Research groups & Projects Archive
Collecting and the Courtauld Collections
Research Forum report, June 2007
Caitlin Silberman’s presentation:
The formation of Thomas Gambier Parry’s collection
While in my first term as a research assistant I delved into the inventories of paintings and objects in the Gambier Parry collection to see how a Victorian collector and scholar displayed his collection, the intent of my research in the second term was to discover what sources might have influenced the formation of that collection. I read through the archives looking for references to written works that Thomas Gambier Parry read or owned, or to learned individuals with whom he spoke about his collection. I found that Thomas Gambier Parry wrote with confidence on the attributions of his paintings, for instance the Lorenzo Monaco Coronation of the Virgin, attributed by Gambier Parry to Giotto, on which he wrote, “Giotto- was no. 140 in Mr. D. Bromley's sale- it is good enough for Giotto- but I suppose it by a first rate pupil- some one of the Gaddi perhaps.”
Or in the case of a set of three parts of predella, which were attributed to Starnina when he purchased them, Gambier Parry wrote, “I incline to doubt it. I think it may be by Beato Angelico. Some of the heads & attitudes are certainly B. Angelico's- and the colouring also- particularly of the flesh tints.” Today scholars agree with Gambier Parry’s assessment.
Reading these pronouncements gives us no sense of how Gambier
Parry arrived at these conclusions. Yet with the aid of the
archives, we may begin to form a picture of a collector informed
by the latest scholarship, an assiduous reader who consulted
with living experts, engaged in contemporary exhibitions of
paintings and objects as a lender and visitor, and a constant
student whose fascination with art led him to engage with his
collection in a meaningful, intellectual way. His enthusiasm
was passed on to generations of descendents.
A Valuable Resource: The 1971 Auction Catalogue.
The archival sources that I used included a 1897 inventory written by Ernest Gambier Parry, Thomas’ son; undated papers marked “Notes made by Ernest Gambier Parry on his father’s collection; he was assisted by one of his sisters”; references in the ‘miscellaneous’ folder of the archives, and references in Gambier Parry’s book, “The Ministry of Fine Art.”
Another valuable resource, the 1971 Auction catalogue of books from the Gambier Parry household reveals a number of volumes on art, from general books on the history of art to reference books on artists, exhibition catalogues, and guides to collections national and private.
Thomas Gambier Parry and his son Ernest also record a number of distinguished figures of the art world as visitors to the collection and as personal friends. Ernest Gambier Parry’s 1897 inventory refers to visits from “father’s old friend, Lord Leighton P.R.A, and Sir Edward Poynter, PRA” and adding that, “I regret that no remarks of these last two were recorded at the time.” The feeling is mutual.
We are tantalized by references to Leighton and Poynter, but only treated to small scraps, sometimes literally, as in this reference to Poynter in the ‘Miscellaneous’ file of the archives.
Ernest Gambier Parry’s inventory records that Leighton visited the collection in 1888 and selected a handful of works for exhibition in the RA’s Winter Exhibition, the yearly exhibition of old master works.
Artworks from Gambier Parry’s collection were frequently lent out for exhibitions, first recorded in the 1850s; a few retain the stickers that identify them. For instance the sticker on this Athos cross:
Or Leeds exhibition label on this large enamel:
Leeds Exhibition Labels.
Returning to the subject of contemporary visitors to the collection, another high-placed friend of Gambier Parry’s from the art world was Sir Charles Eastlake, director of the National Gallery from 1855 to 1865. Thomas Gambier Parry records Eastlake as a personal friend who graciously allowed Gambier Parry to win at auction a painting that Eastlake wanted for the National Gallery’s collection. Gambier Parry owned books by Eastlake, and also the The Treasures of Art in Great Britain, a.translation by Eastlake’s wife of a book by the German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen.
Charles Eastlake also knew and employed Waagen and G.B. Cavascelle, to whose work, with Sir Joseph Arthur Crowe Gambier Parry refers in this notice:
And here are two more references to books of scholarship:
Gambier Parry also knew and corresponded with John Ruskin, who wrote him a letter in 28 July1852 mentioning the former’s watercolors, and asking Gambier Parry about the subjects and sizes of his Turner drawings for a project of Ruskin’s in documenting Turner’s works. Ruskin wrote, “I trust you have has a pleasant journey home and made many more sketches.” Presumably the journey home was from Venice, where Ruskin might have met up with Thomas Gambier Parry.
