Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 104

Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
clearer. P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., gave just two works
a century apart: in 1860 a pencil tracing of Raphael’s
Sistine Madonna,111 and in 1967 the then owners of the
dealership donated Andrea Sacchi’s Saints Anthony
Abbot and Francis of Assisi.112 Ernest Gambart, who had
dealings with the National Gallery during the 1850s
and 1860s,113 made no donations to the institution.
Various members of the Agnew family have been
generous donors of British art of various kinds,
although none ever presented more than one picture
to the National Gallery. Thus, Sir William Agnew
gave a Reynolds in 1903;114 Thos. Agnew & Sons
a genre scene by George Leslie in 1904;115 Lockett
Agnew a landscape by Thomas Hands in 1909;116 and
Morland Agnew presented a portrait of Lord Melville
by Sir Henry Raeburn in 1924 to mark the National
Gallery’s centenary.117 Family members have also been
associated with Old Master acquisitions by the Gallery;
for instance, Colin Agnew and Captain Charles
Romer Williams jointly presented a portrait of the 3rd
Marquess of Hamilton by Daniel Mytens the Elder in
1919,118 while in relation to Filippino Lippi’s The Virgin
and Child with Saint John, Agnew’s sold it to the Gallery
in 1894 on the most favourable terms possible – at cost
price, thus making no profit from the transaction.119
Most recently, Agnew’s generously paid for the
refurbishment of Room 32, which re-opened in 1991.
Finally, Joseph Duveen, one-time Trustee of the
National Gallery, gave three pictures during the 1920s
and 1930s, while he contributed at that time to the
acquisition of two more.120 Additionally, he funded the
building of the Duveen Gallery at Trafalgar Square,
which opened in 1930, and also paid for the Modern
Foreign Gallery at the Tate, Millbank, when the Tate
was still formally linked with the National Gallery.121
On balance, perhaps of all the art dealers discussed,
Joseph Duveen’s contribution is the most comparable to
that of Martin Colnaghi.
Martin Colnaghi’s motives for his generosity to the
Gallery are unknown because his will is silent on the
point and his personal and business papers, as noted
above, no longer exist to illuminate the matter. He had
no children and family feuds of previous generations
may have made him unwilling to leave his money
to any cousins. Presumably he felt that the National
Gallery would be a suitable future home for a few
select paintings that he held to be important from an
art-historical point of view. Perhaps his monetary gift
Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
may be explained by his awareness of the Gallery’s
precarious financial situation, ever dependent on
government to confirm and maintain its modest annual
grant. Certainly his 1908 bequest came at a good
moment when Lloyd George had decided to suspend
the annual grant for three years as a result of the
Gallery’s expensive purchase of a family group by Frans
Hals earlier in the year.122 Last but not least, Martin
Colnaghi was surely driven, especially being childless,
by a very human desire to ensure that his name was
not forgotten – hence the stipulation in his will to have
his pictures displayed together and also individually
labelled with wording explaining his part in their
acquisition for the national collection.
Lionel Cust’s claim that Colnaghi was not sufficiently
distinguished to have his portrait in the National
Portrait Gallery, to which reference was made at
the start of the article, might well have been true
at the time – certainly the Portrait Gallery still has
no image of him, despite owning likenesses of all
the other dealers mentioned above.123 However, it is
hoped that the evidence adduced here will have made
it abundantly clear that both as a dealer and more
especially as a benefactor to the National Gallery,
whose generosity still bears fruit – if now anonymously
– Martin Colnaghi was a person of significance and
real standing.
This article has been developed from a paper delivered
at the conference, “Art Dealing in the Gilded Age.
A Window on the Art Market: Colnaghi & their
Associates, c.1890-1940” (Windmill Hill Archive
Centre, Waddesdon Manor, 19 September 2014). I am
grateful to Jeremy Howard for the invitation to speak
at this venue and for his encouragement during the
process of turning the conference paper into a journal
article. I am also extremely grateful to Julia ArmstrongTotten, Nicholas Penny, Barbara Pezzini, Inge Reist,
Michael J. Ripps, Charles Sebag-Montefiore and Mark
Westgarth, as well as to James Carleton Paget for their
insightful feedback on an earlier draft of this article.
