The Sackville Gallery – Old Masters and Avant-Garde in London

SackvilleMarch1912The Sackville Gallery was founded in 1908 by critic-dealers Max Rothschild and Robert Rene Meyer-Sée. In 1911 Rothschild and Meyer-Sée were joined by the Parisian critic Gilbert de Rorthays. In the same year, the Sackville Gallery began a business agreement with another critic-dealer based in Paris, Robert Dell. In 1912 Rorthays and Meyer-Sée left to found the Marlborough Gallery and the agreement with Dell was dissolved. Max Rothschild became then the sole director of the Sackville Gallery, which remained operative until his death in 1939. The Sackville Gallery exhibited almost exclusively old-masters paintings, but is now best known for its only foray in the avant-garde: the March 1912 exhibition of the Italian Futurists.

According to a listing in the Year’s Art, consistent with the publication of a first advertisements for this gallery in the Burlington Magazine, the Sackville Gallery opened at 28 Sackville Street in 1908, directed by Max Rothschild (1878-1939) and Robert René Meyer-Sée (1878-1950 ca.). A parallel venture focusing on decorative arts, Sackville Objets d’Art, ran from 15 Duke Street in 1911-1914.

The name ‘Sackville’ referred both to the Gallery’s prime location near the Royal Academy of Arts as well as the title of one the most prominent families in the British aristocracy, the Sackvilles.  The Sackville Gallery was not an anonymous space for rent but a very self-aware gallery aimed at connoisseurs. It used the same elegant typography and design in its advertisements and catalogues it to project a consistent, sophisticated image. The Sackville Gallery dealt almost exclusively in old-masters paintings and its exhibitions of ‘selected pictures of Old Masters’ were listed in The Times, American Art News and The Year’s Art. The expert readers of The Burlington Magazine were specifically targeted: the Sackville Gallery appeared monthly in the front pages advertisements of the Burlington from 1908 to 1931.

The Sackville Gallery directors were dealers-cum-critics who had secure connections with the art press. Max Rothschild, son of the dealer David Rothschild, a specialist of eighteenth and early nineteenth century British and European art wrote under the nom de plume of ‘Max Roldit’ or hid under the initials MR. Author of a book on Gainsborough (1908) and former contributor of the Connoisseur and The Burlington Magazine, Rothschild had been the London saleroom correspondent for the latter in 1903-4. The Sackville Gallery’s co-founder, the French citizen Robert René Meyer-Sée, a specialist in pastel painters of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, was another marchand-amateur well connected to the art press: he was the Paris correspondent of American Art News until 1913, a regular contributor of the Connoisseur, and author of the book English Pastels 1750–1830 (1911).

In September 1911, Gilbert de Rorthays, Parisian correspondent of the Burlington Magazine, joined Meyer-Sée and Rothschild in the management of the Sackville Gallery. Meyer-Sée and Rorthays were part of a Paris-London circle who organised exhibitions and dealt in modern art and old masters alike. Central to this group was Robert Dell, who in 1906 had left the joint editorship of The Burlington Magazine to combine the careers of art dealer, as the proprietor of Galeries Shirleys at 9 boulevard Malesherbes, and art correspondent of several publications including the Burlington, the Nation and the Manchester Guardian. Dell was also part of the committee of both Fry’s Post-Impressionist exhibitions in 1910 and 1912. Together, Dell and Meyer-Sée had organised the exhibition, Exposition des Pastellistes Anglais du XVIIIe siècle (1911), at the newly opened Galeries Charles Brunner, reviewed by Meyer-Sée himself in Les Arts (no. 117, 1911, pp.25–32).  Dell had a business agreement with the Sackville Gallery too, but their contract was dissolved in August 1912 when the four business partners separated: Dell continued dealing from Paris with Percy Moore Turner, Rothschild became the sole proprietor of the Sackville Gallery, and Rorthays and Meyer-Sée opened the Marlborough Gallery with Sam Nyburg.

