‘The Labours of the Months’ (1923): Herbert Read’s first article for The Burlington Magazine

NPG D37805; Herbert Read by Edgar Holloway
Herbert Read by Edgar Holloway, etching, 1934, London, National Portrait Gallery

Surrealist poet, war hero, militant anarchist, art critic and Editor of The Burlington Magazine from 1933 to 1938. Herbert Read, the son of a Yorkshire farmer who became one of the country’s most influential writers, is an intellectual figure who looms large in British history and about whom much has been written.

Recently, art historian Kate Aspinall has examined a fascinating aspect of Read’s criticism, his connection of medieval art with early twentieth century British modernity through the use of ‘line’.

Starting from a 1933 article in The Burlington Magazine Aspinall showed how Read’s theory stemmed from ‘a wider community of thinkers who linked the British avant-garde with medieval illumination via the watercolours of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.’ Theorists and scholars such as Kenneth Clark, William George Constable, and Nikolaus Pevsner were part of this group. With Read, they identified drawing as an essential aspect of medieval illumination that later re-emerged in the work of modern British artists such as John Piper and Paul Nash.

Aspinall’s convincingly argues that the enthusiasm for the stylistic traits of the Middle Ages arose not only from aesthetic affinities but also from these intellectuals political views: ‘Amid concerns over mounting political extremism, notions of medieval art were useful as emblems of British precedent for sustainable and proud work’.

This blog aims to provide a comment to Aspinall’s essay by discussing an earlier article in The Burlington Magazine, ‘The Labours of the Months: a series of stained glass roundels’, that Read published in the Burlington in October 1923, shortly after having been appointed Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Here I argue that the connoisseurial work of establishing a corpus of Medieval British art was the foundation from which Read’s later theorisation originated.

The 1920s were a very interesting (and much overlooked) decade for The Burlington Magazine. Under the editorship of Robert Rattray Tatlock and the vigilant eye of Roger Fry on its consultative committee, the Magazine published some of its most philosophical and theoretical writings such as Hubert Waley’s ‘Psychology of Aesthetic Pleasure’ (February 1924), Arthur Waley’s ‘Chinese Philosophy of Art’ (August, November and December 1921), Gerald Baldwin Brown’s ‘The Origin and Early History of Art in Relation to Aesthetic Theory in General’ (August and September 1922) and Charles Mauron’s ‘Unity and Diversity in Art’ (September 1925).

suzanne_cassiobury_house_aRead’s short article, however, is not philosophical or an exercise of aesthetic critique but an example of the connoisseurial, evidence-based art history that is more often associated with the Burlington.

Read described in a few paragraphs a series of six roundels which had just been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (Museum nos.C.123-128-1923). The series was originally part of a set of twelve roundels depicting the ‘Labours of the Months’ purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund from the sale of the contents of Cassiobury House, a country mansion in Cassiobury Park in Watford (Hertfordshire, illustrated above), which originated in Tudor times and was demolished in 1927.

The ‘Labours of the Months’, illustrations of the months and occupations associated with them, appear early in the Medieval period on church facades and interiors. Subsequently they appeared in other forms such as illuminated manuscripts and stained glass in the course of the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries. The occupations depicted in these ‘Labours of the Months’ are mostly agricultural and are thus closely associated with farm labourers.

Illustrations of ‘Labours of the Months’ were found all throughout Europe and Read’s principal contribution in this article is attributing this series to an English workshop rather than Netherlandish masters.

Read expresses his opinion in mild tones:

The roundels are certainly either Netherlandish or English; between these attributions there may be room for an opinion, though not for a very strong one.

The mildness, however, is merely a rhetorical device.

juneRead proceeds to connect with great assurance these works with British precedents such as St. Mary’s Hall at Coventry, Colville Hall in Essex, and Lincoln Cathedral.

Read also identifies the illustration of the month of June ‘Man weeding with a weed-hook’ in which a farmer is depicted battling with an infestation of dandelions, as a unique English representation of this month.

As Aspinall illustrates, in the course of the 1930s, early medieval British society was described as ‘a de-centralized network of villages peopled by craftsmen who were untroubled by the superstructure of the Church and who channelled their personal mysticism into ritualized creativity, which was embalmed in their intricate scrollwork and bold stylization’.

Undoubtedly, the labourers represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s ‘Months’ with their untroubled relationship with nature can be interpreted as representative of this idealistic vision of history.

To state the political, emotive and theoretical significance of medieval British art, however, one must first obtain a firm notion of what British medieval art actually was. In other words it was necessary to ascertain which of the many medieval works of art dispersed in churches, houses and museums belonged to the British tradition and which were the product of other nations.

Read’s 1920s articles in The Burlington Magazine did this: at a time when medieval British art was still a fluid notion they determined with assurance a corpus of works that could be with certainty attributed to native workshops.

BP, October 2016

Herbert Read, ‘The Labours of the Months: A Series of Stained Glass Roundels’, The Burlington Magazine 43 (October 1923), pp.167-8.

Kate Aspinall, ‘Signature of Our Race: Herbert Read and the Line that Links Medieval Illumination and 1930s British Modernism’, Visual Resources 32 1-2 (2016), pp. 102-123.Article here.


Margaret Jourdain and The Burlington Magazine

In June 1903, when the Burlington Magazine was only 3 months old, it published a detailed article on the lace collection of Mabel Chermside, ‘Mrs. Alfred Morrison’. This was a detailed and richly illustrated account, which distinguished different kinds of laces, stiches and points. The article was a perfect example of the new art historical method of ‘connoisseurship’, an analytic style of writing through descriptive and comparative examples, which constructed clear arguments rather than giving an aesthetic stamp of approval (or disapproval) to works of art. Laces were not considered mere decorative accessories but a cognitive field in which art historical knowledge could be exercised. The article, simply signed ‘M. Jourdain’, was by a former classic scholar turned decorative art specialist who would become, arguably, the most important writer on furniture of the early 20th century, Margaret Jourdain (1876-1951).

