Conference Report: Friend or Foe: Art and the Market in the Nineteenth Century (The Hague, May 21-22, 2015)

Last month the Burlington Index Project was presented by the Index Editor to a distinguished audience, the conference Friend or Foe: Art and the Market in the Nineteenth Century (The Hague, May 21-22, 2015).  The Burlington Index Blog received a report on the conference by one of its organisers, Dr. Jan Dirk Baetens, and, as the conference was a very worthwhile moment of scholarly research and sociability, we gladly publish it. We also wish to make our readers aware of the activities of ESNA (The European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art (

Friend or Foe: Art and the Market in the Nineteenth Century

A few week ago, the European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art organised a two-day conference at the Gemeentemuseum and the Netherlandish Institute for Art History in The Hague entitled “Friend or Foe: Art and the Market in the Nineteenth Century”. Eighteen speakers presented their latest research on various aspects of the nineteenth-century art market, complemented by three keynotes lectures delivered by Filip Vermeylen (recently appointed Professor of Global Art Markets at the Erasmus University Rotterdam), Robert Jensen (Professor of Art History at the University of Kentucky) and Sylvie Patry (senior curator at the Musée d’Orsay and curator of the Paul Durand-Ruel exhibition currently on view at the National Gallery).

With almost 120 participants, the conference was very well attended, which testifies to the surge in interest in the art market, both historic and contemporary, in recent years. Upcoming conferences at the National Gallery (“Negotiating Art: Dealers and Museum 1855-2015”, 1-2 April 2016) and Christie’s (“Creating Markets, Collecting Art”, 14-15 July 2016) confirm this trend. Much of the research on the historical art market has concentrated until now on the early modern period, but interest seems to be shifting to the more recent period. This has, at least in part, to do with the abundance of available archival records for this period and the rise in importance of the digital humanities. Recent studies based on market-oriented network analysis and the digitalisation by the Getty of the Goupil and Knoedler stockbooks put to use by various researchers are cases in point here.

The European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art (, which organised the event, was founded in 2012 by scholars and curators of nineteenth-century art, in order to stimulate international exchange and collaboration in the field both within Europe and with the rest of the world. Although only recently established, ESNA can already look back on an impressive track record, including the organisation of a number colloquia, group visits to exhibitions and international conferences. The conference in The Hague was the third of its kind, following the 2013 edition in Amsterdam (“Uneasy Alliances: Boundaries and Bargains in Nineteenth-Century Art”) and the 2014 edition at the Fine Arts Museum in Ghent (Belgium) (“The Turbulent Mind: Madness, Moods and Melancholy in the Art of the Nineteenth Century”). Speakers and attendants on the Friend or Foe conference last month included, besides important delegations from Belgium and the Netherlands, a large group of scholars from the UK, the US, France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Norway. The international profile of both speakers and the audience indicates that ESNA is starting to live up to its name and ambitions. If this continues, and we certainly hope so, it may very well be that ESNA’s annual conferences will become, before long, Must-Attend Events for all scholars of and devotees to nineteenth-century art in Europe and beyond! [Absolutely! Editor’s note]

Jan Dirk Baetens, June 2015