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Richard Ford Collection



Richard Ford Collection



Archive reference number



The collection divides into four principal areas:

Over 45 rare books on art and travel in Spain, either by Ford or from his library collection dating from the early 16th to the 19th centuries.

Collected letters to/from Ford and notable artistic and literary figures, e.g. Dominic Colnaghi, Anthony Panizzi, Charles Eastlake, Edward Lear, George Borrow, Thomas Lawrence, Anna Jameson, John Murray, John Everett Millais, etc. Approximately 220 letters.

A sketchbook of watercolour views by Richard Ford and a number of etchings and drawings.

20th/21st century research papers including photocopies of Ford manuscript letters, drafts of articles and correspondence with scholars, e.g. with Richard Ford's descendant, the art historian Sir Brinsley Ford.

Record type


Administrative history

Richard Ford (1796-1858) was an English writer, collector and amateur artist. In 1830 he visited Spain and over the next three years made over 500 topographical drawings, one of the most complete pictorial records of Spanish cities and their monuments before the advent of photography. From 1836 Ford contributed a number of lengthy reviews to the 'Quarterly Review', several of them on Spanish subjects. This led the publisher John Murray to invite Ford to write the 'Hand-book for Travellers in Spain' (including an account of the pictures in the Prado that runs to over 17,000 words). When the book finally appeared in 1845, it was an immediate success and was followed a year later by Ford's 'Gatherings from Spain'. Following his death on 31 August 1858, Ford's library was consigned to Sotheby and Wilkinson, who auctioned it in 752 lots on 9 May 1861.

There are several direct and collateral connections between Ford and the National Gallery. In 1843 Ford published a 'Life of Velázquez' in the Penny Cyclopaedia, described by Sir William Stirling-Maxwell as 'one of the happiest efforts of his pen' (Miscellaneous Essays and Addresses (1891), p. 107; see also ref. NGA48/2/2/70). It was during a tour of the north of England and Scotland in 1851 that Ford encountered Velázquez's 'The Toilet of Venus' (not then widely known) at Rokeby Hall in North Yorkshire, describing it as 'very fine indeed . admirably composed'; the painting was acquired by the National Gallery in 1906 (NG2057). The Times (12 May 1853) printed a letter, which Ford had written jointly with William Stirling, approving of the Gallery's purchase of Francisco de Zurbarán, 'St Francis in Meditation' (NG230). In 1853 Ford gave evidence at two sessions of the Select Committee on the National Gallery. He was appointed to the subsequent Royal Commission but retired eight days later on grounds of ill health. One painting formerly owned by Richard Ford is now in the National Gallery Collection: Francisco Ribalta, 'The Vision of Father Simón' (NG2930).

The collection was formed by a recognised Ford scholar from materials acquired from various sources.

Custodial history

Acquired by private treaty sale with the assistance of Friends of the National Libraries and private donors, May 2021; the collection had been due to be sold by Forum Auctions on 27 May 2021, lot 317.

Related material

Material held at the National Gallery Library: letters to Dominic Colnaghi, 1831-33, tipped-in to a copy of Ford's 'A Hand-book for Travellers in Spain' (1845) Material held in the National Gallery Archive: NGA2/4/2/65, letter from Richard Ford to Ralph N Wornum; NGA41/6/5, Collector Files: Richard Ford and J.F. Lewis Associated material held in other archives: Oxford University: Bodleian Library, letters to Lord and Lady Lovelace (1847-51) British Library, letters to Macvey Napier and others (1839-56) Glasgow City Archives, letters to Sir William Stirling Maxwell and Sir Edmund Head (1833-58) Hispanic Society of America, New York, letters to George Borrow The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, letters Senate House Library Archives, University of London: Ford, Richard (Thomas Bean Research Collection)

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