British Sales Phase II: 1680-1780

The National Gallery is working with the Getty Research Institute to improve records on British art sales for the period from 1680 to 1780

In 2012, the National Gallery completed a successful collaboration with the Getty Research Institute’s Project for the Study of Collecting and Provenance, to research, transcribe, and index British sales catalogues from the period 1780-1800. The Getty’s Provenance Index databases now include more than 100,000 records from 1,200 catalogues from these two decades. When combined with the existing 19th-century records, the result is that the British art sales database currently covers the period from 1780-1840, the critically important period when Britain consolidated its primacy in the international art market.

During the conference ‘London and the Emergence of a European Art Market, ca. 1780-1820’, held to mark the end of that project at the National Gallery (21-22 June 2013), it was agreed to continue the collaboration. This new project – Phase II – will take the story of the British art market back to its beginnings in the 17th century, starting with the earliest extant British art sales catalogue, produced for the sale of the court painter Sir Peter Lely, which took place on 18 April 1682 and the following days, which was advertised as including his ‘Great Collection of Pictures, and other Rarities, as Statues, Bronzes, &c.’ Lely’s pictures were noted as ‘being all of the most Eminent Italian, and other Masters, in good Condition, and well Preserved, with Gilt Frames’.

We expect to be able to trace approximately 1,100 sales catalogues for the period 1680-1780. Fortunately, we are able to draw on work already achieved by ‘The Art World in Britain 1660 to 1735’ project, launched by the University of York in 2011, to publish primary sources and research tools for the study of the arts in late 17th and early 18th century. In particular, Dr Richard Stephens is generously sharing relevant and previously unpublished sale catalogue information that he gathered for that project with us for the benefit of our own.

This project, which started in August 2014, will last 22 months. Its fruits, once entered into the Getty’s Provenance Index databases, will be a significant scholarly resource for the fields of provenance research, art market studies, and collecting history. With its successful completion, the databases will then cover a continuous span of British sales from 1680-1840.