Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Fagan, Louis Alexander

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FAGAN, LOUIS ALEXANDER (1845–1903), etcher and writer on art, born at Naples on 7 Feb. 1845, was second son in a family of three sons and four daughters of George Fagan by his wife Maria, daughter of Louis Carbone, an officer in the Italian army. Robert Fagan [q. v.], diplomatist and artist, was his grandfather. The elder brother, Joseph George, a major-general in the Indian army, died in 1908; the younger, Charles Edward, is secretary of the Natural History Museum, South Kensington. His father, who joined the diplomatic service, was for many years from 1837 attaché to the British legation at Naples, then the capital of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and in his official capacity gave assistance to Sir Anthony Panizzi [q. v.] when on a political mission to Naples in 1851; he was made secretary of legation to the Argentine confederation in 1856, and after settling satisfactorily British claims in Buenos Aires in 1858 became consul-general successively to central America in 1860, to Ecuador (1861-5), and minister, chargé d'affaires, and consul-general to Venezuela (1865-9); he died of yellow fever at Caracas in 1869 (Fagan, Life of Panizzi, ii. 101-2).

Fagan's boyhood was spent in Naples, where he early learned Italian and developed an interest in Italian life, literature, and art. In 1860 he was sent in charge of a queen's messenger to a private school at Leytonstone, Essex. In England, he was kindly received by his father's friend, Panizzi (ibid. ii. 213). While still a boy, on returning to Naples, he carried letters from Panizzi to the revolutionary leaders in the Two Sicilies, and he imbibed strong revolutionary sympathies. Accompanying his father to America, he served in the British legation at Caracas (1866-7). In 1868 he was secretary to the commission for the settlement of British claims in Venezuela. He returned from South America in June 1869, and in September stayed in Paris with Panizzi's friend, Prosper Mérimée, who wrote of him as 'conservant malgré toutes les nationalités par où il a passé l'air de l'English boy' (ibid. ii. 274-5).

The same month he obtained on Panizzi's recommendation a post of assistant in the department of prints and drawings in the British Museum, afterwards becoming chief assistant under George William Reid [q. v.] and (Sir) Sidney Colvin successively. He retired through ill-health in 1894. A somewhat hasty temper occasioned friction with his colleagues. Yet during the twenty-five years of official life he helped to increase the usefulness of his department alike for students and the general public.

He published a 'Handbook' to his department (1876) and a series of volumes of service to collectors and connoisseurs, viz. 'Collectors' Marks' (1883); 'One Hundred Examples of Engravings by F. Bartolozzi, with Descriptions and Biographical Notice' (4 pts. 1885); 'A Catalogue Raisonné of the Engraved Works of William Woollett' (1885); 'Descriptive Catalogue of the Engraved Works of W. Faithorne' (1888); and 'History of Engraving in England' (3 pts. fol. 1893). He also gave lantern lectures on the British Museum through the country and published in 1891 'An Easy Walk through the British Museum.'

His Italian training, which made the Italian language as familiar to him as English, focussed his main interests on Italian art and literature. His chief works on these subjects were 'The Works of Correggio at Parma, with Biographical and Descriptive Notes' (folio, 1873); 'Catalogo dei disegni, sculture, quadri e manoscritti di Michelangelo Buonarroti esistenti in Inghilterra' (in vol. ii. of Aurelio Gotti's 'Vita di M. Buonarroti')(1875); 'The Art of Michel' Angelo Buonarroti as illustrated by Various Collections in the British Museum' (1883), and 'Raffaello Sanzio: his Sonnet in the British Museum' (1884). He translated Marco Minghetti's 'The Masters of Raffaello' in 1882.

Fagan was also a practical artist, painting well in water-colours, drawing with refinement, and etching with much delicacy. He exhibited at the Royal Academy a series of etchings in 1872 depicting views and costumes of Naples; an etching of G. F. Watts's portrait of Sir Anthony Panizzi in 1878, and two etchings of Italian subjects in 1881. Some of these appeared in volume form in 'Twelve Etchings' (1873 fol.). He presented a collection of his etchings in various states of execution made between 1871 and 1877 to the British Museum in November 1879; they mainly depict Italian scenes and peasants.

Until Panizzi's death Fagan's relations with him remained close, and Panizzi appointed him his literary executor at his death in 1879. In 1880 Fagan published Panizzi's biography (2 vols.), which went through two editions and received Gladstone's commendation. In the same year Fagan edited and published at Florence 'Lettere ad Antonio Panizzi di uomini illustri e di Amici Italiani 1823-70,' and in 1881 he issued Mérimée's 'Lettres à M. Panizzi, 1850-1870,' of which English and Italian translations appeared the same year.

Fagan, who was a popular lecturer on art, travelled widely. He delivered the Lowell lectures at Boston in 1891, and in the course of long tours personally examined almost every art collection in Europe, America, and Australia. He advised on the arrangement of the art treasures at Victoria Museum, Melbourne.

A popular member of the Reform Club, Fagan published in 1886 'The Reform Club: its Founders and Architect.' After his retirement from the museum he lived for the most part in Italy, and built for himself a residence at Florence, where he died suddenly on 5 Jan. 1903. He married on 8 Nov. 1887 Caroline Frances, daughter of James Purves of Melbourne, Australia, who survived him. A portrait in oils (painted by J. S. Sargent, R.A., in 1894) was presented by his widow in 1911 to the Arts Club, Dover Street, London, W.

[The Times, 8 Jan. 1903; Mag. of Art, 1903, xxvii. 311; Bryan, Dict. of Painters and Engravers, 1903; Pratt, People of the Period, 1897; A. Graves, Royal Acad. Exhibitors, 1905; private information.]

W. B. O.