Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 91

Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
Despite the disappearance of these six images of the
dealer, a portrait miniature of him, painted about
1908, is, appropriately, preserved in the Colnaghi
Collection (fig. 2). A couple of engraved portraits of
Martin Colnaghi also survive; one was reproduced in
the Art Journal of 1896, and it is likely that he is among
the figures portrayed in the illustration of “A Picture
Sale at Christie’s” which appeared in The Graphic of 10
September 1887.7
The following account of Martin Colnaghi’s work as
an art dealer draws on primary source material in the
National Gallery’s archive and contemporary accounts
in The Times, art journals and auction catalogues. It
has benefitted, additionally, from more recent research
by Dennis Farr, Pamela Fletcher, M. J. Ripps, and
Phyllis Willmot.8 The Times obituary confirmed that
Martin Colnaghi never published any memoirs, while
his business records have been destroyed.9 The only
books known to survive from his business are John
Smith’s own copy of his celebrated multi-volume
Catalogue Raisonné of Dutch, Flemish and French art
annotated by Smith himself and his successors. Each
volume carries the ownership inscription “Amy M.
Colnaghi”.10 How Martin Colnaghi came to acquire
the series is not known for sure, but we do know that
Martin’s father was a subscriber to Smith’s magnum opus
for his name is included on a list of supporters that
Smith published in 1833, so it is likely that the younger
Martin inherited the books.11 Doubtless he would have
found the annotated series an invaluable tool in helping
to identify past owners and current locations of works
of art, as well as in assisting with valuations given that
the volumes included considerable data concerning
prices. It may be that Martin Colnaghi did not possess
a particularly extensive library; certainly, he was not
known to have been bookish and was dismissive of arthistorical scholarship, trusting far more in his own eye
and instinct.12
Fig. 2 / Ernest Lloyd,
Martin H. Colnaghi,
1908, watercolour,
oval 10 x 8 cm,
Martin Henry Colnaghi, baptized Martino Enrico
Luigi Gaetano, was born at 23, Cockspur Street,
London, on 16 November 1821. He was the eldest son
of Martin Lewis Gaetano Colnaghi, print-seller, and
Fanny Boyce Clarke. His father was considered the
“black sheep” of the family for he had sued his own
father, Paul (1751-1833), and older brother, Dominic
(1790-1879), in 1824, at the time when his father,
Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
hoping to retire, was attempting to divide up the assets
of his print-selling business.13 When the suit was settled
in 1825, Martin Senior was left with £3,000 and the
premises in Cockspur Street. Martin Senior’s father and
brother, Paul and Dominic, meanwhile, were reassigned
the stock and chattels, which they moved to 14 Pall
Mall East, where they restarted their print-publishing
business as Colnaghi, Son & Co. Later known as P. & D.
Colnaghi & Co., the firm from 1894 invited non-family
members into its ranks, when William McKay, a family
member, was joined in partnership by Edmund Deprez
and Otto Gutekunst. Venturing into Old Master
paintings around this time, P. & D. Colnaghi came into
competition with several long-established dealers who
would continue to lead the field until WWI, notably
the British firms of Thomas Agnew and Wertheimers
as well as Charles Sedelmeyer, who had been based in
Paris since the 1870s. By contrast, Martin Colnaghi
senior was not so successful and was declared bankrupt
in 1832 and again in 1843. His financial situation was
not improved by his exclusion, perhaps predictably,
from the wills of both his parents.14
His son, the younger Martin with whom we are
concerned, had been educated for the army, but his
father’s second bankruptcy thwarted this ambition.15
He struggled initially to establish himself, and for a
few years became involved with railway advertising
with a firm that later became well-known as W. H.
Smith. About 1860, however, he found employment
in the art world, working initially for his uncle’s
firm (although he was never a partner of P. & D.
Colnaghi & Co.), then for another print-publisher,
Henry Graves,16 and finally on his own account. His
ventures with print publishing largely explain Martin
Colnaghi’s membership of the Printsellers’ Association
(the ODNB records that he published a few prints),
although it was as a picture dealer that he would
make his name. Initially he conducted his picture
dealing business from his home in Pimlico, but in
1876 he took over Flatou’s Gallery at 11 Haymarket,
which he renamed the Guardi Gallery, in honour of
two huge paintings by Guardi that he owned (now
at Waddesdon Manor).17 The first advertisement for
the Guardi Gallery appeared in the Athenaeum on 3
June 1876, inviting members of the public to view
his pair of Venetian views by Guardi on payment of
a shilling.18 His business expanded such that in 1887
he acquired the galleries of the Royal Institute of
Painters in Water Colours at 53, Pall Mall, which he
re-christened the Marlborough Gallery.19


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