This essay uses the case study of a prominent firm of art dealers, Thos. Agnew and Sons (Agnew’s), to present a methodological discussion of how digital tools can be used to investigate circulation and transnational exchange in the historical art market, highlighting how these tools offer new ideas and opportunities for research, but also present tensions and contradictions.
The essay focuses particularly on the dynamics of Agnew’s transatlantic art trade, and seeks to present analysis of the firm’s financial data within a nuanced and contextualised historical narrative about the cross-cultural movement of art between Britain and the United States. The principal data is drawn from Agnew’s London Stock Books, and its interpretive framework builds upon a recent collaborative pilot project between the National Gallery and King’s College London, which resulted in a database that records these transactions, investigates financial information, traces works of art, and identifies the biographical information and geographical locations of buyers and sellers. The essay, ultimately, aims to clarify how a top-tier, successful, and well-established dealership operated.