Painting (London: Hamlyn, 1964), 1.11
Dennis Farr, “A Student at the Courtauld Institute”, Burlington Magazine 147, no. 1231 (August 2005): 546.12
Oral History Interview with Brian Allan, conducted by Liz Bruchet, PMC Archive, PMC 59/3/1.13
Denys Sutton, “Editorial: Let’s Blow our Own Trumpet for a Change”, Apollo (June 1967): 399.14
David Mannings, “Review of David Solkin, Painting for Money, 1993”, The Scriblerian and the Kit-Cats 27, no. 2 (1995): 220.15
On Warburg, see Hans C. Hönes, “Warburg’s Positivism”, Oxford Art Journal 41, no. 3 (2018): 361–79. For the quote, see Aby Warburg, Diary 1903–1914, Warburg Institute Archive (WIA) III.10.3, fol. 68r.16
Julien Benda, La trahison des clercs (Paris: Grasset, 1927). On the book’s reception in Britain (and the issue of translating its title), see Stefan Collini, Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), chapter 12: “The Translation of the Clerks”.17
Basil Taylor, “The Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art—A Report on Progress”, The Contemporary Review 211 (1967): 266.18
Among many others, see Francis Haskell, “The Growth of British Art History and its Debts to Europe” (Thank Offering to Britain Lecture), Proceedings of the British Academy 74 (1988): 203–24.19
See, for example, Mark A Cheetham, Artwriting, Nation, and Cosmopolitanism in Britain: The “Englishness” of English Art Theory Since the Eighteenth Century (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), 89.20
Douglas Fordham, “New Directions in British Art History of the Eighteenth Century”, Literature Compass 5, no. 5 (2008): 907. This assessment is echoed by Roy Strong, Self-Portrait as a Young Man (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2013), 256, where he described it as a “revolution in British art studies”.21
See Paul Mellon, Reflections on a Silver Spoon: A Memoir (New York: William Morrow, 1992).22
On the PMF’s history, see Brian Allan, ed., The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art: A History, 1970–2010 (London: Paul Mellon Centre, 2010); and Brian Allan, “Paul Mellon and Scholarship in the History of British Art”, in Paul Mellon’s Legacy. A Passion for British Art, ed. John Baskett et al. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 43–53.23
Taylor, “The Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art”, 264.24
Taylor, “The Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art”, 266.25
Basil Taylor, Animal Painting in England (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955), 13. For a similar—much more influential—assessment regarding Dutch art, see Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century (London: John Murray, 1983).26
Fritz Saxl and Rudolf Wittkower, British Art and the Mediterranean (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948). See Joanne Anderson, Mick Finch, and Johannes von Müller, eds., Image Journeys: The Warburg Institute and a British Art History (Passau: Dietmar Klinger, 2019). Many scholars such as Waterhouse judged the exhibition “to have been enormously influential in rousing and developing an interest in British art at home”; Ellis Waterhouse, British Art and British Studies: Remarks at the Inauguration of the Yale Center for British Art (New Haven, CT: Yale Center for British Art, 1979), 23.27
For a recent discussion of the “canon” of British art, see Alex Kidson, “David Solkin’s Account of Art in Britain”, Burlington Magazine 158, no. 1365 (December 2016): 964.28
Edgar Wind, “Humanitätsidee und heroisiertes Porträt in der englischen Kultur des 18. Jahrhunderts”, Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg 9 (1930/1931): 156–229; Edgar Wind, “Giordano Bruno between Tragedy and Comedy”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 2 (1939): 262; and Edgar Wind, “Reynolds and Pope on Composite Beauty”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 6 (1943): 223. See Werner Busch, “Heroisierte Porträts? Edgar Wind und das englische Bildnis des 18. Jahrhunderts”, in Edgar Wind: Kunsthistoriker und Philosoph, ed. Horst Bredekamp et al. (Berlin: Akademie, 1998), 33–48; as well as C. Oliver O’Donnell, Portraits of Empiricism (forthcoming).29
Michael Kitson, “The Geography of English Art”, Times Literary Supplement, 25 May 1956, 312.30
Fritz Saxl, Verzeichnis astrologischer und mythologischer illustrierter Handschriften des lateinischen Mittelalters / Catalogue of Astrological and Mythological Illuminated Manuscripts of the Latin Middle Ages, 5 vols. (Heidelberg: Winter, 1915–1927; London: Warburg Institute, 1953–1966).31
