The truth about Agnew’s and Duveen (1900-1930)
Monday, 14th May at 6pm
Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet St London, WC1E 7HU
Pollard Seminar Room, N301, Third Floor
Major private and public collections worldwide – such as the London National Gallery, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Washington National Gallery of Art – contain a wealth of pictures from the stock of art dealers Agnew’s and Duveen. Often works were purchased from one firm to the other or even held in joint stock. Famous pictures of shared provenance include Philip IV by Diego Velázquez (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Man with a Falcon by Titian (Omaha Museum of Art), and Portrait of James Christie by Thomas Gainsborough (Getty Museum, Los Angeles). Both Agnew’s and Duveen managed a conspicuous flow of works of art from London towards collectors in the United States, and both firms dealt in the same sectors of the art market: European old-masters and British eighteenth century portraits.
The relationship between the two firms, however, has so far remained largely unexplored. Were Agnew’s and Duveen ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’, allies or opponents? Using hitherto unexplored primary sources from the Agnew’s archive at the National Gallery and the Duveen archive at the Getty Research Center, the paper will examine this question and present the origins and development of their relationship from 1900 to 1930. Agnew’s and Duveen’s rapport changed dramatically in these thirty years. In the early 1900s, when the newcomer Duveen captured the trust of the more senior Agnew’s, there was a respectful competition which evolved into a collaboration in the course of the 1910s. But in the 1920s Duveen’s attempted, in covert and not so covert manners, to annihilate Agnew’s, and this paper will investigate Duveen’s offensive strategies and Agnew’s coping mechanisms. In addition, and crucially for a seminar dedicated to collecting and display, this paper will focus on the relationship that both dealers fostered with public and private collectors, as it was essential to the survival, and instrumental to the demise, of their firms.
Barbara Pezzini is a London-based art and cultural historian with a wide range of publications on the art market, including reconstructions of fin-de siècle exhibitions of British painting, the Futurist shows in London, the relationship between dealers and scholars in the early twentieth century and their interactions with the art press. She is particularly interested in the study of the intersection of the art market with art criticism and art practice and how these are reflected in art prices. Barbara is the recipient of an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award between the National Gallery and the University of Manchester to study the relationship between the National Gallery and Agnew’s (1850-1950) and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Visual Resources. She is also part of a joint National Gallery/King’s College London project on (re)presenting data from the stock books of the dealers Thos. Agnew & Sons.