'Art for the Nation: Sir Charles Eastlake at the National Gallery'

Article excerpt

'Art for the Nation: Sir Charles Eastlake at the National

Gallery', National Gallery, London, 27 July-30 October 2011

Susanna Avery-Quash

'The Travel Notebooks of Sir Charles Eastlake'

Walpole Society, LXXIII, 2011, 2 vols ISSN 0141-0016

Subscription details www.walpolesociety.org.uk

Susanna Avery-Quash and Julie Sheldon

Art for the Nation: The Eastlakes and the Victorian Art World

The National Gallery Company, London, distributed by Yale University Press, 2011

hb 27 [pounds sterling] ISBN 978 1 85709 507 4

The Walpole Society marks the centenary of its foundation in 2011 and has chosen to celebrate by devoting its special two-volume annual (vol LXIII) to 'The Travel Notebooks of Sir Charles Eastlake' by Susanna Avery-Quash. The same author, with Julie Sheldon, has written a new and lively biography of Eastlake, Art for the Nation--The Eastlakes and the Victorian Art World. To mark these two publications and the Walpole Centenary the National Gallery has organized a small and intimate exhibition (until 30 October, 2011), honouring its first and perhaps most outstanding Director. In this, seven carefully selected paintings, seven well presented wall panels and two table-cases of documents provide a succinct record of Eastlake's invaluable work for the National Gallery, of which he was Keeper from 1843-53, a Trustee 1850-55, and finally Director from 1855 until his death in 1865.

On entering the exhibition in Room 1 the visitor is faced by three superb Italian paintings: Giovanni's Bellini's lovely The Madonna of the Meadow (NG 599); Ambrogio Bergognone's colourful altar piece The Virgin and Child with Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Catherine of Siena (NG 298); and Vittore Carpaccio's Saint Jerome in his Study (NG 694, attributed by Eastlake to Bellini). All were acquired by Eastlake during his annual tours in Italy. Altogether, Eastlake acquired over 150 pictures for the National Gallery while Director, most of them in Italy, and 'The Travel Notebooks', which are now in the National Gallery library, provide a unique insight into Eastlake's methods, connoisseurship and art-historical knowledge in working to enrich the gallery's collections. What must have been an editor's nightmare has become both a mine of information and a real challenge for the reader/user of these two volumes. The first is devoted to an Introduction entitled 'The Happy Tour', a map and an itinerary of Eastlake's foreign travels, and the lengthy text of the 12 surviving Notebooks dating from 1852 to 1864, accompanied by many hundreds of footnotes. The slimmer second volume opens with 29 pages of actual-size reproductions of the mostly tiny sketches that Eastlake drew in the sketchbooks, many of which are difficult to interpret. These are followed by an invaluable seven-page 'Glossary of Eastlake's Abbreviations': he used a kind of verbal shorthand. There are also useful lists of 'Collectors and Dealers Whom Eastlake Met Abroad' and 'Paintings Acquired on the Continent by Eastlake for the National Gallery'. The longest of the three Appendices reproduces 'Eastlake's Annual Letter to the Trustees of the National Gallery Regarding his Foreign Travels (1855-64)'. These lengthy and detailed letters, although rather formal, give the reader a vivid insight into the Director's journeys, and bring to life the remarkable thoroughness and genius of Eastlake's 'picture bunting'. A long 'General Index' is followed by a 117-page 'Index of Artists and Works of Art', greatly adding to the value of these ambitious volumes for future scholars and researchers. …