Burlington Index Assistant Giulia della Rosa has compiled a full bibliography of Margaret Jourdain’s writings for the Burlington and put together the following biographical note that our readers may find interesting and useful


The early 20th century was a period of great development for furniture studies, spurred on by the ever-increasing fashion for ‘antiques’, pre-Victorian furniture. In a still largely male-dominated field, Margaret Jourdain stood out as a recognised expert. She wrote many articles and books that became an authoritative source for collectors, scholars and dealers.[1]

The origins of Jourdain’s expertise in furniture began with her friendship with Alice Drayden and her father Henry. The Draydens were Northamptonshire antique dealers, highly knowledgeable and willing to share their expertise on interior decorations and furniture.[2] Jourdain co-authored her first book on lace – the revision of Palliser’s History of Lace (1902) – with Alice Drayden, using the Draydens’ photographic archive.[3] Jourdain was so convinced by the potential of this technology that she used photographic comparisons in all her successive publications. Her early reviewers in the Burlington, however, criticised as crude her stylistic choice of minimal writing paired with extensive visual examples.[4]

Jourdain’s publications grew considerably as the century progressed: from three articles in 1903 to sixty in 1911, with numerous articles on art, house interior decorations and furniture.[5] Jourdain penned nineteen articles for the Burlington. Eleven of those were written between 1903 and 1911 and concerned textiles and laces. Later, between 1926 and 1946, she would write book reviews and comments through letters to the Magazine.[6]

Jourdain’s expertise on furniture was gained during her work for the fashionable British cabinetmakers Lenygon & Morant.[7] In 1911, Henry Lenygon, following the growing American fashion for European art and furniture, opened a branch in New York.[8] Lenygon hired Jourdain then, initially to catalogue the collections in the London branch.

The combination of Jourdain’s knowledge and Lenygon’s awareness of fashionable taste resulted in three catalogues, crucial for the rediscovery of the English Palladian style.[9] These were: The Decoration and Furniture of English Mansions During the XVII and XVIII Century (1909), Furniture in England, 1660-1760 (1914), and Decorative Arts in England (1760-1880) (1923). These volumes, however, appeared only under Lenygon’s name. [10] At the time there were fewer opportunities for women to write: many hid their identity behind non-gender specific initials, pseudonyms or, as in the case of Jourdain, found work as ‘ghost-writers’.

RegencyFurniture1 (1041x1300).jpgIn 1923, Margaret Jourdain began to contribute to the magazine Country Life,[11] after a period as saleroom correspondent.[12] Regency Furniture 1795-1820, published in 1934 with Country Life, contributed to establish Jourdain as an authority in the field of English furniture and interiors.[13]

Jourdain’s career developed further when her friend Ralph Edwards, Curator of the Woodwork and Furniture Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, invited her to contribute to the first Dictionary of English Furniture in 1924. [14] The Dictionary was a lengthy publication. It took three years to be completed by a pool of experts.[15]

Margaret Jourdain contributed to change the way interiors are studied and perceived.Until then, furniture and interiors were a subject for amateurs and antique dealers. They were seen merely as domestic objects, and believed to be of minimal interest and value to collectors. A growing market, and the expansion of furniture studies, significantly changed this attitude. Within this general trend, Jourdain’s own work contributed to transform them into a new field of scholarship.

GDR, September 2016


Margaret Jourdain’s writings for The Burlington Magazine:

Lace in the Collection of Mrs. Alfred Morrison at Fonthill, June 1903, pp. 96-103. Short Notice.

The Lace Collection of Mr. Arthur Blackborne. Part I, September 1904, pp. 557-569. Article

The Lace Collection of Mr. Arthur Blackborne. Part II-Later Punto in Aria, October 1904, pp 18-23. Article.

The Lace Collection of Mr. Arthur Blackborne. Part III-Rose Point. November 1904, pp. 123-135. Article.

The Lace Collection of Mr. Arthur Blackborne. Part IV (Conclusion)-Milanese Laces. February 1905, pp 384-393. Article.

Point and Pillow Lace. October 1905, p 65. Book Review.

Lace as Worn in England Until the Accession of James I. December 1906, pp. 162-168. Article.

Sixteenth Century Embroidery with Emblems. August 1907, pp. 326-329. Article.

Crewel-Work Hangings and Bed Furniture. September 1909, pp. 366-368. Short Notice.

The Embroidery at Hardwick Hall. November 1909, pp. 97-99. Article.

Hand-Loom Weaving. March 1911, pp. 359-360. Book Review.

Plasterwork at Hardwick Hall. November 1926, pp. 131-134. Article.

Recent Acquisitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. December 1927, pp. 174-185. Article.

An Exhibition by the British Antique Dealers’ Association. April 1928, pp. 173-179. Article.

Thomas Chippendale. April 1929, p. 220. Book Review.

Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Silver Plate Belonging to the Colleges of the University of Oxford. August 1929, p. 102. Book Review.

Buckingham Palace: Its Furniture, Decoration and History. May 1934, pp. 254-255. Book Review.

The Antique Dealers’ Fair. October 1934, pp 185-188 XV. Short Notice.

Georgian Cabinet-Makers. September 1945, p. 234. Letter.



[1] Margaret Jourdain: Few rivals and no superior’, The Furniture History Society Newsletter 188 (November 2012).

[2] H. Spurling: Ivy. The Life of I. Compton-Burnett, London 1974, pp.325-326.

[3] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2), p. 326.

[4] L. Hooper: ‘English Secular Embrodery.’ The Burlington Magazine. Book Review. (June 1911).

[5] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2) p241

[6] See the Burlington Online Index

[7] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2), p. 332.

[8] Mitchell and Cornforth: ‘Lenygon and the Making of the Georgian Market’, London 1997.

[9] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2), p. 309.

[10] Mitchell and Cornforth: op. cit. (note 11).

[11] Newsletter: op. cit. (note 1).

[12] Spurling: op. cit. (note 2), p. 311.

[13] R. Edwards: Regency Furniture 1795-1820. The Burlington Magazine. Book Review. (April 1935).

[14] Newsletter: op. cit. (note 1).

