Gainsborough’s “Duchess of Devonshire” (1876), 10,100 gns. (for the history of its disappearance see Gainsborough, Thomas), “Maria Walpole,” 12,100 gns. (Duke of Cambridge’s sale, 1904); Constable’s “Stratford Mill” (1895), 8500 gns.; Hoppner’s “Lady Waldegrave” (1906), 6000 gns.; Lawrence’s “Childhood’s Innocence” (1907), 8000 gns.; Raeburn’s “Lady Raeburn” (1905), 8500 gns. Here may also be mentioned the 12,600 gns. paid for Turner’s “Mortlake Terrace” in 1908 (Holland sale).
The “appreciation” of the modern continental schools, particularly the French, has been marked since 1880; of high prices paid may be mentioned Corot’s “Danse des Amours” (1898), £7200; Rosa Bonheur’s “Denizens of the Highlands” (1888), 5550 gns.; Jules Breton’s “First Communion,” £9100 in New York (1886); Meissonier’s “Napoleon I. in the Campaign of Paris,” 12¼ in. by 9¼ in. (1882), 5800 gns., and “The Sign Painter” (1891), 6450 gns. High prices are also fetched by pictures of Daubigny, Fortuny, Gallait, Gérôme, Troyon and Israëls. The most marked feature of late has been the demand for the 18th-century painters Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Pater and Lancret; thus “La Ronde Champêtre” of the last named brought £11,200 at the Say Sale in 1908, and Fragonard’s “Le Reveil de Vénus” £5520 at the Sedelmeyer sale, 1907.
“Specialism” is the one important development in art collecting which has manifested itself since the middle of the 19th century. This accounts for and explains the high average quality of the Wellesley (1866), the Buccleuch (1888) and the Holford (1893) collections of drawings by the Old Masters; for the Sibson Wedgwood (1877), the Duc de Forli Dresden (1877), the Shuldham blue and white porcelain (1880), the Benson collection of antique coins (1909), and for the objects of art at the Massey-Mainwaring and Lewis-Hill sales of 1907. Very many other illustrations in nearly every department of art collecting might be quoted—the superb series of Marlborough gems (1875 and 1899) might be included in this category but for the fact that it was formed chiefly in the 18th century. The appreciation—commercially at all events—of mezzotint portraits and of portraits printed in colours, after masters of the early English school, was one of the most remarkable features in art sales during the last years of the 19th century. The shillings of fifty years before were then represented by pounds. The Fraser collection (December 4 to 6, 1900) realized about ten times the original outlay, the mezzotint of the “Sisters Frankland,” after Hoppner, by W. Ward, selling for 290 guineas as against 10 guineas paid for it about thirty years previously. The H. A. Blyth sale (March 11 to 13, 1901, 346 lots, £21,717 : 10s.) of mezzotint portraits was even more remarkable, and as a collection it was the choicest sold within recent times, the engravings being mostly in the first state. The record prices were numerous, and, in many cases, far surpassed the prices which Sir Joshua Reynolds received for the original pictures; e.g. the exceptionally fine example of the first state of the “Duchess of Rutland,” after Reynolds, by V. Green, realized 1000 guineas, whereas the artist received only £150 for the painting itself. Even this unprecedented price for a mezzotint portrait was exceeded on the 30th of April 1901, when an example of the first published state of “Mrs Carnac,” after Reynolds, by J. R. Smith, sold for 1160 guineas. At the Louis Huth sale (1905) 83 lots brought nearly £10,000, Reynolds’s “Lady Bampfylde” by T. Watson, first state before letters, unpublished, fetching 1200 guineas. Such prices as these and many others which might be quoted are exceptional, but they were paid for objects of exceptional rarity or quality.
It is not necessary to pursue the chronicle of recent sales, which have become a feature of every season. It is worth mentioning, however, that the Holland sale, in June 1908, realized £138,118 (432 lots), a “record” sum for a collection of pictures mainly by modern artists; and that for the Rodolphe Kann collection (Paris) of pictures and objects of art, including 11 magnificent Rembrandts, Messrs Duveen paid £1,000,000 in 1907. In every direction there has been a tendency to increase prices for really great artistic pieces, even to a sensational extent. The competition has become acute, largely owing to American and German acquisitiveness. The demand for the finest works of art of all descriptions is much greater than the supply. As an illustration of the magnitude of the art sale business it may be mentioned that the “turnover” of one firm in London alone has occasionally exceeded £1,000,000 annually.
ARTS AND CRAFTS, a comprehensive title for the arts of decorative design and handicraft—all those which, in association with the mother-craft of building (or architecture), go to the making of the house beautiful. Accounts of these will be found under separate headings. “Arts and crafts” are also associated with the movement generally understood as the English revival of decorative art, which began about 1875. The title itself only came into general use when the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was founded, and held its first exhibition at the New Gallery, London, in the autumn of 1888, since which time arts and crafts exhibitions have been common all over Great Britain. The idea of forming a society for the purpose of showing contemporary work in design and handicraft really arose out of a movement of revolt or protest against the exclusive view of art encouraged by the Royal Academy exhibitions, in which oil paintings in gilt frames claimed almost exclusive attention—sculpture, architecture and the arts of decorative design being relegated to quite subordinate positions. In 1886, out of a feeling of discontent among artists as to the inadequacy of the Royal Academy exhibitions, considered as representing the art of Great Britain, a demand arose for a national exhibition to include all the arts of design. One of the points of this demand was for the annual election of the hanging committee by the whole body of artists. After many meetings the group representing the arts and crafts (who belonged to a larger body of artists and craftsmen called the Art-workers’ Guild, founded in 1884), perceiving that the painters, especially the leading group of a school not hitherto well represented in the Academy exhibitions, only cherished the hope of forcing certain reforms on the Academy, and were by no means prepared to lose their chances of admission to its privileges, still less to run any risk in the establishment of a really comprehensive national exhibition of art, decided to organize an exhibition themselves in which artists and craftsmen might show their productions, so that contemporary work in decorative art should be displayed to the public on the same footing, and with the same advantages as had hitherto been monopolized by pictorial art. For many years previously there had been great activity in the study and revival in the practice of many of the neglected decorative handicrafts. Amateur societies and classes were in existence, like the Home Arts and Industries Association, which had established village classes in wood-carving, metal work, spinning and weaving, needlework, pottery and basket-work, and the public interest in handicraft was steadily growing. The machine production of an industrial century had laid its iron hands upon what had formerly been the exclusive province of the handicraftsman, who only lingered on in a few obscure trades and in forgotten corners of England for the most part. The ideal of mechanical perfection dominated British workmen, and the factory system, first by extreme division of labour, and then by the further specialization of the workman under machine production, left no room for individual artistic feeling among craftsmen trained and working under such conditions. The demand of the world-market ruled the character and quality of production, and to the few who would seek some humanity, simplicity of construction or artistic feeling in their domestic decorations and furniture, the only choice was that of the tradesman or salesman, or a plunge into costly and doubtful experiments in original design. From the ’forties onward there had
- Whose members, comprehending as they do the principal living designers, architects, painters and craftsmen of all kinds, have played no inconsiderable part in the English revival.