New material on 'Art World in Britain 1660-1735'

July 30 2013

Image of New material on 'Art World in Britain 1660-1735'

Picture: University of York

Lots of lovely new primary source material on Richard Stephens' website. He writes:

1: The art market

The main additions are 180 sale catalogues - featuring 39,000 lots - which represent the publication of three sources that are fundamental for any student of late 17th & early 18th century art in Britain:

A volume of catalogues from 1689-92 compiled by Narcissus Luttrell (1657-1732) and now in the British Library, considered "by far the most important source of information concerning late seventeenth-century taste" (H&M Ogden). Thanks and congratulations to Anna and Peter Moore for having transcribed this volume so efficiently.

A scrapbook of unique art trade ephemera assembled by John Bagford (1650/1-1716) book seller, historian and art dealer. As well as its sale catalogues, the album's trade cards, lottery proposals and handbills are published. The volume, also in the British Library, provides an exceptional view of the every day workings of the picture trade around 1700.

The Houlditch manuscript, a set of catalogue transcripts owned by Richard Houlditch (died 1759), & now in the National Art Library. The pre-1740 contents are published here, which are the chief source for names of auction buyers in the early 18th century.

In addition, brief listings of 300 further sale catalogues - mostly from the 1740s and 50s - are published, describing the sales of artists and collectors who were active earlier in the century.

The index of art sales has been updated with 130 records covering the years 1700-1704. This half decade saw the start of long-term growth in the art market that continued to the 1730s; there was also a changing of the guard within the picture trade, as leading figures of the 1690s died or retired, and new salesmen emerged to replace them.

In total there are now 62,000 auction records on the website. 430 people who bought at auction are identified; 220 people involved in selling pictures by lottery, auction or as dealers/retailers; and 225 addresses where art sales took place  5,300 prices paid for pictures and related services are documented. Collectively these provide a rich & detailed account of artistic production and consumption in this period, when London emerged as a major centre of the international art trade.

2: Sculptors

A list of over 600 sculptors, carvers and related trades has been published, with links to the online edition of the great Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain 1660-1851, from which this information comes. Many thanks to Greg Sullivan and Ann Sproat for sharing their data.

In addition, research for this website has revealed the names of around 50 previously unrecorded masons, carvers and sculptors, which are currently being added to the Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors.

3: What books did painters read?

If we study the books that painters and others read, we can enter their intellectual world, discover the skills they sought to master and learn about the wider interests and concerns. Materials are now published which address this essential question:

A listing of 320 book subscriptions  across architecture, poetry, history, languages, gardening, theology, natural history and travel. Which two dozen titles did Sir James Thornhill order? Which architectural treatise was popular with early 18th century decorative painters? Which dictionary did painters rely on for help with foreign languages  How did they get their clients' titles and honours right?

The libraries of two prominent painter-dealers are recorded in sale catalogues: Henry Cooke (1700-1) and John Closterman (1706)

During the early 18th century several landmark book collections were formed, such as by the Earls of Oxford and Pembroke. A useful introduction to this subject, which describes 20 of the main book collectors in our period, is provided through the publication here of Semour de Ricci's English Collectors of Books and Manuscripts.

4: Dutch-language materials

Brief notices about painters in England, which appeared in the Dutch press, are published. These were recycled from the London press and show that people in the Netherlands were kept aware of the London art world from time to time. The extracts also include a few Dutch newspaper advertisements for both London and continental book and picture sales, which can help us to understand the networks of distribution that enabled sale catalogues to circulate across borders.

We know that hundreds of Dutch painters came to work in London in the 17th century, but we know precious little beyond that. Two documents now published offered detailed information about the circumstances of these migrations. One dates from 1671  and the other from 1687 (a third, from 1714  is already online). We owe Sander Karst of the University of Utrecht our thanks for kindly translating these contracts.

5. Functional changes

There are two small changes that aim to improve users' ability to access the data on the site: 

A book icon is now displayed next to 'full-text' sources (which contain transcripts or summaries of texts) to distinguish them from 'bibliographic' sources (which are index-style listings, with no texts).

It is now possible to browse through the database of places according to several categories, such as book shops, the premises of colour men, art sale venues, coffee houses, and sites of decorative painting.

I particularly like the material on what artists were reading. Here is the full list of newly-published sources.

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