[15] Smith H. Clifford: Dictionary of English Furniture. Vol III (Mo.-Z). The Burlington Magazine. Book Review. (April 1928).

‘Art Celebrities’, an exhibition by Cicely Hey advertised in The Burlington Magazine

Starting from an apparently innocuous 1933 advertisement in The Burlington Magazine, Index Assistant Alison Bennett has uncovered much new material about Cicely Hey, a little-known British artist of the early 20th century. Here is where her research has been taking Alison so far.


In March 1933 The Burlington Magazine published an advertisement for an exhibition of portraits by Cicely Hey. The works were to be shown at the fashionable Alex. Reid & Lefevre, a London art gallery specialising in Impressionist and modern art [illustrated above].

NPG D34000; Francis Frederick Locker Birrell by Cicely Mary Hey

The exhibition, titled Art Celebrities, consisted of ‘a series of portrait drawings of men and women celebrated in the world of art’. Among them were a number of artists including Walter Sickert and Thérèse Lessore as well as names associated with The Burlington Magazine, both contributors and members of its Consultative Committee [Francis Birrell illustrated left, National Portrait Gallery, London]. Hey had a personal connection with the Burlington: she was married to its Editor, Robert Rattray Tatlock. The anonymous reviewer for The Times, commenting on Hey’s choice of subjects, stated that she not only painted portraits of artists but also of ‘the lesser breed whose lot it is to write about it in the papers’[1], among whom her husband could be included.

Today Hey is chiefly remembered as Sickert’s model. In his biography of Sickert, Matthew Sturgis offers the reader a delightful cameo of the relationship between artist and model. Fig.3Hey first met Sickert early in 1923 while selling tickets to a lecture on ‘Art’ given by Roger Fry at Mortimer Hall. Sickert asked her to sit for him the very next day, clearly taken by, as he described, her ‘funny little beautiful sane dear face’.   Sickert’s wife, Thérèse Lessore, agreed: ‘you’ve got just the kind of face he likes to paint’[2].   During a radio interview given in 1960, Hey recollected that she visited Sickert nearly every day for a year or more, always by telegram invitation, admitting that she was desperately shy and did not speak much for fear of not being asked to sit again.   This suited Sickert who would, laugh, sing and talk to her during the sittings, so that she would leave, her ‘sides aching with laughter’. Hey also described how Sickert fondly called her his ‘mascot’, nicknaming her ‘Kikely’, and reflected that she was probably the last to pose on the famous iron bedstead in the Fitzroy Street studio.   Over the course of 1923, Sickert painted seven portraits of Hey [Portrait of Cicely Hey by Walter Sickert at The Whitworth, University of Manchester, illustrated here on the right] and they remained constant companions for the next ten years[3].

During this time, Hey was also developing as an artist in her own right. Born Mary Cicely Hey in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, in 1896, the daughter of a doctor, she trained as a painter at the Brussels School of Art, and in London at the Central School of Art and at the Slade School of Fine Art where she spent a year studying drawing and painting (1919-20)[4]. We can glean some idea of her style from the portrait sketches exhibited in 1933, which make use of rapid drawing, some with delicate hints of colour and shading, whereas others are simply line drawings. They display strong psychological definition, and capture each sitter’s facial expression with little concern to flatter or soften any imperfections.   It is interesting that her husband’s obituarist somewhat unfairly referred to her drawings as ‘semi-caricatures’[5].   Of the thirty-six drawings exhibited, ten are now in public collections in London and Manchester, while a number of others have recently been discovered in a private collection in Wales.

It is worth exploring the few glimpses of Hey’s career that can be gleaned from exhibition reviews in national newspapers and through her participation in artists’ societies. Hey regularly exhibited in London during the 1920s and 1930s: in 1927 she was elected to full membership of the London Group and showed a painting, titled The Model, at their 1928 retrospective exhibition. Hey continued to exhibit work with the London Group every year until the outbreak of the Second World War[6].


[Cicely Hey, Title and Subject Unknown, Private Collection, Wales]

Hey’s work reaped some critical success. In 1930 she showed a work titled Reflection at the first exhibition of the Young Painters’ Society at the New Burlington Galleries which was mentioned in The Times[7]. At the third exhibition of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers and Potters, held at the Royal Institute Galleries in Piccadilly in 1932, The Times gave special mention to her work The Child[8]. In 1934, Hey’s watercolour, At Her Dressing Table, exhibited with the same society, was considered by The Times one of the ‘more genuine’ paintings there[9]. At the exhibition of the London Group later that year, Hey exhibited another watercolour, Cabaret Girl, which The Observer picked out as ‘interesting’[10].   Sickert too approved of her work ‘Your little canvases are ripping… my missus agrees with me’[11].   While the location of these reviewed works is unknown, the painting illustrated above may give some idea of her loose style and use of colour [12].

Fig.5Hey was also an accomplished designer and illustrator. As such, she participated in the Inn Signs Exhibition held in 1936 at the Building Centre in Bond Street, in the heart of the London art trade, submitting a design for The White Hart. When reviewing the exhibition (the first and last of its kind) the Manchester Guardian reported that the only commission received thus far had been by Cicely Hey [13], however it is not known if it was ever completed.   Recent research has unearthed other inn sign designs by Hey, along with illustrations for a children’s book The House of Crooks and a Christmas story [illustrated left, Private Collection, Wales][14].   Other identified work includes a manuscript for The Fogroom Bird, written and illustrated for Hey’s niece, which appeared at auction in 2014[15].   It is to be assumed that none of these stories was ever published.

In 1941, Hey moved to Llysfaen in north Wales and began modelling miniature figures in historically accurate costumes, using a variety of materials including terracotta, wire and papier maché, some modelled with moveable limbs[16].   (Hey herself was once described as ‘like a toy made carefully out of wires and a little wool’[17]).   While the popularity of puppetry had declined during the early years of the 20th century, interest had been kept alive by a small band of enthusiasts.   The 1923 publication of H.W. Whanslaw’s Everybody’s Theatre had prompted a revival of this art, and in successive decades many professional puppeteers toured the country with their puppet shows[18].   From the late 1940s until the early 1970s, Hey exhibited her model figures extensively in Wales and also in London.   Hey’s costumed figures were shown by Waldo and Muriel Lanchester, founders of the London Marionette Theatre, at the Shakespeare Festivals of 1964 and 1969, and her models also made press and television appearances during this time. In addition, they appeared on several occasions during the 1960s at the Royal National Eisteddfod[19].

