‘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].

Philip-Alexius-de-Laszlo-xx-William-Lockett-Agnew-xx-Private-collection

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

 

References:

[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.

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