There is also an inventory of the collection dated 1875 and compiled by William Chaffers (1811-1892), author of the reference works Hall Marks on Gold and Silver Plate and Marks and Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain, both published in 1863. The latter work made him a leading authority on the subject and although we have no written evidence it would be sensible to assume that Gambier Parry was familiar with these works. The 1971 catalogue also records that he owned J. Maryatt’s Pottery and Porcelain of 1850
Furthermore, it was Chaffers who organized the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857. Gambier Parry owned the catalogue to this exhibition, as well as a guide to the Stowe collection.
Some footnotes in “The Ministry of Fine Art” and in Thomas Gambier Parry’s notes for the book record his scholarship of art historical objects, including a rather indecipherable note on enameling and multiple references to A. Franks’s work known, alternately, as “Vitrean Art” or “Vitreous Art.” This author was Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, Keeper of British and Mediaeval Antiquities at the British Museum. He wrote an essay for the Chaffers-organized Manchester Art Treasures exhibition of 1857, in which Gambier Parry was exhibited and whose catalogue he owned. Franks also wrote books on the British Museum collections, silver plate, medals, and European and Eastern porcelain, all of which would have been valuable to Thomas Gambier Parry, although I have found no reference to them.
Between his personal and intellectual familiarity with heads of the National Gallery, two presidents of the Royal Academy, and a number of independent scholars, we can see Thomas Gambier Parry as connected into a network of the most learned scholars of his day.
I have found one reference to Gambier Parry’s collection of Eastern art; on a page of his Ministry notes marked “Damascening” he references the writings of Mr. Reinaud and Abbé Lancé.
Speaking of an artifact now known as the Blacas Ewer, now in the British Museum, Thomas Gambier Parry writes, “Reinaud, in learned work on the collection for the Duke of Blacas, has found that the Mosul in Mesopotamia was the place of manufacture as early as the first half of the 13th century, and has given a quotation for a contemporary Arab Geographer on the popularity of works exported thence. Vide works of the Abbé Lancé on the zodiacal patterns on this and other items of work. Venice was the European place of import.”
This writing is undated (but surely written before 1887. His reference to the zodiacal patterns on items of Islamic work is especially interesting in that he had one of these in his collection.
Incense Burner of pierced and engraved brass inlaid with silver, with images of the planets within roundels. Mamluk, Syria, probably late 13th century, or 1280-1290. Brass inlaid with silver, diam. 5.3 cm. Spigot in interior of one hemisphere possibly for attachment of incense bowl. Bought by TGP between 1860 and 1875.
This is a small Mamluk incense burner made of pierced and engraved brass inlaid with silver, with images of the planets and zodiacal symbols in the roundels. Syrian in origin, it was probably crafted in the late 13th century. It is now on display in the Courtauld Institute Gallery. We are not sure when Gambier Parry purchased it, and are only able to restrict the time frame of purchase inasmuch as it appears in Chaffey’s 1875 inventory of objects but not in the owner’s 1860 inventory. This is a very rare and valuable work and given the reference to outside scholarship it is gratifying to see that at some point he made inroads to interpreting the significance of the artefact.
We also find Gambier Parry congratulating himself on collecting Rhodian ware—the Victorian term for Ottoman pottery—‘long before the present rage’:
After Thomas Gambier Parry’s death, his son Ernest continued to engage in scholarship on the collection; to a greater extent, or at least to a more greatly documented extent, Ernest Gambier Parry invited experts to the family’s home and home of the collection at Highnam, Gloucestershire. The thoughts of visitors including Professor Holmes, Director of the National Gallery in May 1919; Sir Claude Phillips, Keeper of the Wallace Collection; Roger Fry; and Bernard Berenson are recorded in the collection. These visits mainly came in the 1910s and 20s, with especially in-depth appraisals recorded from Dr. Raymond van Marle, author of “The Italian Schools of Painting” in 1924-5 and Mr. W.G. Constable “of the National Gallery” and Mr. St. Clair Baddeley, in the following year.
Further research may be done on this valuable topic to gain a fuller picture of Thomas Gambier Parry as a student of the visual arts and their history. It is certain that the 1971 catalogue and the references in the archives represent only a very incomplete view of Gambier Parry’s activities on this front. Gambier Parry’s book The Ministry of Fine Art might be much further mined for information; the same goes for his articles written for the Ecclesiologist and other periodicals.
I have been honored to work with Sacha Gerstein, Sarah Burke, and the staff of the Research Forum, and to be able to take part in the Forum’s valuable work. I hope that my investigations into the Gambier Parry papers have contributed to our understanding of this fascinating collector, scholar, traveler, writer, and philanthropist.