Fig.6In 1964 an exhibition of thirty-two of Hey’s figures, illustrating the history of English costume in fine detail, was held at London’s Geffrye Museum, transferring to the Colwyn Bay Public Library early in 1965. These, along with another set of ‘Bygone Figures’ were bequeathed to the National Museum in Cardiff in 1980[20].   Hey not only took enormous care to dress her figures accurately, she carefully modelled each face creating individual characters and giving each one a name taken from a catalogue of brass rubbings[21].  Hey’s ability in her early drawings to create credible and honest representations of the people she knew is reflected in the attention she paid to the miniature figures created from imagination in her later years.   An example of such work, Figure in Stocks (1966) is held at the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University and was included in an exhibition held there in 2007-08 [illustrated above].

A terracotta head by Hey, Portrait of Bob Hughes, was selected by a committee consisting of Alfred Janes, Ceri Richards and Ruskin Spear for the second Welsh Arts Council’s Open Series exhibition of Contemporary Welsh Painting and Sculpture, held at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and the Newport Museum and Art Gallery in 1955. This work was purchased for the Contemporary Art Society of Wales and subsequently donated to the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea.

Hey died at her home in Llysfaen, Colwyn Bay, in 1980, and her work is now mostly forgotten.   However, some twenty-five years after her death, many of Hey’s ‘art celebrities’ portrait drawings were brought back together in an exhibition held at Llanover Hall in Cardiff in 2006, curated by Welsh artist, Tony Goble (1943-2007) during his residency there.   He described it as ‘a unique exhibition for Wales, with both an artistic and historic relevance – and not to be missed. Giving people a rare opportunity to see the work of this important, but relatively unknown artist, whose work has not been on major public display for over 70 years’[22].   It is to be hoped that the recently discovered collection of Hey’s drawings, paintings, illustrations and sculpture may provide the opportunity for this little-known artist’s work to be brought once again to public attention.

AB, August 2016


Works by Cicely Hey in public collections :


Drawings from the “Art Celebrities” exhibition :

 National Portrait Gallery, London:

Francis Frederick Locker Birrell – NPG D34000

(William) Martin Conway, 1st Baron Conway of Allington – NPG D34001

Campbell Dodgson – NPG D34002

Thérèse Lessore (Mrs Sickert) – NPG D34003

British Museum:

Dugald Sutherland MacColl (donated by Tatlock) – 1933,0518.1

The Whitworth, University of Manchester:

Jacob Epstein – D.2009.4

Samuel Alexander – D.2009.5

Walter Sickert – D.2009.3

Roger Fry – D.2009.6

R.R. Tatlock –D.2009.7


Other works:

Figure in Stocks (mixed media) (1966) – Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading – 68/381

Portrait of Bob Hughes (terracotta) – Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea – GV 57.1362. https://sites.google.com/site/walesart/touring-exhibitions/1950s/contemporary-welsh-painting-and-sculpture-1955

 (with Francis Ernest Jackson)

Bird’s eye view of the Tower of London, and surrounding area, as it appeared in 1597; poster produced for the Central School of Arts & Crafts; from a survey taken by Gulielmus Haiward (colour lithograph) (1919) – British Museum – 1922,0311.28


Notes :

[1]. Times, 13 March 1933

[2]. Walter Sickert: A Life, by Matthew Sturgis, pub. Harper Collins, 2005

[3]. Aspects of Walter Sickert, II, 1960, BBC Archive

[4]. Post-War to Post-Modern: A Dictionary of Artists in Wales, by Peter Jones & Isabel Hitchman, pub. Gomer Press, 2015; University of London, Slade School, First Entry Card and student index card

[5]. Times, 2 July 1954

[6]. David Redfern, Archivist, The London Group

[7]. Times, 15 March 1930

[8]. Times, 11 Feb 1932

[9]. Times, 16 Feb 1934

[10]. Observer, 18 Nov 1934

[11]. Telegram from Sickert to Hey, 18 Jan 1929 (Sickert: Paintings, eds. Wendy Baron & Richard Shone, pub. Yale University Press, 1992)

[12]. Private Collection, Wales

[13]. Manchester Guardian, 14 Nov 1936

[14]. Private Collection, Wales

[15]. Cheffins Fine Art (illustrated in www.the-saleroom.com)

[16]. Jones & Hitchman op. cit.

[17]. Letter from Frances Partridge to Richard Shone, 26 Feb 1990 (Baron & Shone, op.cit.)

[18]. Victoria and Albert Museum website History of Puppetry in Britain http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/h/history-of-puppetry-in-britain/

[19]. Artists Exhibited in Wales 1945-74, by Kirstine Brander Dunthorne, pub. Welsh Arts Council, 1976

[20]. Museum of English Rural Life, Reading University, 2007-2008


[21]. Probate 18 Apr 1980 (ref. 801900894E)

[22]. Press release for Cicely Hey exhibition, Llanover Hall Art Centre, 2006

‘I’ll give the magazine £100 and you can do what you dam [sic] well please with it’, Lockett Agnew advertises in The Burlington Magazine

In its years of operation as an independently funded publication the Burlington has often needed to seek private sponsorship, right from the times of its inception in 1903 and throughout its history.[1] The challenge was, then as now, how to gain financial support without relinquishing the journal’s intellectual independence. The Burlington (which has ru10FIGShillingBurlingtonCovern as Charitable Trust since 1986) initially began as a limited company in which shareholders also included art historians, such as Bernard Berenson, or scholars-collectors such as Herbert Cook.[2]

Printed on expensive paper and lavishly illustrated at a time when art reproductions were costly, the Burlington struggled financially almost as soon as it was founded. Art writer, artist and administrator Charles Holmes, who had worked in publishing with Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon at the Vale Press, was called in at the end of 1903 to the rescue of the struggling organisation and appointed Managing Director and joint Editor with Robert Dell.