The Warburg Institute, ed., A Bibliography on the Survival of the Classics, vol. 1, The Publications of 1931 (London: Warburg Institute, 1934); A Bibliography of the Survival of the Classics, vol. 2, The Publications of 1932–1933 (London: Warburg Institute, 1938); and Raymond Klibansky, ed., Plato Latinus, 4 vols. (London: Warburg Institute, 1940–1962). On the debates surrounding the ill-fated “encyclopaedia”, see Franz Engel, “Edgar Wind and the Warburg Tradition”, in Bildakt at the Warburg Institute, ed. Sabine Marienberg (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014).32
See Hans C. Hönes, “Flat Iconology: Metamorphoses of a Method in British Exile”, in Art Historiography and Iconologies Between West and East, ed. Wojciech Bałus and Magdalena Kunińska (New York: Routledge [forthcoming]).33
Letter by Edgar Wind to Kenneth Clark, 28 August 1948, quoted after Ianick Takaes, “‘L’esprit de Warburg lui-même sera en paix’—A Survey of Edgar Wind’s Quarrel with the Warburg Institute. With: Appendix of Warburgkreis’s Correspondence”, Engramma 153 (2018): 167.34
Hugo Buchthal and Otto Kurz, A Hand List of Illuminated Oriental Christian Manuscripts (London: Warburg Institute, 1968).35
Harries, Nikolaus Pevsner, ch. 25.36
Stephen Games, Pevsner: The BBC Years (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), 257; for Taylor’s and Pevsner’s relation more broadly, see also chapter 6; both men fell out later in life.37
Harries, Nikolaus Pevsner, 383.38
Cf. William Vaughan, “Behind Pevsner: Englishness as an Art Historical Category”, in The Geographies of Englishness: Landscape and the National Past, 1880–1940, ed. David Peters Corbett, Ysanne Holt, and Fiona Russell (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 352.39
“Summary of Editorial Decisions”, PMC Archive, PMC35/2/1.40
“Minor Entries by Kenneth Sharpe (with list)”, PMC Archive, PMC35/2/2/1; and “Minor Entries by Ann Clements (with list)”, PMC Archive, PMC35/2/2/2.41
Letter by Basil Taylor to Paul Mellon, 12 March 1964, PMC Archive, PMC4.42
“Paul Mellon Centre Annual Report 1970–72”, PMC Archive, PMC3/1, 4–6; and Charlotte Brunskill, “The Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive: A History”, https://photoarchive.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/groups/paul-mellon-centre-negs.43
“Paul Mellon Centre Annual Report”, 1975–1976, PMC Archive, PMC3/5.44
Letter by Alastair Smart to Angus Stirling, 15 July 1969, PMC Archive, AS Box 12, Folder 2.45
Letter by Angus Stirling to Alastair Smart, 22 July 1969, PMC Archive, AS Box 12, Folder 2.46
“Paul Mellon Centre Annual Report”, 1973/4, PMC Archive, PMC3/3, 5.47
Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of English Architects, 1660–1840, 4th ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).48
Oliver Millar, “Journal 1”, PMC Archive, ONM/2/2/1, front cover.49
Oliver Millar, “Journal 1”, PMC Archive, ONM/2/2/1, entry 14 October 1945, 69.50
For example, Oliver Millar, “Journal 5” (May–November 1949), PMC Archive, ONM/1/2/5, 27.51
Oliver Millar, “Journal VI” (December 1949–June 1950), PMC Archive, ONM/1/2/6, 69.52
Harries, Nikolaus Pevsner, 401–4.53
This was a precursor to the even more ambitious project, “Index of British and Irish Oil Paintings” (circa 1971–2006).54
Keith Roberts, “Review of Christopher Wright, Old Master Paintings in Britain and Id., Vermeer, 1976”, Burlington Magazine 119 (April 1977): 295–96.55
Ellis Waterhouse, Reynolds (London: Kegan Paul, 1941), ix.57
Waterhouse, Reynolds, x.58
Alastair Smart, The Life and Art of Allan Ramsay (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952), vii.59
John Pope-Hennessy, Learning to Look: An Autobiography (London: Heinemann, 1991), 300 and 287 (praising the “orthodox Balliol tradition” of historic scholarship).60
Ellis Waterhouse, Italian Baroque Painting (London: Phaidon, 1962), unpaginated preface.61
Richard Shone, “Editorial: Readable Art History”, Burlington Magazine 147, no. 1231 (October 2005): 653.62
It is likely that Waterhouse’s “lists” were modelled after Bernard Berenson’s works; see Michael Levey, “Ellis Waterhouse: An Appreciation”, Burlington Magazine 147, no. 1231 (October 2005): 670.63
Ellis Waterhouse, Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, Volume of the Walpole Society 33 (1948/50).64
For example: Letter by Rupert Gunnis to Ellis Waterhouse, 29 October 1953; Letter by C.G. Doward to Ellis Waterhouse, 23 January 1956; Letter by Hugo W.F. Ferrant(?) to Ellis Waterhouse, 12 March 1955, PMC Archive, EKW 1/113; and Letter by Joseph C. Sloane to Ellis Waterhouse, 1 May 1965, PMC Archive, EKW/1/127.65
Anon., “Preface”, The Volume of the Walpole Society 1 (1911/12), vi.66
Fritz Saxl, “The Ruthwell Cross”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 6 (1943): 19.67
Fritz Saxl, “Une grande institution d’histoire de l’art: La Library Witt”, Mouseion: Bulletin de l’Office International des Musees, 6 (1928): 217 (my translation).68
