Issue 20 : Autumn 2005
For the study of English painting from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, a fundamental reference tool remains Edward Croft-Murray’s History of Decorative Painting in England from 1537 to 1837, published in two volumes in 1962 and 1971. ‘Decorative’ is deceptive, since this magisterial survey covers all monumental painting of the period, each volume including thematic chapters, an extensive catalogue, detailed biographical notices of individual artists, and many illustrations. So, if it’s Holbein at Whitehall or Laguerre at Chatsworth, Zucchi at 20 Portman Square or Cipriani at Somerset House, or even wall paintings in parish churches or relatively minor houses of the period, these books are one’s first port of call.
After a long career as Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Croft-Murray died in 1980, but his widow, Jill, has now generously donated the archive from which the books were produced to the Courtauld Institute’s Wall Painting Survey. And what a goldmine this is! The published material represents just the tip of the iceberg of decades of research. Included in the archive are many rare and unpublished photographs, detailed research on the continental as well as English commissions of the many foreign painters active in this country. It also includes rare offprints and newspaper cuttings of newly-discovered or recently conserved paintings. Perhaps most valuable of all, extensive correspondence with owners and archivists, and with friends and colleagues such as Howard Colvin and John Harris, provides much of the data from which the catalogue entries and biographical notices were eventually synthesised.
The archive was given to the Institute’s Wall Painting Department for incorporation into the Survey archive housed here. The National Survey of Medieval Wall Painting, begun in 1980 in collaboration with the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, with the intention of providing a complete written and photographic survey of English medieval wall painting, has long since expanded to include other types of medieval monumental painting (such as polychrome sculpture), as well as domestic wall paintings up to c.1800 (a class of painting particularly liable to damage and destruction). Now occupying more than 30 cabinets, it is perhaps the most complete archive of its type in the world, and freely available for use by conservators, art historians and other interested researchers. The one area in which it was conspicuously lacking was the great schemes of the post-medieval era; this lacuna has now been triumphantly filled.
It is to be hoped that Teddy, as he was known to his friends, would have approved of the ultimate destination of his archive. He was a remarkable man in every way, and I remember him in the 1970s as a particularly good-humoured member of the Wallpaintings Committee of the Council for the Places of Worship, distinguished by his antique silver-rimmed spectacles. A particular expert not just on wall paintings, but also on British and Venetian drawings, he was also deeply musical, and especially adept at playing the kettle-drums. With Jill he lived in a beautiful early Georgian house on Richmond Green, itself embellished by landscape panels by Antonio Joli in the entrance hall, and this house itself now forms one of the thousands of sites documented by the Courtauld Wall Painting Survey.
Conservation of Wall Paintings