In 1906, when Dell left the editorship and the magazine lost the financial backers connected to him, yet another wave of fundraising commenced. Roger Fry, one of the Magazine’s founders and its Editor from 1909 to 1919, was very proficient in gaining sponsorship from American private collectors such as John J. Johnson and John Pierpont Morgan. But, occasional donations aside, regular funds needed to keep coming in and Holmes worked hard to diminish the Burlington’s deficit by trying out new initiatives: the Magazine offered artists’ prints as special gifts to entice subscribers, and in 1905-1906 it even published a short-lived, cheaper version of the Magazine, a supplement called The Shilling Burlington [illustrated above].

One of the ways in which the Burlington navigated the fine line between private sponsorship and public-spirited ethos was through the sale of advertisements: art dealers would pay for space in the outer pages of the magazine, thus supporting its existence, without interfering with the editorial content. Holmes set himself the task to increase the revenue from advertisements, and contacted principal art dealers personally to ask them if they would consider advertising in the Magazine.

Holmes recounted this part of the early history of the Magazine in his 1934 autobiography, Self and Partners, which is filled with colourful anecdotes, such as how the established international dealer ‘Mr X’, through his war with the mighty firm of ‘Mr Y’, helped the Burlington:

‘Does Y advertise?’ he [Mr X] asked [to Holmes]. ‘No? Then I’ll make him. I’ll take a whole page for a year; just my name is enough to put on it. He’ll have to follow suit next month, and see that you make him pay well’.[3]

‘Mr Y’ was not the only one to follow suit and trade advertisements multiplied in the Burlington: if in 1903 only twenty firms or so advertised, by December 1906 the Magazine published more than sixty different advertisements, which included mainly international dealers, but also, occasionally, modest household products such as Globe Polish.

Perhaps ‘Mr X’ and ‘Mr Y’ can be identified with the then arch-rivals of the art trade, Knoedler and Duveen.

Screenshot 2016-06-14 17.04.47The influential American firm Knoedler & Co, then run by Roland Knoedler (1856-1934), had opened a branch in London in 1902. This firm took a half-page advert, with only the firm’s name and address, in the Magazine in May 1906 [illustrated above].

Duveen Brothers, led by Joseph Duveen (1869-1939), had advertised in the Burlington’s first issue in March 1903 but had dropped out shortly after in August 1903. Duveen took up advertising space again in May 1906 – the same month as Knoedler – with a broad-spaced and visually striking advert that showed only Duveen’s name and the location of their international branches, then London and New York [illustrated below]. This minimal advertisement showed great confidence in their own ‘name’ and ‘brand’, but it also demonstrated the wish to keep their stock a guarded secret, and create a mystique around their firm.

Screenshot 2016-06-14 19.15.58.png

Knoedler, however, were not Duveen’s only rivals. Even if later in the century Duveen and Agnew’s occasionally operated together, they were ‘enemies’ in the early 1900s, when newcomers Duveen threatened the supremacy of British dealers Agnew’s, then headed by Lockett Agnew (1850-1918) [illustrated below in a portrait by Philip Alexius de László].


Holmes mentioned Lockett Agnew by name in one of the anecdotes related to his fundraising efforts:

‘When I approached Lockett Agnew he nearly exploded. He had never advertised in his life. Them, in the end, characteristically, ‘Well, I’ll give the Magazine £100 and you can do what you dam [sic] well please with it’.

Agnew’s, in fact, had advertised in the Magazine previously, just not their business as picture dealers but their efforts as publishers. In March 1903 there appeared an advert on Walter Armstrong’s monograph on Turner published by Agnew’s.

What did Lockett Agnew achieve with his £100 contribution?

Screenshot 2016-06-14 17.36.45This was a considerable sum in the early 1900s, amounting to about £11,000 in 2016 when inflation is taken into account. An Agnew’s advertisement was published in the Burlington of November 1907, a quarter-page notice of their annual Bond Street exhibition [illustrated].

Compared with other advertisements, such as Seligmann’s, Agnew’s advert was a very modest effort, probably designed in-house at the Burlington. In fact, there were other adverts in the Magazine, such as the one for the little-known Anglo-Saxon Art Gallery in Dresden [illustrated] that looked very similar.

Screenshot 2016-06-14 18.16.17

The November 1907 publicity for Agnew’s was small, undistinguished, not particularly successful visually, and did not convey the fact that this firm was, by then, an industry leader that supplied works of art to important private collectors and prestigious public museums.

But perhaps Holmes’ anecdote refers to a later advertising campaign. In March 1909 Agnew’s began a new series of advertisements in the Burlington, which lasted until January 1910. Then, full-page adverts appeared, in the format that many dealers had by then adopted: a large photograph of an important work they held on stock, with the name and address of the firm well in evidence.

In great contrast with the rival firm of Duveen that published only their name, as sole guarantee of their quality, Agnew’s added photographs and details of the work advertised, which demonstrated an assured confidence in their ability to identify subjects and make attributions.

Screenshot 2016-06-14 18.09.41

The addition of a caption which attributed artist and subject is not a secondary detail: Agnew’s were among the first dealers in the Burlington adverts to label clearly the works of art they publicised – for instance in January 1910 Agnew’s advert featured a portrait of John Wesley by George Romney (now Philadelphia Museum of Art) [illustrated above], bought at Christie’s in June 1906 and promptly sold to John McFadden.[4]

The publicatiScreenshot 2016-06-14 18.02.58on of artists’ names and titles of work, not only showed confidence in Agnew’s ability to make attributions, but also demonstrated a transparent business model, as it showcased the best of their stock without making it a guarded secret. If Duveen exuded an allure of mystique, Agnew’s images communicated knowledge and professionalism.

