Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 93

Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
A review in the Times in March 1887 indicates that
for a time he ran both galleries simultaneously, giving
each venue a distinct remit: modern pictures on show
at the Guardi Gallery in Haymarket and Old Masters
at Pall Mall.20 This division soon came to an end,
however, and from February 1889 he traded solely from
the Marlborough Gallery on Pall Mall. Some confusion
existed in the public mind concerning both the location
of Martin Colnaghi’s premises and the nature of his
relationship with P. & D. Colnaghi & Co. for various
statements in the press were issued over the years to
clarify both points.21
It is not entirely clear when Martin Colnaghi started to
trade in paintings but it is recorded that he bought no
fewer than five Old Masters at the celebrated sale of
the 2nd Lord Northwick in 1859.22 We know too that
it was from 1876 that his name first started to appear
systematically in The Times as a buyer at art sales –
when he purchased a Murillo at the Wynn Ellis sale.23
Indeed, he acquired the majority of his stock, especially
Old Master pictures, at public auctions in London, and
was a popular habitué at Christie’s.24 For the record it
is worth noting that Martin Colnaghi made at least one
foray into the decorative arts market. He is recorded in
1884 as a purchaser of numerous lots of sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century majolica and Limoges enamels
from the collections of Andrew Fountaine.25 We may
link two of the exhibitions that Martin Colnaghi
mounted with this secondary interest in the applied
arts. The first took place in 1878, when he displayed a
work by the celebrated American Neoclassical sculptor,
Harriet Hosmer.26 Later, in 1892, he mounted an
exhibition of embroidery “of landscapes, sea views
&c., ingeniously worked in silk on a painted ground”
by Mme. Mankiewicz, the wife of the Austrian ConsulGeneral at Dresden, for the benefit of the AustroHungarian Aid Society.27
Such events were, however, atypical of his usual work
which dealt primarily with paintings. Although the
current article focuses on Martin Colnaghi as a dealer
in Old Masters, he was in his day equally well-known
as a dealer in contemporary art, especially by foreign
painters.28 He hosted an annual “Summer Exhibition”,
where typically a number of living painters showed
their work, and he also put on exhibitions which
promoted single pictures.29 Through this activity he
can be aligned with many other dealers who were also
involved with the mounting of loan exhibitions for the
general public, of both contemporary and Old Master
Martin Colnaghi and the National Gallery
paintings. The phenomenon had started in 1813 as
an initiative of the British Institution and had been
carried on both by the Royal Academy from 1870 and
by private gallery owners in the West End of London.
For instance, at the Grosvenor Gallery on New Bond
Street from 1877 to 1890, Sir Coutts and Lady Lindsay
promoted contemporary artists within their summer
exhibitions, but also put on equally ambitious winter
shows which sometimes also displayed the work of
recently deceased masters and/or the Old Masters.30
Indeed, Martin Colnaghi’s Winter Exhibition of 1878
at the Guardi Gallery was reviewed as just one of a
dozen such exhibitions in the Art Journal.31 While
there is abundant evidence of the sumptuous interiors
and how audiences were treated at places like the
Grosvenor, sadly such material is lacking in the case of
Martin Colnaghi’s premises, but clearly his Pall Mall
gallery had a role to play as a society venue at the heart
of the art market district where art was seen, discussed
and purchased. In addition to hosting his own annual
exhibitions, Martin Colnaghi was a generous lender
to other exhibitions, including of Old Masters to the
Royal Academy’s Winter Exhibitions,32 and later to the
New Gallery, Regent Street.33
As a dealer in Old Master pictures, Martin Colnaghi
dealt across the board, as is demonstrated by
four pictures now in the National Gallery of Art,
Washington, which passed through his hands at one
time or another: a Carlo Crivelli, a mid-seventeenthcentury depiction of The Larder by the Genoese painter
Vassallo, a portrait from Lely’s studio, and a harbourscene by Guardi.34 The Times regularly reported Martin
Colnaghi’s purchases of Old Masters at art sales.35
Arguably, the most important Old Master painting
that he handled was the “Colonna Raphael”, which
he bought from the deposed King Francis II of the
Two Sicilies (a descendant of Ferdinand I of Naples)
in June 1896 for £17,000.36 The National Gallery had
not been interested in purchasing it when offered the
chance to do so by the agent of Francis II for £40,000
(presumably they were more than satisfied with
Raphael’s Ansidei Altarpiece, which they had bought
from the Duke of Marlborough in 1885), and remained
uninterested when the Trustees were contacted about it
in 1886 and 1895.37 Instead the dealer, having restored
the painting himself, sold it to Sedelmeyer in 1896
(initially in a half share, then fully), who went on to
sell it in 1901 to the New York financier, John Pierpont
Morgan, for double the price he had paid for it (now in