On the Colnaghi family, see Dennis Farr, “Colnaghi
family (per. c.1785–1911),” Oxford Dictionary of National
Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),
online edn, January 2007, accessed 21 May 2017,; Donald
Garstang, ed., Art, Commerce, Scholarship: A Window
on the Art World – Colnaghi 1760 to 1984 (London:
Colnaghi, 1984); Jeremy Howard, ed., Colnaghi: The
History (London: Colnaghi, 2010); and Jeremy Howard,
ed., Colnaghi Past, Present and Future: An Anthology (London
and Madrid: Colnaghi, 2016); Frank Herrmann, The
English as Collectors: A Documentary Chrestomathy (London:
Chatto & Windus, 1972), p. 32; as well as the entries
concerning P. & D. Colnaghi & Co. on the websites
of Colnaghi; the Frick Collection, New York; and the
British Museum, London.
John Callcott Horsley, Portrait of Martin Colnaghi, 1889,
oil on canvas, 111.8 x 87 cm. Presented by Mrs Martin
H. Colnaghi, 1908. National Gallery (NG2286). See
“The Royal Academy,” The Times, 4 May 1889, p.
7: “Mr. Horsley’s portrait of Mr. Martin Colnaghi
is a surprisingly vivid likeness, as every haunter of
Christie’s auction rooms will admit. The very form and
feature of the sitter have been caught and stamped
upon the canvas.”
The proposed transfer is detailed in a note by Susan
Foister of the National Gallery dated October 2001,
preserved in the National Gallery Board Papers, held
in the National Gallery Archive (hereafter NGA):
NG25/197: Board of Trustees’ papers, 1 November
2001. The decision is recorded in the minutes of the
Board Meeting of 1 November 2001, NGA: NG1/30
Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1 February-6
December 2001, p. 53.
See letter from Mrs Amy M. Colnaghi, dated 8
October 1908, NGA: NG7/348/11: “It had been
suggested to me that the National Portrait Gallery
might accept a Portrait of my late Husband, Mr
Martin H. Colnaghi, & I wrote to Mr Lionel Cust
to that effect. I have had a reply from him that one
painted by Mr L. Melville had already been offered –
unknown to me – and declined, as ‘he was not thought
of sufficient historical importance’. Mr Cust however
believes the portrait which I have, painted by the
late Mr. J. C. Horsley R.A. ‘was to be offered to the
National Gallery, to which he has been such a generous
benefactor’, and he suggested I should write to you.
I need scarcely say how gratified I should feel if the
Trustees of the National Gallery would accept it.”
See National Gallery Board Minutes of 18 November
1908, pp. 364-365 (NGA: NG1/7); and letter of 19
November 1908 to Mrs Amy M. Colnaghi thanking
her for her offer and reporting that the Trustees
had accepted the portrait (NGA: NG6/26). See also
“Parliament,” The Times, 17 June 1909, p. 7, where
the reason for the Trustees’ acceptance of the painting
is noted: “There is no portrait of Mr. D. Colnaghi in the
National Gallery. The hon. member is confusing Messrs.
P. and D. Colnaghi, of 13, Pall-mall East, with the late
Mr. Martin Colnaghi, of the Marlborough Gallery,
Pall-mall, whose portrait was given by Mrs. Colnaghi
in November, 1908, and accepted by the Trustees
as a memorial of that gentleman’s munificence in
bequeathing four pictures and also in making the Gallery
his residuary legatee subject to his wife’s life interest.”
William Roberts, “Martin Henry Colnaghi,” Dictionary
of National Biography, 1912 supplement, accessed
21 May 2015,
Colnaghi,_Martin_Henry_(DNB12), notes three
additional painted portraits by (1) R. L. Alldridge; (2)
George Smith, who was Martin Colnaghi’s father-inlaw; and (3) G. Marchetti; as well as a sculpted marble
bust by John Adams-Acton. An image of the Emil
Fuchs portrait may be found on Wikimedia, accessed
21 May 2017,
See “Art Notes,” Art Journal (1896): p. 126 (illustration)
and Sidney Hall’s illustration of “A Picture Sale at
Christie’s”, reproduced in The Graphic, 10 September
1887, p. 281. The latter plate was reproduced in
George Redford, Art Sales: A History of Sales of Pictures
and Other Works of Art, with Notices of the Collections sold,
Names of Owners, Titles of Pictures, Prices and Purchasers ...
including the Purchases and Prices of Pictures for the National
Gallery (London: George Redford, 1888), II, p. xxix.