Regardless of a precise identification of the characters of Holmes’ story, which may contain elements of fantasy to protect the people involved, a scrutiny of the advertising pages of the Burlington reveals how art dealers conveyed their ethos and business practices through the medium of advertising. These and other interesting clues can be evinced from a close reading of these apparently marginal texts.

BP, June 2016



[1] The Burlington Magazine has not always been independently funded, it was part of the commercial publishers International Thompson Organisation from 1965 until 1986. See the Editorials, ‘Number One Thousand’, The Burlington Magazine 128 (July 1986), pp. 471-473.

[2] On the early history of the Burlington, with extensive bibliography on the matter, see Helen Rees-Leahy, ‘For Connoisseurs: The Burlington Magazine’, in Art History and its Institutions, London and New York: Routledge, 2002, pp. 231–45; Caroline Elam, ‘A More and More Important Work: Roger Fry and The Burlington Magazine’, Burlington Magazine 145 (March 2003): pp. 142–52; Barbara Pezzini, ‘More Adey, the Carfax Gallery and The Burlington Magazine’, Burlington Magazine 153 (December 2011): 806–14; Barbara Pezzini, ‘The Burlington Magazine, The Burlington Gazette and The Connoisseur. The Art Periodical and the Market for Old-Master Paintings in Edwardian London’, Visual Resources 29 (September 2013): pp. 154-183; Meaghan Clarke, ‘The Art Press at the Fin de siècle: Women, Collecting, and Connoisseurship’, Visual Resources 31 (April 2015): pp. 15-30.

[3] Charles Holmes, Self and Partners (mostly self), London: Treherne, 1934, pp. 266-268.

[4] Alex Kidson, George Romney: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Yale & London: Yale University Press, 2015, cat. no. 1395, pp. 623-624.

New digitisation project: the Agnew’s stock books

agnews_image (1)

As the Burlington Magazine project of cataloguing and indexing dealers advertisements is well under way, we are pleased to hear that other projects flourish too. We have received this communication from Richard Wragg, Archivist at the National Gallery, and we are happy to share it with our readers:

The National Gallery has recently digitised eleven stock books from the extensive archive of the art dealers Thos. Agnew & Sons. The manuscripts can now be consulted online via the Gallery’s website here. The stock books, which date from 1853 to the beginning of the First World War, are a crucial source of information for anyone researching the history of art collecting and the market for contemporary and Old Master artworks during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Digitisation is the first stage of a project to make the information contained within the stock books more accessible. It is hoped that a searchable database can be produced and made freely available to the public. A short survey has been set up for anyone wishing to comment on the project and is available here. The information gained from the survey will help to ensure that the project results in a resource that is of real value to the research community.

Who were art dealers Agnew’s? The firm grew from a partnership entered into by Thomas Agnew (1794–1871) and Vittore Zanetti, an Italian print seller, picture-frame maker, gilder and dealer in Old Master paintings. The Agnew-Zanetti partnership was dissolved in 1835, leaving Agnew as the business’s sole proprietor. Under his stewardship, the business expanded from its base in Manchester to become one of the country’s leading print sellers and publishers. In 1851, the business became Thos. Agnew & Sons when Thomas Agnew entering into partnership with his sons William and Thomas. The company flourished, dealing in modern British and European Old Master paintings and drawings.

The archive of Thos. Agnew & Sons, acquired by the National Gallery in 2014, is housed within the Gallery’s Research Centre. A full catalogue record for the archive can be viewed here

Richard Wragg, Archivist, The National Gallery

Record prices, bargain sales and the complications of dealing with Duveen: the early 20th century history of art dealers Dowdeswell’s in the pages of The Burlington Magazine

The advertisements that Dowdeswell’s published in The Burlington Magazine throughout the first two decades of the 20th century are a significant, and until now, untapped resource. Not only do they enable us to position this leading gallery within the trade surrounding the sale of old masters, but they also make it possible to demonstrate why the current indexing of the advertisements that appeared in The Burlington Magazine is an important project for the history of the art market.[1]

These advertisements, in fact, are among the very few extant testimonies to this firm’s history. They not only provide a glimpse into what was in stock, but also which works or art were regarded as important enough to be reproduced. They also record practical information regarding Dowdeswell’s (such as its official name and address) and its choices in terms of self-presentation (the typographic style chosen for the adverts).

Dowdeswell & Dowdeswells, as the gallery was officially named, was colloquially referred to as simply Dowdeswell’s. It was founded as a joint partnership in 1878 by Charles William Dowdeswell (1832-1915) and his son Charles Walter (1858-1929) and remained operative until around 1918.[2] Dowdeswell’s is now mainly remembered for its contemporary exhibitions in the 1880s and 1890s.

Screenshot 2015-12-15 19.43.35

The gallery hosted one of the first French Impressionist shows in London in 1883, Drawings, paintings, and pastels by members of ‘La Société des Impressionists. Organised in collaboration with the French dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, the exhibition included works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt.[3] Walter Dowdeswell was also in contact with the American painter James Whistler, who settled in London around 1858, and whose works Dowdeswell’s exhibited in 1884 and 1886.[4] By 1887, when William and Walter Dowdeswell moved to larger premises at 160 New Bond Street, they were already running an established gallery [advertisement for Dowdeswell’s in the Year’s Art of 1888, illustrated here left].[5]

Even during these earlier years, however, the Dowdeswells were not exclusively dealers in contemporary art. In parallel with its modern art exhibitions the gallery also dealt in old masters paintings since at least December 1885, when it held an exhibition with this title in their Bond Street rooms.[6] Dowdeswell’s old masters exhibitions then became a more frequent occasion in the first decade of the 20th century, when they were held annually from 1905 until 1914.

This aspect of Dowdeswell’s business is very little known, merely a subject for passing remarks in the provenance of works of art, and has not, as yet, been written up in full. Yet, Dowdeswell’s dealings in old masters deserves much grPEZZINIFig3eater attention. For instance, in 1902 Dowdeswell’s bought Mantegna’s Holy Family (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) [illustrated] from Court Augusto d’Aiuti in Naples, and subsequently sold this work to Eduard F. Weber in Hamburg for a record price of £4,000 (about £450,000 today).[7] Thus, by 1902, Dowdeswell’s already operated in an international network of trade and knew what to buy, where to buy it and who would buy it. In the absence of archival records – a recurrent problem when studying art dealers – how Dowdeswell’s reached this position in the old masters market is still a matter of conjecture.


