Negotiating Art

Last Friday and Saturday, Vastari’s Jenny Judova attended the National Gallery Negotiating Art Conference. The conference was created in partnership with The University of Manchester, supported by Agnew’s, and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

“Negotiating Art” examined the murkier, lesser-known side of the art world: the relationship between commercial art dealers and museums,shedding light on the good, the bad, and the ugly practices of the 19th to mid 20th century.

The first panel of the conference was dedicated to the influence art dealers had on shaping museum collections, usually through personal relationships with directors, curators, and trustees:  

Elizabeth Heath (National Portrait Gallery/University of Sussex) ’A professional and personal touch: George Scharf and his interaction with dealers in developing the National Portrait Gallery’s collection’

Barbara Pezzini (National Gallery/University of Manchester) ‘Agents, mediators and direct suppliers: London art dealers and the National’

Alexis Clark (University of Southern California) ‘A Conflicted Collaboration: Ambroise Vollard, Léonce Bénédite, and the Caillebotte Bequest’

The second panel of the first day had a running theme of how museums changed their collecting directions in times of turmoil:Lukas Cladders (Basel Museum/University of Heidelberg) ‘The Kunsthistorisches Museum’s failed attempt to acquire Duccio’́s Gualino Madonna, 1920–1923’

Inge Reist (The Frick Collection) ‘The Frick After Frick: Trustee Acquisitions and the Art Market’

Alex Taylor (Tate) ‘British dealers and American Art at the Tate Gallery’

Igne’s talk showed that no matter how famous a collection is it can still surprise you. Her talk was focused on the development of the Frick collection after the death of the collector Henry Frick - apparently at one point the collection even owned a Cezanne! Even more surprisingly, many of the works now associated with the collection were bought after Henry’s death.

Alex Taylor’s talk about how Tate started buying Modern Art proved to be incredibly well timed as Met Breuer opens in New York.

The third panel looked at the museum-gallery relationship from the perspective of the commercial gallery. My favourite quote came during this panel when Cliff Schorer remarked ‘The Art World is a conflict of interests.’

The speakers of the third panel were:

Michael Tollemache (Society of London Art Dealers) ‘Thomas Blaydes (1795–1875), his collection and its dispersal: how members of the art trade and of the museum world contribute to primary research.’

Julian Agnew (Julian Agnew Fine Art Ltd.)

Cliff Schorer (Thos. Agnew’s Ltd.)

Sarah Allen (Head of Research, Hauser & Wirth)

The second day took a more criminological turn by examining the incredibly important issues of authenticity and provenance and questioning the art dealers’ worth as an art expert.  

The fourth panel of the conference included:

Imogen Tedbury (National Gallery/Courtauld Institute) ‘Difficult Dealings: Robert Langton Douglas and the National Gallery’

Catherine Scallen (Case Western Reserve University) ‘Bode and Duveen: Authority, Expertise, and the Art Market’

Frances Fowle (Scottish National Gallery/University of Edinburgh) ‘Dubious Dealings and issues of connoisseurship: David Croal Thomson and the curious case of M. Mégret and the ‘The Haybinders’’  

Alison Clarke (National Gallery/University of Liverpool) ‘The air of connoisseurship’: The National Gallery versus Agnew's’

Paul Tucker (Università degli Studi di Firenze) ‘Charles Fairfax Murray (1849–1919): his Relations with Public Museums and with the Dealer Thomas Agnew and Sons.’

Andrea Meyer (Technische Universität Berlin) ‘On the Overlapping of Curating and Dealing. The Foundation of the German Museums Association in 1917’

The final panel of the conference ‘Creating a Market’ started with an interesting remark by Christian Huemer (Getty Research Institute) that questioned the difference between a museum and the art market. Indeed, the conference papers showed that the boundary between the museum and the market is not that clear,  museum directors that have acted as art dealers, and art dealers who have turned into museum directors. This theme was continued in the first talk by Morna O’Neil which examined Hugh Lane as a ‘gentleman collector’ and his facilitation in creating museums in both South Africa and Dublin.

The speakers and papers of the final panel were:

Morna O’Neill (Wake Forest University) ‘Good Business: Hugh Lane and his Museums’

Eunmin Lim (University of York) ‘Murray Marks and Wilhelm von Bode’s Collaboration for the Kaiser Friedrich Museum: Cataloguing Collecting and Displaying Italian Renaissance Bronzes, c. 1888–1913’

Megan Reddicks (Detroit Institute of Art) ‘Das sehr interessante Bild von Kandinsky: Ferdinand Möller and the Detroit Institute of Arts’

The final paper of the conference presented by Megan Reddick was an incredible case-study-turned-detective-story that many art historians only hope to encounter. The simple question of ‘Why is this Kandinsky at Detroit Institute of Art?’ turned into a fascinating investigation going all the way back to the times of WWII.

The closing remarks were addressed by none other than Sir Nicholas Penny, the recently retired director of the National Gallery, and echoed the general sentiment of the conference,that essentially it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish between the museum and the art market, as the players are usually the same people. Especially now in a ‘gig’ economy more and more culture professionals can be working for a museum one week and for a commercial gallery the next, while also being prolific art journalists.

We are incredibly thankful to the National Gallery for organising this fantastic conference and we will be getting  in touch with its research centre and with the speakers to request their conference texts to publish here. So watch this space.