Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 98



98
Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
LINKS WITH THE NATIONAL GALLERY:
SALES OF 1888 AND 1895 AND GIFT OF 1896
Martin Colnaghi’s relationship with the National
Gallery extended over a period of twenty years. It
appears to have started in 1887, when the dealer tried
unsuccessfully to interest the Trustees in a significant
full-length Genoese portrait by Van Dyck of Agostino
Pallavicini.72 Interestingly, John Calcott Horsley, the
painter of Martin Colnaghi’s portrait mentioned above,
wrote an impassioned letter to urge its purchase.73 The
following year, 1888, Martin Colnaghi sold the National
Gallery a landscape of Stirling Castle, then attributed
to Alexander Nasmyth, for 120 guineas (now at Tate
and said to be by Thomas Christopher Hofland),74
while six years later, in 1895, the Trustees paid him
£506 for Gerbrand van den Eeckhout’s group
portrait (fig. 3).75 A year later, in 1896, Martin
Colnaghi presented Cornelis Bega’s painting of An
Astrologer (fig. 4).76 From the National Gallery’s Board
Minutes, we know that as part of the negotiation, he
offered for sale two pictures by Annibale Carracci, but
these were declined.77 It was also in 1896, as noted
earlier, that the dealer attempted in vain to interest
the Trustees in the “Colonna Raphael”. A fourth
picture with a Martin Colnaghi provenance which
entered the collection ahead of his 1908 bequest was
Karel Dujardin’s Portrait of a Young Man, which was
with the dealer in 1899, although it was from Horace
Buttery that this picture was acquired that year.78 Ten
other paintings now in the National Gallery were also
once owned by the dealer, but this group, with only a
circumstantial link with Martin Colnaghi, is not central
to the present discussion.79
THE MARTIN COLNAGHI BEQUEST OF 1908
Fig. 6 / Aert van der Neer
A Landscape with a River
at Evening, ca. 1650, oil
on canvas, 79 × 65.1 cm,
London, National Gallery.
The first indication that Martin Colnaghi might
remember the National Gallery in his will came in a
letter that one of the Trustees, John Postle Heseltine,
wrote to the Board in 1905: he explained that the
dealer had expressed an intention of presenting certain
pictures and bequeathing a large sum of money.80 There
matters rested until, in 1908, Colnaghi’s executors
wrote in relation to his final wishes.81 In his will of 23
December 1907, Martin Colnaghi offered the Trustees
three Old Master paintings, while in a codicil of 3
June 1908, he added a fourth. Two were seventeenthcentury Dutch landscapes: Philips Wouwerman’s Two
Horsemen at a Gipsy Encampment (fig. 5)82 and Aert van
der Neer’s A Landscape with a River at Evening (fig. 6) 83
which represented the dealer’s specialism in Dutch
Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
School painting. The third picture was a sixteenthcentury Italian religious painting – Lorenzo Lotto’s
Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome and Nicholas of Tolentino
(fig. 7),84 which remains the only religious picture by
Lotto in the Gallery’s collection. The final picture
was an eighteenth-century English landscape by
Thomas Gainsborough called The Bridge (fig. 8; now
at Tate).85 There was no discussion about the quality
or state of preservation of the four Old Master
paintings. The Trustees must have felt, in line with
Heseltine’s favourable comments of 1905, that all four
pictures were eligible in their own right and that they
enhanced the existing collection. All four pictures were
immediately accepted and were put on display.86
Additionally, but “subject to his widow’s life interest,”
Martin Colnaghi left the whole of the residue of his
fortune of about £80,000 to the Trustees of the
National Gallery for the purchase of pictures.87 The
main condition of his will stated that his pictures, both
“accepted or purchased,” should be known collectively
as the Martin Colnaghi Bequest and should “be hung
as nearly as may be in one group,” with each picture
having a “plate or inscription” acknowledging his
bequest. The will also stipulated that his Fund should
not remain unspent for more than three years at a time.
Having accepted the bequest on these terms, at various
points throughout the 1940s, the Trustees wrote to the
Treasury requesting that certain adjustments be made
to them. One major adjustment they desired concerned
the way that pictures associated with Martin Colnaghi
were displayed. Originally, the Colnaghi Bequest
pictures were hung together,88 on a screen in the large
Dutch Room (Room X), alongside another Dutch
work, Frans Hals’s A Family Group in a Landscape, which
the Gallery acquired the same year that it accepted
Martin Colnaghi’s bequest.89 But the Trustees argued
successfully against having to perpetuate this tradition,
stating that this requirement did not fit with the
Gallery’s long-established policy of arranging pictures
by date and school. Furthermore, even though the
Gallery confirmed that the Colnaghi Bequest pictures
would be “identifiable as such by persons visiting the
Gallery,” 90 nothing systematic was done to bring this
about. The acknowledgement within the “Acquisition
Credit” of the French/Italian school painting of The
Visitation that it was “Bought, using the Martin Colnaghi
Fund” relates to the original terms of the bequest (fig. 9).
The second difficulty with the terms of the will was
that the way the bequest funds were tied up no longer
99

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