Dowdeswell’s began advertising in The Burlington Magazine from its first issue in March 1903, and it continued to do so regularly for fourteen years, until February 1917. The Burlington archive holds over 110 advertisements of the firm, some of which are illustrated.[8] In parallel with the paid advertisements, Dowdeswell’s stock was sometimes of such quality to be the subject of articles in the Magazine. In February 1907, for instance, Claude Phillips confirmed the attribution to Palma il Vecchio of a painting of two nymphs then at Dowdeswell’s.[9] Phillips focused his whole article, in which Palma was compared with Giorgione and the young Titian, on this work. The illustration of Palma’s Nymphs took pride of place in the Magazine: as a black and white photogravure by Emery Walker [illustrated] it was published as the issue’s frontispiece.


This was, for an art dealer, perhaps the best possible kind of publicity: an illustrated article published in the most respected art journal in the country in which the attribution to an artist then very much en vogue was confirmed by an acknowledged art expert. In fact, this painting was acquired by the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt soon after and is still a recognised work by Palma il Vecchio, within the museum’s collection.


Another exceptional work in the stock of Dowdeswell recorded in the pages of the Burlington is an Ecce Homo and the Mourning Virgin, now attributed to Adriaen Isenbrandt, and bought by the Metropolitan Museum of art in 1904 as work by Jan Mostaert.[10] This was clearly another success for the dealers and a photograph of this work was still used by Dowdeswell as advertisement for their gallery in the Burlington as late as 1908 [illustrated].


Apart from single deals, however, it is difficult to judge how financially profitable Dowdeswell’s was. In the early 1900s it operated on the American art market with Theron J. Blakeslee, a dealer that would make front page news when he committed suicide in 1914 because of his failing business.[11] In 1904 Blakeslee’s and the Dowdeswells’ stock was auctioned at the American Art Galleries in New York.[12] The catalogue of the sale listed 161 English, French, Dutch and Flemish works, which were sold, according to a contemporary report in the American art magazine Brush and Pencil, for $127,695. The reviewer commented that ‘it was a bargain sale, many of the canvases going for almost absolutely low figures’.[13] Why did Blakeslee and the Dowdeswells get rid of their stock so cheaply? Did they need liquidity quickly to keep themselves afloat in between large deals? Or was perhaps the sale at auction a failed business strategy because they had hoped to achieve more?

It is likely that a steady source of income for Dowdeswell’s, as for many dealers at the time, was the sale of art reproductions. In fact, its early Burlington advertisements emphasized this side of their business and illustrated as publicity for Dowdeswell’s the cheaper, mass-produced photographic reproductions (‘Swantypes’) of famous works they held for sale rather than the costly, unique originals from their stock. In the Burlington adverts Dowdeswell’s chose to illustrate repetitively the Portrait of Marie Adelaide de France by Jean-Marc Nattier from Versailles and Boy with Rabbit by Henry Raeburn from the Royal Academy [illustrated], indicating that these reproduction must have been the gallery’s best sellers.

Dowdeswell Advert Burlington September 1905

Perhaps, in spite of the few successful deals and the mass-produced reproductions, Dowdeswell’s was not so profitable after all. According to American Art News, in October 1912 the firm merged with Duveen Brothers, firm of the arch-famous (and arch-infamous) dealer Joseph Duveen. The newspaper stated clearly that Duveen Brothers ‘had acquired the good will and control of [Dowdeswell’s] business’.[14]

The terms of the merge, however, remain unclear as the gallery, according to William’s biographers, appear to have been already liquidated at auction in February 1912.[15] Even if many sources report that since 1912 Walter acted for Duveen, the London gallery seems to have maintained its independence and to be controlled by William only. The official company name dropped its double surname and became just Dowdeswell. It also ceased to illustrate works and the size of their adverts in the Burlington became much smaller. William, now aged 78, continued to hold exhibitions of modern British art and old masters, although, unsurprisingly, in diminished form.[16]

This suggest, as William’s biographers infer, that rather than a merge with Duveen there had been a split between William and Walter, with the former holding on to the family business and the latter working for Duveen. It is likely, however, that William had an associate. After his death in June 1915 somebody must have continued to run the firm, as exhibitions are recorded from this gallery until 1918 and the last Burlington advertisement for the firm is dated February 1917.

BP, April 2016

NB. A longer version of this article is published in The London Gallery Project


[1] Advertisements can be searched digitally online in the Burlington Index: http://www.burlington.org.uk/archive/index-of-content#.

[2] P. Fletcher and A. Helmreich, ‘Selected galleries, dealers and exhibition spaces in London, 1850-1939’, in The Rise of the Modern Art Market in London, Manchester, 2011, p. 300. See also the webpage for Dowdeswell’s in The London Gallery Project, http://learn.bowdoin.edu/fletcher/london-gallery/data/pages/as542.html. A brief obituary for Charles William Dowdeswell was published in The Burlington Magazine 27 (June 1915), p. 28.

[3] Drawings, paintings, and pastels by members of ‘La Société des Impressionistes, (1883), catalogue available at the National Art Library, London, pressmark: 200.B.146. On this exhibition see K. Flint, Impressionists in England: the Critical reception, London 1984 and also G. Petri, ‘Whistler between the British and French Art Markets’ in C. Gould and S. Mesplede (eds.), Marketing Art in the British Isles, 1700 to the Present, Farnham and Burlington 2012, pp. 39-56.

[4] The Whistler-Dowdeswell correspondence at the University of Glasgow archive is available online, http://www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/correspondence/freetext/display/?rs=4951&q=&year1=&year2=1903

[5] ‘Notes on Current Events’, British Architect (15 July 1887), p. 39.