Lorraine Daston, “The Immortal Archive: Nineteenth-Century Science Imagines the Future”, in Science in the Archive, ed. Lorraine Daston (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 175.69
John Bagnell Bury, “The Science of History—Inaugural Lecture (1903)”, in Selected Essays of J.B. Bury, ed. Harold Temperley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), 17.70
Bury, “The Science of History”, 17.71
John Knowles, “Presidential Address: Great Historical Enterprises III. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica”, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 10 (1960): 129. The correlation between the rise of émigré art historians such as Saxl and the renewed emphasis of document-based positivism in British historical scholarship has first been noted by Rose, Art and Form, 66.72
Pope-Hennessy confessed that Knowles’s “mastery of historical method sets a standard to which I still aspire”; Pope-Hennessy, Learning to Look, 22.73
Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (London: Bell & Sons, 1931). See Michael Bentley, Modernizing England’s Past: English Historiography in the Age of Modernism 1870–1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).74
Bentley, Modernizing England’s Past, 159–60.75
Peter Laslett, “Introduction: The Numerical Study of English Society”, in An Introduction to English Historical Demography, ed. E.A. Wrigley (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966), 6.76
See Hans C. Hönes, “British Art History and the History of British Art”, Kunstchronik 75, no. 7 (2022): 343–48.77
Letter by Basil Taylor to Rensselaer Lee, 24 October 1967, PMC Archive, PMC4.78
Bentley, Modernizing England’s Past, 137–39; on Hoskins, see also 133.79
Hamish Miles, Art as History: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered in the University of Leicester, 16 February 1967 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1967); and Ellis Waterhouse, “Review of W.G. Constable, Art History and Connoisseurship, 1933”, Burlington Magazine 74 (January 1939): 50.80
Letter by Basil Taylor to Paul Mellon, 26 January 1968, PMC Archive, PMC4.81
Thomas Gieryn, “Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science”, American Sociological Review 48, no. 6 (1983): 781–95.82
See, for example, Wojciech Bałus and Magdalena Kunińska, “Via media: Polnische Kunstgeschichte und die Geschichte der Kunst in Polen”, Kunstchronik 75, no. 7 (2022): esp. 337; and Linda Báez Rubí, “A Photographic Portrait of the Directors: The Visual Manifesto of a Discipline in Mexico”, Kunstchronik 75, no. 7 (2022): esp. 351–52.83
See Heinrich Dilly, Kunstgeschichte als Institution (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1979).84
“Research Planning”, PMC Archive, PMC35/2/1/3. For correspondence with a range of local institutions, see PMC35/2/1/7.85
“East Anglian Research Group Papers”, PMC Archive, PMC35/2/1/6.86
For example, the PMF gave support for a centre for the study of Modern British Art at Hull University (PMC Archive PMC26/1/3); gave a grant for the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne (PMC 26/1/6); and gave a very substantial grant to the Suffolk Records Society (PMC 26/1/8).87
Donald King, “Review of Peter Brieger, English Art 1216–1307, 1957”, Burlington Magazine 102 (January 1960): 39.88
Kenneth Garlick, “Review of Thomas Boase, English Art 1800–1870, 1953”, Burlington Magazine, 102 (June 1960): 267.89
Letter by Basil Taylor to Paul Mellon, 14 February 1968, PMC Archive, PMC4.90
Letter by Basil Taylor to Paul Mellon, 26 January 1968, PMC Archive, PMC4.91
Taylor, “The Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art”, 267.92
Nikolaus Pevsner even suggested that the foundation of the Courtauld was rather “an outcome of the rapid spreading of the subject in America than [of] its well-tested existence on the Continent”; Nikolaus Pevsner, “Reflections on Not Teaching Art History”, in Pevsner on Art and Architecture: The Radio Talks, ed. Stephen Games (London: Methuen, 2002), 160. On US art historiography, see Craig Hugh Smyth and Pete Lukehart, eds., The Early Years of Art History in the United States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); and Wanda M. Corn, “Coming of Age: Historical Scholarship in American Art”, Art Bulletin 70, no. 2 (1988): 188–207.93
John Twells, “Social History Told Through Art”, Derby Advertiser, September 1968 (“It is notable that, as with Royal Crown Derby Porcelain, it is American interest which has backed [Wright of Derby’s] modern appraisal”; and Waterhouse, Reynolds, preface (“since there is indication of an awakening interest in Sir Joshua in the United States”).94
