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Harold Isherwood Kay Papers



Harold Isherwood Kay Papers



Archive reference number



The Harold Isherwood Kay papers include materials relating to Kay's work. There are no family or personal papers. The archive includes 1. Notebooks recording visits to museums, galleries, art dealers, and private houses in Britain and Europe to view works of art for Kay's work at the National Gallery, valuations he undertook for the Estate Duty Office, and for his private research. 2. Research notes and drafts for his proposed book on the history of Spanish Painting. 3. Correspondence with his friend and one time colleague at the National Gallery, Ellis Waterhouse; 4. Research papers; 5. Miscellaneous items.

The archive contains some items that date from after Kay's death which may have been added by his widow or others, for example, a small file of research material and correspondence about Willem Van de Velde (both the Elder and the Younger).

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Administrative history

Harold Isherwood Kay was born on 19 November 1893, the son of Alfred Kay and Margaret Isherwood. He married Barbara Cox, daughter of Oswald Cox in 1927, there were no children.

Kay fought in the First World War 1914-1919 and was a prisoner of war in Germany in 1918.

He was employed by the National Gallery from 1919 until his death in 1938, holding the posts of Photographic Assistant from 1919-1921; Assistant from 1921-1934; and Keeper and Secretary from 1934-1938. Kay spent much of his time travelling around Britain and Europe looking at works of art held by museums, galleries, art dealers, and private individuals.

Kay contributed to a variety of art magazines including The Burlington Magazine and The Connoisseur. Two of his most noted articles are 'John Sell Cotman's Letters from Normandy' in the Walpole Society Annual, 1926 and 1927, and 'A Survey of Spanish Painting' (Monograph) in The Burlington Magazine, 1927.

From the late 1920s until his death in 1938 Kay was working on a book about the history of Spanish Painting which was to be published by The Medici Society. He completed a draft but the book was never published.

Kay was a member of the Union and Burlington Fine Arts Clubs. He died on 10 August 1938 following an appendicitis operation, aged 44.

Custodial history

The Harold Isherwood Kay papers were acquired by the National Gallery in 1991. When Kay died in 1938, his papers were inherited by his widow, Barbara. Following Barbara Kay's death in 1979, they were transferred to the custody of her sister Mrs Honor Bullock who transferred 'various archival material which she felt ought not to be lost' to David Piper, Director of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, a family friend.

In the same year (1979), Piper showed the Kay Papers to Ellis Waterhouse who made suggestions about where different sections should be deposited. Papers relating to John Sell Cotman and Thomas Gainsborough (see letter from Waterhouse in Kay papers acquisition file) are no longer with the papers that the National Gallery acquired. Their location is not known. The Gainsborough papers may relate to Kay's preliminary work on a Gainsbrough catalogue (see Walpole Society Vol XXXIII, p. x) and the Cotman material may relate to his work for the article 'John Sell Cotman's letters from Normandy 1817-1820' published in the Walpole Society vol XIV and XV.

By 1991 the papers were in the custody of Cecil Gould (National Gallery Assistant, 1946-1962; Deputy Keeper, 1962-1972; Keeper, 1973-1978), presumably having been transferred to him following Piper's death in Dec 1990. Gould gave the papers to the National Gallery in 1991.

Some items were acquired separately and have been integrated into the collection: NGA4/2-6 and NGA4/5 were transferred from the National Gallery Library in July 2019.

Related material

Sale catalogues annotated by Kay are held by National Gallery Library (Ref. AX1-7). Kay's research papers relating to relating to Thomas Gainsborough, John Sell Cotman and Philip Wilson Steer are held by the National Portrait Gallery Archive [Ref. HIK].

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