The DNB entry of 1912 notes that the image included
the figure of Colnaghi, but the text accompanying the
original in The Graphic does not list Martin Colnaghi
among the people shown in the image.
Apart from the contemporary published accounts
about Martin Colnaghi reproduced here in the online
appendix, see the DNB 1912 supplement (noted in
note 6 above); Farr, “Colnaghi family,” p. 774; and
Pamela Fletcher’s website, accessed 21 May 2017, Phyllis Willmot’s husband is the great-greatnephew of Martin Colnaghi. Her correspondence
about the Martin Colnaghi Bequest is held in the
Martin Colnaghi Information File in the NGA, as is
a copy of her manuscript, “The Colnaghis,” dated
August 1998. Michael J. Ripps dedicated a chapter to
Martin Colnaghi in his doctoral thesis, “Bond Street
Picture Dealers and the International Trade in Dutch
Old Masters, 1882-1914” (PhD diss., University of
Oxford, 2010).
See Martin Colnaghi’s obituary: “Mr. Martin
Colnaghi,” The Times, 29 June 1908, p. 9. Neil
MacLaren, Keeper of the National Gallery, wrote to
Lewis & Lewis, the solicitors of the late Mrs Colnaghi,
on 5 March 1941, about the possibility of acquiring
Martin Colnaghi’s business records, noting: “Such
records are of little or no value intrinsically, but are
of great use for the purposes of research into the
provenance of pictures, and we shall be glad to have
them for the National Gallery library, which already
possesses a number of such documents.” The reply,
dated 18 March 1941, stated: “the records in question
would appear to have been destroyed following the
death of Mrs Colnaghi in September last” (NGA:
NG21/8/1). Copies of these letters are in the Martin
Colnaghi Information File in the NGA.
The set of books is now in the collection of Charles
Sebag-Montefiore; it will pass, together with the rest
of his private art library, to the National Gallery in
due course. I am grateful to Charles Sebag-Montefiore
for drawing my attention to this set of books. John
Smith’s Catalogue was specifically mentioned in Martin
Colnaghi’s will (see the transcription of the relevant
part of the will in the online appendix).
Smith’s list of subscribers appears at the beginning
of volume four of his series. Martin’s father put his
name down for two copies; P. & D. Colnaghi of Pall
Mall also subscribed to the series. I am grateful to Julia
Armstrong-Totten for drawing my attention to the
1833 subscription list and to discussing the value of this
reference book to Martin Colnaghi.
The Times obituary of 29 June 1908 noted: “He never
read much, and, indeed, he had a feeling something like
contempt for the professed judges who get their knowledge
from books and archives; but in middle life he travelled a
good deal among the galleries of Europe, and he had what
is better than books or travel, a natural eye for a picture.”
See the paperwork pertaining to the suit in chancery
“Colnaghi v. Colnaghi,” heard in 1824, which named
Martin Colnaghi as the plaintiff with Paul and
Dominic Colnaghi and others named as defendants,
preserved at the Public Record Office, Kew: C
13/2785/54. The painter John Constable recorded
in his journal for 16 June 1824: “I hear there is quite
a bustle at Colnaghi’s. … They are all brisking up.
Martin seems to be clearing the house of the old man
& Dominic – but he is not quite liked himself – he
is said to make love to all the ladies who look over
prints there.” See Ronald Brymer Beckett, ed., John
Constable’s Correspondence, IV (Ipswich: Boydell Press,
1966), p. 154. The quotation is cited in Pamela
Fletcher’s website feature (for which see note 8 above).
Paul Colnaghi decreed that as “my son Martin Henry
Colnaghi has obtained from me and spent more than
what I deem to be his due proportion of my property
I will and declare that the said Martin shall not have
or receive any other benefit from my estate and effects
than what has been already paid or secured to him for
his benefit.” Three years later, Paul’s wife, Elizabeth


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