Florence, Berlin and Beyond: Late Nineteenth-Century Art Markets and their Social Networks
(Series: Studies in the History of Collecting & Art Markets, Volume 9)
Lynn Catterson, 2020, Brill.
Review by Tom Stammers

Networks are now a ubiquitous, if rarely theorised, concept in the history of collecting. Networks typically demonstrate how diverse actors, often operating across considerable distances, and each with their own distinct skills or agendas, interact. But how can we measure the density or intensity of these bonds? How was influence distributed within the group, and to what ends? The new edited volume ‘Florence, Berlin and Beyond’ offers fourteen deeply researched case-studies which show the importance of networks and networking to the late nineteenth-century art market. It grew out of some papers presented at two sessions of the CAA in 2018, along with fresh commissions. The shift in geography announced in the title is one mark of the work’s originality. In contrast to Paris and London, which have received substantial English-language scholarship, the focus here is on the cities of post-unification Italy. These essays demonstrate the exceptional wealth of archival material which can be tapped to illustrate the often murky business of art collecting on the Italian peninsula, a business which nonetheless exercised a transformative impact on museums across Europe and North America.

The twin personalities who dominate the volume are the Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini and the Bismarck of German museums, the scholar and curator Wilhelm von Bode. The two make for a powerful pairing, whose influence was pervasive, as can be attested in scores of documents (such as the 6,000 annotated calling cards in the Bardini archives). As Lynn Catterson’s closing contribution underlines, the two men also covertly co-operated, with Bode offering scholarly legitimacy to pieces retailed by Bardini, and with Bardini’s clients demanding pieces that resembled those found in Berlin museums. This cross-fertilisation of art historical scholarship and the art market has led to a “contamination” of the canon, she argues in relation to Donatello. Other types of contamination or distortion involving the sculptor’s corpus are exposed in the essay of Vasily Rastorguev, who convincingly shows that a problematic marble relief showing the Flagellation of Christ, attributed to Donatello and acquired by Berlin Museums in 1892, is most likely a brilliant forgery perpetuated by the American artist Thomas Waldo Story.

The essays are all grounded in quite exceptional archival work, often linking together documents separated across several institutions. Once reunited, these documents can illuminate the mixture of intellectual pursuit, profit, rivalry and sociability that sustained many collectors’ correspondence. We might consider the transatlantic dialogues about Della Robbia terracottas between Bode, his protégé Wilhelm Valentiner and the American scholar Allan Marquand, keen to push his own scientific methods of attribution (neatly explained by Kerri Pfister); or the importance of Bode’s introductions in unlocking the American market to Contini Bonacossi, who quickly capitalised on public museums’ demand for ‘original’ and certified works of art. In this melding of expertise and opportunism, Fulvia Zaninelli explains, ‘connoisseurship revealed itself to be particularly compatible with the fast-paced dynamics of the art market and easily translate for the demands for authenticity/authorship and aesthetic excellence of artworks’ (p.251). In this way, many of these essays illuminate not just the flux in artist’s reputations,  but also the flux in the respect accorded to different connoisseurs and dealers as gatekeepers, not least Frederick  Spitzer (the consequences of whose dispersal sale in 1893 and 1895 for German buyers is effectively traced by Paola Cordera). Whilst scholarship could be distorted to serve financial advantage, there were also some examples of how the art market and public interest might be reconciled. Paul Tucker celebrates Charles Fairfax Murray’s association with Agnew’s, carefully working through the ledgers and accounts to show how the English connoisseur’s frequent sale and repurchase of paintings evolved in tandem with his decision to make major gifts to the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Fitzwilliam Museum.

One pleasure of the essays is the attention paid to the complexity and sensitivity of particular transactions, especially at a time of growing fury in Italy about the failure to preserve cultural patrimony despite the 1892 Pacca Law. Particularly gripping is Jeremy Howard’s reconstruction of the different twists and turns that accompanied Isabella Stewart Gardner’s purchase of the Chigi Madonna, a landmark purchase for her own collecting ambitions and for Botticelli in the United States. Some of the contributors spotlight collectors who deserve more attention, such as the Prince Johann II of Lichtenstein, a Bode devotee; others underline the importance of particular dealers, such as Ludwig Pollak and Attilio Simonetti in Rome, or Charles Ffoulke in Washington DC, who almost accidentally became the foremost dealer in historic tapestries in North America after acquiring 135 pieces from the Barberini family; others concentrate on particular archival deposits, such as the mass of illustrated letters sent to Bardini between 1885-1902 by Napoleone Aglietti, an ambitious provincial dealer trying to muscle into bigger networks.

This generously illustrated and well-presented set of essays significantly enriches our picture of the sale and interpretation of Italian Renaissance pictures and decorative art in the years around 1900. Especially welcome is discussion of Jane Healey Jackson, wife of the American sculptor John Adams Jackson, by Jacqueline Musacchio. Musacchio draws on Jackson’s intriguing illustrated autograph album to help reconstruct the couple’s time and social contacts in Italy, before showing how these passions were passed on to her daughter Margaret Hasting Jackson, a professor at (and donor to) Wellesley College. Along with the essays on Gardner and Nélie Jacquemart, this reflection on one woman and one family’s experiences in Italy exemplifies the merit of the whole volume in restoring many hitherto unknown links in the networks of art collecting, scholarship and dealing, and exposing how tightly these networks overlapped.

Book Information:

Florence, Berlin and Beyond: Late Nineteenth-Century Art Markets and their Social Networks (Series: Studies in the History of Collecting & Art Markets, Volume 9) 2020. 

Lynn Catterson, 2020. Leiden, The Netherlands : Brill, 572 pp., €145.00 (excl. VAT) / $174.00 (hardback; ebook also available). ISBN 978-90-04-41990-2 (hardback) 978-90-04-43104-1 (ebook).


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