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art).38
Martin Colnaghi became best known as an expert and
dealer in Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century art.39
He is an important figure in the promotion of this type
of collecting being one of the first British art dealers to
make a name as a specialist in the field. In this regard
he may be compared with John Smith (1781-1855),
although the latter was far more scholarly, witness
his publications on Dutch artists mentioned earlier
as well as his notable and early interest in Vermeer,
and Smith also had a more eminent group of clients
on his books.40 Certainly no other member of the
Colnaghi family dealt in any sustained way in Dutch
art, and it was, in any case, only at the end of the
century that P. & D. Colnaghi focused on marketing
Old Masters. This interest in the Dutch Old Masters
reflected evolving tastes of the day, which in turn the
activity of art dealers like John Smith and Martin
Colnaghi helped to promote.41 According to another
dealer, William Buchanan, prices for Flemish and
Dutch pictures, which had been high in the 1820s
before dipping the following decade, escalated again
about 1840 when prices started to be paid “which
Dutch pictures were never sold at before.” 42 Among
the most significant collectors who had been making
the buying and display of Dutch art fashionable were,
initially, George IV,43 and, later, members of the two
great banking dynasties – the Baring and Rothschild
families – and one-time Prime Minister (and a Trustee
of the National Gallery), Sir Robert Peel, seventy-seven
of whose Flemish and Dutch paintings were bought by
the National Gallery in 1871.44
A comprehensive study of Martin Colnaghi as a dealer
of Dutch Old Masters made by Michael J. Ripps
concluded that the dealer’s “taste was a hybrid between
the canonical and previously non-canonical, the old
canon espoused by Smith and the new one cast by
[Théophile] Thoré-Burger and instituted by [Wilhelm
von] Bode and his protégés.”45 Ripps explains that, on
the one hand, Martin dealt in the work of fashionable
artists (“the old canon”) including the Leiden fijnschilder
School, characterized by painters like Gerrit Dou
and Van Mieris (before it fell from favour, largely due
to the adverse re-evaluation of it by the connoisseur
Thoré-Burger) and established landscape painters
of the Golden Age, notably Ruisdael, Hobbema,
and Cuyp. On the other hand, the dealer revealed
distinctive tastes both in his keen interest in Jan
Steen’s comparatively rare religious subjects,46 and
in his promotion of lesser-known, “non-canonical”
masters. By the time of his death, it was claimed that
Martin Colnaghi had “discovered” Jan van Goyen – he
certainly sold numerous examples of Van Goyen’s work
to significant clients abroad (as did Sedelmeyer, who is
credited with popularizing the Dutch artist in France).
He was also credited with helping to bring “the great
Frans Hals back to the notice of the world.”47 A third
artist whose presence on the art market came to be felt
because of Martin Colnaghi’s activities is Vermeer, a
name just then coming back into the frame essentially
through the scholarship of Thoré-Burger.
Martin Colnaghi helped to build up various important
private British art collections amassed by middle
class professionals, including industrialists, especially
in relation to their holdings of Dutch art. One of
his major clients was Albert Levy, who owned some
important works by Dutch and Flemish masters
(Salomon Ruysdael, Rubens, Jan Steen, Rembrandt,
Teniers, Both, etc.), and who once owned Gerrit Dou’s
Astronomer by Candlelight (Getty) and Rembrandt’s SelfPortrait (ex-Heywood Lonsdale, now Norton Simon),
which was disposed of at Christie’s in March 1876.
By contrast, Levy also came to own some remarkable
watercolours by David Cox and Turner.48 A second
collector who Colnaghi supplied with numerous
paintings was Robert Stephenson Clarke (1824-1891),
who ran a successful shipping company, originally
founded in Newcastle by Ralph and Robert Clarke
in 1730. The company thrived in the Industrial
Revolution, shipping coal from Newcastle and later
diversifying to transport other commodities including
grain, fertilisers and steel in northern Europe, the
Mediterranean and West Africa. Stephenson Clarke
bought his pictures mostly from Martin Colnaghi,
including Jan van Huysum’s Flowers in a Terracotta
Vase (Liechtenstein Collection); Hans Memling’s
Madonna and Child (Bourne Park, Lady Juliet Tadgell);
Verspronck’s Portrait of a Lady (Norton Simon
Foundation); circle of Dieric Bouts, Madonna and Child
(sold at Christie’s); Ribera’s Penitence of Saint Peter
(Chicago); and Jan van de Capelle’s Winter Landscape
(with Harris Lindsay), the latter formerly in the
collection of another client of Colnaghi’s – Albert
Levy, as noted above.49 A third important private UK
client of Martin Colnaghi was Charles T. D. Crews,
DL, JP, FSA (1839-1915), who lived at Billingbear
Park, Wokingham, Berkshire. Among the Dutch Old
Masters that Crews once owned and that Martin
Colnaghi had a hand in acquiring for him are Jan
Gossaert’s Portrait of Jean de Carondelet and Lingelbach’s
River Landscape (with Colnaghi).50


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