Agnews to close (ctd.)

February 15 2013

Image of Agnews to close (ctd.)

Picture: Look and Learn

When I reported that Agnews was to close after 195 years, readers asked what would happen to their invaluable archive. A reader informs me that it will definitely be sold, and that it is already boxed up, ready to go. The question is, of course, where will it go? Two centuries' worth of dealing in everything from Rembrandt to Bacon has left Agnews with what must be one of the most important - and valuable - art historical archives in the country. A likely bidder, however, is the Getty Institute in California, which has a fine provenance research centre. Of course, one would prefer the archive to remain in the UK, and it seems unlikely that it will easily get an export licence if sold abroad. But it would not be too much of a loss if it did go to the Getty - as they would soon have everything online, and open to all.

Update - on Twitter, Neil Jeffares makes this important point:

Let's update the Waverley criteria, distinguishing information from objects, [and] making online publication a condition.

The UK export controls currently only allow for a binary decision - it either stays in the country or it doesn't. Probably, in this digital world, the exporting committee should be able to allow for a foreign buyer like the Getty to give an undertaking to provide universal access, and factor that into an application.

One reader, however, would rather the archive remained in the UK:

You may know that the Getty already has microfilm copies of part of Agnew's archive, comprising stock books for the years 1852-1938.

Personally I think it would be a pity if the Getty got it - after all, how many people are going to traipse all the way over there to consult them? The Agnew's archive is the kind of essential reference resource you will want to dip into repeatedly, but briefly, year in year out. Who did they get that picture from? They exhibited such and such a drawing in 1932, but did they sell others from the same source at the same time? That kind of thing.

But you make an excellent point: nowadays if you want to acquire an important art historical archive, it really isn't good enough to expect people to plod along to your premises to examine it between the hours of 10 and 5 with an hour for lunch, under arcane study room conditions. What if you are based in Canada, and the archive is in London? At least the Getty understands that if it wants to be a leader of its kind, it has to address an audience well beyond those that can visit its reading rooms.

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