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The National Gallery expands Research Centre through the acquisition of Agnew's archive
The National Gallery has acquired the archive of art dealers Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd. Photo © The National Gallery, London.
LONDON.- The National Gallery has acquired the archive of art dealers Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd following the firm’s decision to close its Albemarle Street gallery in 2013. The archive, which dates back to the 1850s, consists of detailed stockbooks, daybooks, diaries and huge leather-bound account ledgers that give unprecedented insight into the activity of one of the world’s most important international art dealers. It complements the National Gallery’s own rich archive and establishes the Gallery as a centre of research for the study of collecting, the art market, taste and provenance. Researchers will benefit from improved access to an outstanding and little-studied collection spanning more than 150 years of history.

Agnew’s archive provides a remarkably detailed record of the activities of the firm, which during its history has had branches in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Paris, New York and Berlin. It includes the records of famous paintings that have passed through Agnew’s, including Velázquez’s ‘The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus')’ and Bellini’s 'The Feast of the Gods'. It also holds information about the company’s involvement with major collectors from around the world. Exceptionally, Agnew’s has remained a family firm from its inception and the archive includes items of a more personal or immediate nature, such as Victorian diaries of overseas trips. Letters and digital information will complete the record through the 20th century up to the end of 2013, the later material being transferred to the National Gallery in stages over the next three decades.

The archive was offered at a discounted price of £240,000, for which sum it was generously purchased and donated to the Gallery by the National Gallery Trust.

Julian Agnew said on behalf of Agnew’s: “I am delighted that our fascinating archive has found such a prestigious permanent home, where the records of the firm and of its influence on the history of taste and collecting will be available to both scholars and the general public.”

Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, said: “Agnew’s has been at the centre of the art trade for almost 200 years and importantly during the late 19th century and early 20th century when major shifts in collections between the UK and USA were taking place. As the largest and most influential dealer of its age, the information held within the archive is of international significance and has outstanding research value.”

The addition of Agnew’s archive to the National Gallery Research Centre is significant in that it is the first time the Gallery has collected an archive that is not closely bound to its own history. The Gallery will catalogue the archive, and this is expected to be completed within two years. However, the Gallery aims to make the archive as accessible as possible during that time.





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