The Sackville Gallery is now best remembered for the 1912 Futurist exhibition in which four young Italian painters – Gino Severini, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carra’ and Luigi Russolo -exhibited 35 paintings, received great attention of public and press alike and made a deep impression on the newly emerging London avant-garde scene. This exhibition, however, organized through the personal connection of Severini and Meyer-Sée, was an isolated occasion in the history of the gallery, which instead focused on old-master paintings.

In fact, numerous works currently in international art museums have a Sackville Gallery/Max Rothschild provenance, attesting the wide range of clients reached by this gallery: A Windy Day by Jan Van Goyen (Detroit Institute of Art), Interior of Saint Peter’s, Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini and Madonna and Child and the Infant Saint John in a Landscape, by Polidoro Lanzani (purchased as Titian) (National Gallery of Art, Washington), Portrait of John Woodyeare, by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (Minneapolis Institute of Art), Landscape with Saint John on Patmos, by Nicolas Poussin (Art Institute of Chicago), two mythological scenes by Sodoma (Worcester Art Museum), Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Musées Royaux des BeauxArts de Belgique, Brussels) and at least nine from the Francis Lycett Green collection in the York City Art Gallery. In August 1923 Roger Fry wrote in The Burlington Magazine a highly appreciative piece on what is perhaps the most significant work with a Sackville Gallery provenance:  Nicolas Poussin’s Landscape during a thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe, now in the Städel Museum Frankfurt. Many art publications such as Art Magazine, Apollo, Pantheon and especially American Art News published news on the Sackville Gallery.

In its heyday, Rothschild did not hesitate to buy from cheaper markets, for example in 1913 he travelled to Spain, with this express purpose (American Art News, 5/4/1913, p. 8). Rothschild was active in the civic sphere too: in 1912 he supported the public acquisition of Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais through the National Art Collections Fund and in 1916 he opposed the proposed bill that would confer on the Director and Trustees of the National Gallery power to sell unwanted works in the collection (American Art News, 2/3/1912, p.5). Rothschild’s support of public acquisitions and his stance against de-accession in museums shows that, in contrast with simplistic interpretations that oppose dealers to scholars, art traders too took part in conferring ‘aura’ to a work of art, a process during which objects transcend their nature as exchangeable goods to become national treasures displayed in museums.

The last recorded reference to the Sackville Gallery is in the exhibition pages of The Burlington Magazine of November 1938. This gallery ceased trading following the death of Max Rothschild in March 1939, the notice of his death is contained in the obituary of his younger brother, L. G. Rothschild, in The Burlington Magazine of February 1945. The younger Rothschild continued in some form the family business: it appears from the records at York City Art Gallery that Francis Lycett Green bought works from Max Rothschild Ltd. as late as 1946.

SackvilleFebruary1912

Address: 28 Sackville St

Start Date: by 1908

End Date: at least 1931 [Last reference: November 1938, Rotshchild dies 1939]*

Other Locations:
15 Duke Street (as Sackville Ltd.; by 1911-at least 1914)

Dealers

Messrs. Meyer and Max Rothschild (Times, 17 May 1909, 8)

Robert Rene Meyer-Sée

Max Rothschild

Robert Dell

Gilbert de Rorthays

Selected exhibitions

Early paintings, including notable works by Masters of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries [Times, 13 May 1908, 1]

Exhibition of works by the Italian Futurist Painters (March 1912) [NAL]

Sources

‘List of Fine Art Dealers’, The Year’s Art, London 1908, p.393.

Dolman, B. (ed.): ‘Max Rotschild’ Who’s who in art 1927, London 1927, p.200.

Robins, Anna Gruetzner. Modern Art in Britain 1910-1914. London: Merrell Holberton in association with Barbican Art Gallery, 1997.

Pezzini, Barbara. ‘The 1912 Futurist exhibition at the Sackville Gallery, London: an avant-garde show within the Old-Masters trade’, The Burlington Magazine, July 2013, pp. 471-479.

Pezzini, Barbara. ‘The Burlington Magazine, The Burlington Gazette and The Connoisseur. The Art Periodical and the Market for Old-Master Paintings in Edwardian London’ Visual Resources, September 2013, pp. 154-183.

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