Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 102

Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
Fig. 9 / French or North
Italian, The Visitation,
ca. 1630, oil on canvas,
113.6 x 218 cm, London,
National Gallery.
Fig. 10 / Esias van de Velde,
A Winter Landscape, 1623,
oil on oak, 25.9 x 30.4 cm,
London, National Gallery.
of the furniture and decorative art objects from the
John Jones Collection, originally bequeathed in 1882.
By contrast, one of the few named collections that
remains on display in “splendid isolation” from the rest
of the permanent collection is the Constantine Ionides
bequest (of 1901) at the Victoria & Albert Museum.96
Many of the businessman’s paintings are on display
in Room 81 at the museum, hung densely, as they had
been at his home in Holland Park, London, together
with sculpture and furniture which belonged to him
or his family, and oriental ceramics similar to pieces
he owned. As the Gallery’s catalogue to the collection
notes, such an arrangement “gives the visitor the
chance, almost unique in London, of seeing a collection
as it was when it was formed almost a century ago,
and of evaluating the taste and perspicacity of the
The Colnaghi Fund became active after the death
of Mrs Colnaghi in 1940. It has been used ever since
to buy, either wholly or in part, at least two dozen
pictures.98 The first picture so acquired was the
French or North Italian seventeenth-century Visitation,
mentioned above, which was bought in 1944,99 while
Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
Batoni’s Portrait of Richard Milles, purchased in 1980,
is the last acquisition explicitly to name the Fund’s
support in official paperwork.100 The Colnaghi
Fund still exists (currently its value stands at over
£1,000,000) but, frustratingly, it is almost impossible
to discover which pictures have been acquired using
it since the early 1970s, when all the Gallery’s Trust
funds were merged into a common pot.101 Despite
Martin Colnaghi’s expertise in Dutch painting only
one picture from that School has been bought using
his Fund: Van der Velde’s Winter Landscape of 1623,
purchased in 1957 (fig. 10).102 Two British landscapes
by Richard Wilson were bought in 1953, including
the painter’s iconic Holt Bridge on the River Dee,103 while
the majority of purchases have been of Italian and
French seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works,
bought to fill perceived gaps in the Gallery’s holdings,
including Domenichino’s eight fresco Scenes from the
Legend of Apollo,104 and Eustache Le Sueur’s Saint Paul
Preaching at Ephesus.105 Yet the Fund has supported the
acquisition of pictures of a later date too, including
nineteenth- and twentieth-century French works,
notably Delacroix’s Ovid among the Scythians,106 a Corot
landscape107 and Cezanne’s portrait of his father.108
To assess the relative value of the Colnaghi Fund to the
National Gallery, we can compare it with other gifts to
the nation which have included a financial element.109
Such an exercise clarifies just how generous Martin
Colnaghi was. For instance, some benefactors have left
money but no paintings, notably the Clarke Fund in
1856 which gave the Gallery £23,104, and the Lewis
Fund, established in 1863, which gave £10,000, at the
time a substantial sum. Other Funds have been specific
about the types of pictures which could be purchased
using them, whereas Martin Colnaghi left no such
stipulation. For instance, the Wheeler Fund, established
in 1869, was limited to the purchase of British art,
while the Courtauld Fund, established in the 1920s, was
set up for the acquisition of works by the Impressionists.
A donor whose posthumous generosity went some way
to matching Martin Colnaghi’s was Sir Claude Phillips
(1846-1924), the art-historian, art critic and first Keeper
of the Wallace Collection. On his death, in addition to
leaving eight paintings to the Gallery including works
by Dosso Dossi and Giovanni Antonio Pordenone, and
a specific legacy of £200 to be divided between the
warding-staff of the National Gallery, he left a bequest
(a residue of his estate) from which the Gallery was able
to buy during the 1920s Carel Fabritius’s Self-Portrait
and the Ter Brugghen Jacob Reproaching Laban for Giving
him Leah in place of Rachel and to make a substantial
contribution to the purchase of Titian’s important work,
The Vendramin Family Venerating a Relic of the True Cross.110
A yet more illuminating comparison of Martin
Colnaghi’s gifts and bequest might be with those of one
particular subset of donors: British-based art dealers.
Undertaking such an exercise makes his generosity even


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