[6] The London Gallery Project, http://learn.bowdoin.edu/fletcher/london-gallery/data/pages/as542.html.

[7] Prices of Mantegna traced in G. Reitlinger, The Economics of Taste, London 1961, p. 379.

[8] See, http://www.burlington.org.uk/archive/index-of-content, using the keyword ‘Dowdeswell’.

[9] C. Phillips, ‘A further note on Palma il Vecchio’, The Burlington Magazine 10 (February 1907), pp.247-317. It is possible that Phillips acted as advisor for Dowdeswell’s, see his article on Paris Bordone in The Burlington Magazine 28 (December 1915), pp. 93-98.

[10] Information on this work available online, http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/436721

[11] ‘Art dealer suicide in his 5th Avenue shop’, The New York Times, 8 March 1914. News report available online: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9805E6DD163AE633A2575BC0A9659C946596D6CF

[12] https://archive.org/details/catalogueofdowde00dowd

[13] ‘Art Sales’, Brush and Pencil 14 (July 1904), p. 294.

[14] ‘Dowdeswells-Duveen’, American Art News 11 (12 October 1912), p. 1.

[15] ‘William Dowdeswell’, Grove Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T023515?q=dowdeswell&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit.

[16] Later Dowdeswell’s exhibitions are listed in the Burlington, for instance in volume 24 (December 1913), p. xiv and (March 1914), p. iv. Available online: http://www.burlington.org.uk/archive/index-of-content.


Working for Benedict Nicolson at The Burlington Magazine in the 1950s


We were able to gain insights on the working practices of the Burlington thanks to a former Burlington staff member. Patricia Heatley (illustrated right, in a 1956 photograph), a professional secretary who studied typing and shorthand at Hornsey College of Art in London, worked as assistant to Fred Hipkin for six years in the 1950s.

In this blog Patricia Heatley remembers her time at the Burlington under the Editorship of Benedict Nicolson (1914-1978, illustrated left).

Benedict Nicolson was the Editor of The Burlington Magazine for over thirty years, from 1947 to 1978. Nicolson was the oldest child of English diplomat Harold George Nicolson and of writer and garden designer Vita Sackville-West. Nicolson grew up at Sissinghurst Castle, in Kent and attended Oxford University where he read modern history. Nicolson’s monographs on Joseph Wright of Darby and Courbet, and his research on Caravaggio and his followers, are still remembered as crucial contributions to art history.

In 1947, following recommendations of Herbert Read and Ellis Waterhouse, Nicolson became Editor of The Burlington Magazine.  The Burlington had been without an official Editor since before the war, when Ellis Waterhouse had been nominally in charge and the Magazine was, de facto, edited and produced by Edith Hoffmann.

Screenshot 2015-12-22 15.30.23During his long editorship, Nicolson consolidated the name of the Burlington as one of the most prominent scholarly periodical on art history. Its all-male consultative committee listed (illustrated left) important art historians such as Anthony Blunt, Kenneth Clark, John Pope-Hennessy, Rudolf Wittkower and Ernst Gombrich.

But Nicolson did not work alone. Although no other staff members than the Editor was then recorded on the Magazine’s masthead, a team of six people headed by the general manager Fred Hipkin, produced the Burlington each month, with working practices and printing techniques that differ greatly from the online communications and digital technologies of today. We are very grateful to Patricia Heatley for this insight behind the scenes at the Burlington of the 1950s.

* * * Patricia Heatley’s testimonial * * *

I joined the Burlington over sixty years ago, on 11 January 1954 aged 16 years, living in Wood Green N22 and travelled each day on the Piccadilly Line to Russell Square, walking through to Bedford Square, No. 12 on the corner of Gower Street, up to the 2nd floor. The main office overlooked the square and I worked in here with a Mr. Hobbis (Eddy) and the odd-job man (various) while the Secretary, Manager and advertising manager, Mr. Fred Hipkin, had his own office next door and I was his secretary – tea maker – no instant coffee then.

I was so amused and amazed when I took my first cup of tea into the back office where the Editor Ben Nicolson worked. I had not met such a person before. He was so charming to me and thanked me for the tea, and at the same time looked very crumpled and dishevelled. This apparently was ‘normal’. Having been to Hornsey Art College I was used to avant-garde, and when he laughed I cracked up just watching him. Sadly I was so shy and did not talk to him much, but liked him very much, even when his mother Vita Sackville-West phoned him he called her Mummy!

Ben’s secretary Margaret Brown worked for him in the afternoon and mornings for Oliver Millar. She and I were reservedly friendly. She was an excellent typist and could swear well.

So there were six of us producing the Burlington each month.

Screenshot 2015-12-22 16.19.42The printers and designers, Messrs Percy Lund Humphries had their offices below us and all copy and communication was designer in the offices but then sent via the 4 pm train from King’s Cross to Bradford, where it was printed. All corrections were done over the phone. Sometimes contributors and advertisers would visit the office to see Ben and Mr. Hipkin – and even me on occasions! This way I met many famous and special people. It was great.

The mainly black and white illustrations were reproduced on copper plates by Knighton and Cutts of Ham Yard, Piccadilly. The photos were picked up (large envelope on the mantelpiece over the fireplace in main office) by Alfie and returned on copper plates on wooden blocks by Alfie two days later. The Burlington mainly printed pictures in black and white as at the time colours could not be faithfully reproduced, which upset readers and advertisers alike.

Mr. Hobbis and I were involved with the subscriptions and addressing each month. We used an addressing machine which took stencils cut on typewriter for each subscriber. I was rather like a mangle on a washing machine.

Mr. Hobbis made up parcels to post more than one magazine on Publishing Day. Single copies sent by envelopes and had postage stamps on. I collected all postage stamps from Store Street Post Office, all stamps were calculated before-hand. It was my job to balance the stamp book every day!

In 1961 I left the Burlington when I got married, that is what women used to do then.

1954 until 1961 were very special years for me, being post war with the discovery of works of art being reclaimed by many folks from all walks of life from all over the world.

Sadly, I believe I am the only surviving member of this special team alive.

Patricia Heatley, January 2016