The project explores the role of Jewish collectors in shaping the collection and administration of the National Gallery, from its foundation to the Second World War.
It will bring the National Gallery into alliance with the major pan-European AHRC project (2019-23) on the ‘Jewish Country House: Objects, Networks, People’, part of which will investigate the role of Jewish cultural philanthropy in Britain during the long 19th century.
The National Gallery offers an invaluable case-study for thinking about how a Jewish minority - whether as collectors, donors, dealers or trustees - intervened in metropolitan institutions and helped to construct Britain’s artistic/cultural heritage. Over the period 1824-1945, the holdings of the Gallery were transformed thanks to significant donations from important Jewish collectors. Jewish donors, many of whom played an important role as National Gallery trustees in the first half of the 20th century, were also significant.
This CDP will interrogate the multiple Jewish histories at the National Gallery, embedded within its institutional history and its collections, but which have been previously concealed or at least understudied.
A main outcome will be a thesis that for the first time maps the engagement of Jewish collectors, dealers and philanthropists with the National Gallery in the 120 years from its foundation to the end of the Second World War.
In addition to its originality and historical interest, the project also has clear contemporary resonance, as museums aim to become more reflexive about their origins and the diverse histories they can narrate and embrace.