Given names of art galleries are very important. They may refer to their holdings (the Spanish Gallery, that dealt in old masters from this country), their geographical location (the Sackville Gallery, in Sackville Street), or hint to some culturally shared concept (the Carfax Gallery, founded by Oxford university students, who referred to a monument in such a town; but also, more simply, the Modern Gallery). Other galleries capitalised on taking the name of an older, successful gallery.
Such is the case of Francis Howard’s Grosvenor Gallery, founded in 1912. The first Grosvenor Gallery (1877-1890) hardly needs an introduction. Founded by Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife Blanche, it was one of the best known commercial art galleries in London. Even if it included works by a wide range of artists, it had become identified with Aestheticism and artists such as Burne-Jones and Whistler, and it soon acquired a reputation as a fashionable and more sophisticated alternative to the Royal Academy. Unsurprisingly, the first Grosvenor Gallery has been one of the most thoroughly documented and analysed commercial spaces, whereas its younger sister is virtually unknown. Certainly the exhibitions of the second Grosvenor gallery did not have the striking public impact of the first, and yet they deserve critical attention.
The gallery was founded and managed by Francis Howard (1874-1954), born in the USA but educated in England and Europe. Howard, one of the founders of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers (1897), was both an artist and an arts administrator. In 1900 he acted as the representative for a group of American artists resident in Europe, who felt the need for an American national gallery and he travelled to America to gather funding and support for the project. In 1901, Howard organised the art section of the Woman’s Exhibition at Earl’s Court and in 1907 he was Chairman and Special Commissioner of the British Art and Antiquarian Committee, for the Jamestown Exposition. In 1909, he organised an Exhibition of Chosen Pictures at the Grafton Galleries, and his first National Loan Exhibition as its Director. He continued to do the Loan exhibitions in 1913-14 and 1914-15.
Howard was a collector too: according to the 1927 edition of Who’s Who in Art his collection comprised works by ‘Titian, Van Dyck, Tintoretto, Bassano, Reynolds, Hogart, Sargent, Mann, and other old masters and modern paintings and extends to about 150‘. This collection was dispersed after his death and sold by Christie’s in 1955. One if its major works, Titian’s Allegory, is now in the National Gallery in London (although the attribution to this work has been questioned in recent years and it is now ascribed as ‘Titian and workshop’). Howard donated several works from his collection to Tate in the early 1940s, notably Charles Shannon’s Portrait of Hilda Moore.
Howard was also chairman of the National Portrait Society and in 1940 described himself as a ‘specialist in portraits and subject pictures’.
One of the most interesting exhibitions held at the Grosvenor Gallery was the ‘Nameless Exhibitions’ (open May 20, 1921), in which Henry Tonks, Charles Sims and Roger Fry arranged the works on sale into three categories ‘Academic’, ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Modern’, but displayed them without the artists’ names attached. Names were neither mentioned in the exhibition catalogue, nor prices were given. This brave exhibition was sponsored by The Burlington Magazine and was first announced by its Editor, Robert Rattray Tatlock, in an Editorial of April 1921.
The ‘Nameless Exhibition’, in which works by Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, Vanessa Bell and many others were exhibited, stirred much controversy. As Samuel Elmer, who ably reconstructed this exhibition in 2011, points out, the nameless exhibition was a notable achievement, as it represented a crucial step in ‘the fashioning of an appreciative critical climate, a receptive audience and, eventually, a functioning market for modern art in England‘.
BP, April 2014
Postscriptum. As Robert O’Byrne from The Irish Aesthete comments, Francis Howard was the father of aesthete and poet Brian Howard who was one of the main figures behind the 1929 exhibition of works by the fictitious German artist ‘Bruno Hat’, whose oeuvre was painted by Brian Howard and (most likely) John Banting. The Nameless and Bruno Hat Exhibitions may appear, at first, opposite events: the Nameless Exhibition removed the authors’ names from their legitimate works, whereas the Bruno Hat Exhibition constructed a false persona and attributed to him works produced by more than one artist. Nevertheless both shared a similar desire to curtail the ‘personality cult’ around artists, one by eliminating the names altogether and the second turning the name into an empty receptacle.
Harrington Mann, Portrait of Francis Howard, early 1920s?, Glasgow Art Museums.
Grosvenor Gallery Advertisement, published in The Burlington Magazine, November 1912, s.p.
Francis Howard Sale Advertisement (25 November 1955), Published in The Burlington Magazine, November 1955, s.p.
Attributed to Roger Fry, Poster of the Nameless Exhibition, Published in The Burlington Magazine, September 2011, p. 583.
Howard, Francis, Who’s Who in Art, London 1927, p. 116.
Howard Francis, Who’s Who in Art, London 1940, p. 232.
Samuel Elmer, ‘The Nameless Exhibition, London, 1921’, The Burlington Magazine, September 2011, pp. 583-590.