An enquiry into the English art dealer system of the early modernist period

Robinson, Michael (2004) An enquiry into the English art dealer system of the early modernist period. (MA(R) thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis critically re-evaluates the role of the art dealer in the modernist enterprise from 1880 to 1920, in order to establish whether England's marginalisation within the European canon was attributable, in part, to its native dealers. Recent discourse on English modernist art history has eschewed direct aesthetic comparisons with the 'isms' along the conventional London-Paris axis, in favour of an account of England's cultural differences with France. As part of that discourse the thesis addresses the differences in art dealing between London and Paris, using the paradigmatic French dealers such as Paul Durand-Ruel and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler as benchmarks, in order to critically assess and reframe the contribution that dealers made to English art and its subsequent histories. Against the background of the English cultural milieu of the period, the study, using Tate Gallery archives, focuses on key exhibitions held by two London dealers whose marketing strategies reflected their different origins; the Parisian 'schooled' William Marchant of the Goupil Gallery, and the novice Jack Knewstub who founded the Chenil Gallery. Both dealers predominantly promoted the work of the French “juste-milieu” artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and/or the quasi-academic English art of Augustus John and William Orpen, but also sought new opportunities to promote vanguard English artists such as David Bomberg. Within the context of the nuanced relationships artists had with their native dealers, this thesis examines issues of aesthetic judgment, and questions the validity of an 'alternative' English modernism promoted by art historians such as Charles Harrison. By positing the dealer as the central figure within art's infrastructure, the thesis also considers the commercial validation of the modernist canon that saw Paris as its apogee contemporaneously and in subsequent twentieth century art histories. By contrast, the subsequent writing of the histories of English art has continued without commercial considerations given to its proponents. Through a detailed examination of these issues, this thesis creates an enhanced understanding of modernism and stimulates further debate about England's role within the European modernist enterprise.

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