The Student Research Project, an initiative developed by the Research Forum to explore the rich resources within the Institute, is now in its third year. This year, student research assistants are exploring the theme, Collecting and the Courtauld Collections, looking at three different collectors: Thomas Gambier Parry, whose collection came to the Courtauld Gallery in 1966, a private collection, surveyed by the Institute’s Photographic Survey Department in 1984 and Sir Robert Witt who was both a private collector and a ‘public collector’ for the nation through the National Arts Collection Fund.

Caitlin Silberman, Sarah Burke, Vivien Wang and Mackenzie Bennett have presented their initial findings. Mackenzie is researching Sir Robert Witt’s six albums of clippings in the Witt archive, covering 1919 to the late 1940s, presenting Sir Robert in his various roles as exhibition organiser, Trustee of national institutions, Chairman of the NACF, collector, benefactor, promoter of contemporary art and creator of a picture library. The albums give a detailed picture of the art world and the key figures of the period. In this, the Institute’s 75th anniversary year, Mackenzie is concentrating on the albums covering 1927-1932, the time when Sir Robert dropped some of his responsibilities to concentrate on building his picture library.

Caitlin and Sarah are working on the Thomas Gambier Parry archives, a recent loan from Gambier Parry’s descendant, Tom Fenton. Access to the nineteenth century family inventories offers new insights into Gambier Parry the collector and how his taste developed as a result of his travels. Sarah is paying attention to what books Gambier Parry read, which lectures he attended and with whom he socialised. Caitlin is exploring the 1863 paintings’ inventory, which orders the artworks in Gambier Parry’s home at Highnam Court, room by room, to recreate an example of how a collection was displayed in a Victorian home.

In their future research, Mackenzie will focus on the drawings Sir Robert Witt purchased for his own collection, circa 1930 in the context of the contemporaneous art scene. Caitlin and Sarah will further explore Gambier Parry’s collection focusing on the choices involved in its display and the correspondence between Gambier Parry and his art dealers. Vivien will continue to research the different inventories of the private collection between the eighteenth century and 1980s and the issues faced by owners of private collections.

Barbara Thompson – Witt & Conway Librarian