Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire, Interior, Hall


The Research Forum’s Associates Programme continued this year with the theme: Collecting and The Courtauld Collections. Three students are researching the study of the history of art in the period before the foundation of the Courtauld Institute of Art using material from the archive and photographic collections; Sir Robert Witt’s albums of news-cuttings, published articles, speeches and books of Lord Conway and Sir Robert Witt and the nineteenth-century photographs within the Witt and Conway Libraries. Two students are researching two collections surveyed by Photographic Survey, Grimsthorpe Castle and Drayton House. They are exploring the relationship between the collections, the collectors and the buildings, making use of the Photographic Survey’s relationships with the owners in recording their collections, the photographs themselves, and visits to the buildings. The Research Associates presented their first thoughts and findings at a Research Forum seminar in March.

Ashley Siple explored the importance of the visual document in the study of our discipline, looking at photographers, both commercial and institutional, that made photographic surveys of works of art, in Europe’s national museums and of monuments in the public domain. Conway and Witt were quick to perceive the value of photography and were determined to create photographic collections of national significance, to inform and support the study of art.

Zachary Stewart looked at Sir Robert Witt’s activities at the time of the First World War. These were formative years for Witt, particularly 1919, since they helped him refine his ideas, his purpose and presentation of art in national life. Zachary used the albums to explore Witt’s method of collecting and the organisation of his library at a time when it ceased to be a private pastime and became a public venture. Witt’s involvement with the National Loans Collection was cemented in 1919 as was his passionate conviction ‘all art for all’ that underlined his future activities.

Robin Chung explored the relationship between Britain and the United States during the 1920s; the passage of people, the relocation of works of art, the exchange of ideas, the bonds of friendship and collaboration, facilitated by and on the ocean liners travelling between Southampton and New York. As a trustee of the National and Tate Galleries, Chairman of the National Arts Collections Fund and member of the Royal Commission for Museums and Galleries, Sir Robert Witt was well positioned to police, scrutinize and supervise exchanges between the two countries.

Working on private collections that have been recorded by the Photographic Survey, Clare Brisby and Diane Flint have visited Grimsthorpe Castle and Drayton House. At Grimsthorpe Clare chose to work on three battle-scenes painted by Laguerre. They depicted the Duke of Marlborough’s victories – two of Blenheim and one of Ramillies, and they were based on a set made, for Marlborough House. Other sets exist, for example at Plas Newydd. They were unusual in the accuracy of their topography and the realism of the battle scenes. At Grimsthorpe they are now hung on one of the staircases flanking the Vanburgh Hall. They were probably hung in a room now used as a passage, an ante-room to the grand series of rooms that would be appropriate for such demonstrations of loyalty. Diane examined the Vanburgh Hall itself, the centrepiece of the north front – the only part of Vanburgh’s great design that was actually built. The occasion for the re-building – within 50 years of a previous one – was clearly the elevation of Robert, 17th Baron Willoughby de Eresby and 4th Earl of Lindsey to the Duchy of Ancaster in 1715. The construction was undertaken by the 2nd Duke, who succeeded in 1723. The exterior is imposing and grandiose, with pairs of banded Tuscan columns flanking two tiers of round-arched windows. The interior reflects these arches, as windows, as openings in screen walls, and as blind arcades. The upper level has a series of seven grisaille wall-paintings of royal benefactors to the family, from William the Conqueror on the left to the current king, George I, in the prime position above the chimneypiece. All are depicted as statues, and are by Sir James Thornhill. They do not appear in any inventories, as they are part of the fabric of the hall. Diane showed that the grisailles together with heraldic and emblematic features and furnishings were intended as an integral part of an orchestrated architectural setting designed to reflect the family’s enduring associations with the monarchy.

The Research associates will continue to develop their ideas throughout the summer term and will present their final papers to the Institute’s research community on 26 June.

Dr Jane Cunningham, Head of Photographic Survey Department and Barbara Thompson, Witt and Conway Librarian