Karen Michels, Transplantierte Kunstwissenschaft: Deutschsprachige Kunstgeschichte im amerikanischen Exil (Berlin: Akademie, 1999).95
Pope-Hennessy, Learning to Look, 121–25; and Levey, “Ellis Waterhouse”, 669. Jewett Mather was another staunch positivist, applauding research “thickly set with data”, and written in the spirit of “self-denying ordinance”, with “orderliness, lucidity and discipline”; Frank Jewett Mather Jr., “Foreword”, in Frederick Mortimer Clapp, Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo: His Life and Work (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1916), xi–xii.96
Caroline Elam, “Benedict Nicolson: Becoming an Art Historian in the 1930s”, Burlington Magazine 146, no. 1211 (2004): 84–85.97
Letter by Alastair Smart to W.G. Constable, 15 September 1965, Archives of American Art, W.G. Constable Papers—Correspondence Box 4, Folder 57.98
Royal College of Art, Report on the Academic Year (London: RCA, 1959), 50.99
Renumeration was also an important factor: for example, in 1945, Edgar Wind received an annual salary of $8,000 in the United States, while the University of London offered £950 p.a.; Edgar Wind to Gertrud Bing, 15 June 1945, quoted after Takaes, “‘L’esprit de Warburg lui-même sera en paix’”, 153–54.100
See, for example, David Irwin, The Visual Arts: Taste and Criticism (Glasgow: Blackie, 1968), dust jacket; and Strong, Self-Portrait as a Young Man, 270.101
Waterhouse, British Art and British Studies, 5.102
Paul Oppé, “Thomas Girtin”, Burlington Magazine 97 (December 1955): 394.103
David Loshak and Thomas Girtin, The Art of Thomas Girtin (London: A. & C. Black, 1954), xii.104
Loshak and Girtin, The Art of Thomas Girtin, 102–103.105
Loshak and Girtin, The Art of Thomas Girtin, vii. For the subsequent, strongly worded exchange of letters, see PMC Archive, APO/1/11/3.106
Letter by Basil Taylor to Paul Mellon, 26 January 1968, PMC Archive, PMC4.107
Paul Oppé, “Blackbook”, PMC Archive, APO8/2/0, entry in May 1948, 410–11. See also Oppé, “Blackbook”, entry 10 October 1949, 412.108
Letter by Fritz Saxl to Otto Pächt, 4 September 1941, Warburg Institute Archive, General Correspondence.109
Miles, Art as History, 13.110
For a catalogue of his purchases, see PMC Archive, APO/7/1/3.111
Anon., “The Drain of Works of Art from Great Britain, Part 1”, Times, 21 May 1909. See Ben Cowell, “Saving Country Houses and their Collections in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries”, in Art and the Country House, ed. Martin Postle (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2020). https://doi.org/10.17658/ACH/TE580. For similar statements, see Oliver Millar, “The Picture Collection”, The Destruction of the Country House, ed. Roy Strong (London: Thames & Hudson, 1974), 104.112
Edward J. Nygren, Conference on British Art, Yale University Art Gallery, April 21–23, 1965 (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1965), session on eighteenth-century art, 1 and 3.113
Nygren, Conference on British Art, 25.114
Nygren, Conference on British Art, session on nineteenth-century art, 8 and 11.115
The only exception was Roy Strong, who vocally complained that “so much material has to be sifted for what may prove to be very little result”, and claimed: “It is better to do a limited project and get it out than to be bogged down by something which is going to take 50 years”. Nygren, Conference on British Art, session on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art, 4 and 10.116
Nygren, Conference on British Art, session on medieval art, 12.117
Nygren, Conference on British Art, session on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century art, 6.118
Nygren, Conference on British Art, session on eighteenth-century art, 4.119
Anthony Grafton, The Footnote: A Curious History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 16.120
Bloch’s notion recently found fresh purchase in postcolonial studies, as a tool for conceptualising the different “modernities” of the twentieth century. See David D. Kim, Reframing Postcolonial Studies (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), 2, passim.121
T.J. Clark, “On the Conditions of Artistic Creation”, Times Literary Supplement, 24 May 1974.122
Michael Kitson, “Introduction to the Fifth Edition”, in Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530–1790 (London: Yale University Press, 1994), xi–xxvii.123
Lawrence Gowing, “Candle-Lit Sublime”, Observer, 10 November 1968.124
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- Hans C. Hönes
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- Hans C. Hönes, "The Rise and Fall of the “Clerks”: British Art History, 1950–1970", British Art Studies, Issue 24, https://doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058-5462/issue-24/hhones