Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

John Smith, His Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters (1829-1842) and the 'Stigma of PICTURE DEALER'

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

John Smith, His Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters (1829-1842) and the 'Stigma of PICTURE DEALER'

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

From today's point of view, the history of the catalogue raisonné, though multifaceted, emerges as a relatively coherent, self-contained process.1 When looked at from a greater distance, the making of this genre of art historical literature indeed reveals correlations which were not necessarily realized by the protagonists at the time. Thus, where they may have seen themselves in intellectual harmony with those who had similar aims, we can now recognize alliances based primarily on common strategic or commercial goals; and where they may have perceived disagreements with predecessors and contemporaries, we now see continuities and shared principles.

A landmark in the history of this genre is the nine-volume Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters published by the London art dealer John Smith (figs 1 and 2) between 1829 and 1842.2 In the context of the history of art history, this publication is remarkable for several reasons, the most important being perhaps that Smith's volumes effectively illustrate the turning point between the varied kinds of art literature typical of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the development of academic forms of research in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

It would be tempting to delve more deeply into this context. It would be equally tempting to closely follow the steps of John Smith.3 We might for instance trace the making of his Catalogue Raisonné by looking at his sources and the literature at his disposal. We could also accompany him on his far-ranging travels in Great Britain and on the continent by consulting his correspondence and the many notes he made in front of the originals. All this, however, would be beyond the boundaries set for the present contribution.4

Instead, departing from a brief portrayal of the publication itself, this article will be devoted primarily to the reception of Smith's work, addressing particularly his critics whose comments - as so often - are more interesting than those of his admirers. By looking at the criticism and at Smith's defence it will become clearer how the protagonists saw themselves and how they were seen by others. Additionally, one might also perceive some outlines of networks and strategic positionings as they took shape in an increasingly academic context of art historical research. Finally, this contribution also aims to convey a better understanding of the genre of the catalogue raisonné and its current status in the discipline.

II. The structure and contents of Smith's Catalogue Raisonné

The Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters appeared between 1829 and 1837 in eight volumes, the first one bearing a dedication to the then Home Secretary and future Prime Minister Robert Peel.5 Published by the author ('Smith and Son') at 137 New Bond Street, the royal octavo volumes cost 21 shillings for subscribers and 26 shillings for others; a supplementary ninth volume appeared in 1842.6 The publication was announced in advertisements7 and sold through the book market and by subscription. In spite of positive reactions it seems to have been difficult to secure subscribers initially,8 yet a list of names for over 240 subscriptions in the fourth volume of 1833 probably indicates that the project and the subsequent volumes had become financially viable at this point.9

Except for the supplement, each volume features a lithographic frontispiece with an artist's portrait (figs 2 and 3). Together, the volumes treat the works of 41 artists, the emphasis lying on painters of the seventeenth century and more particularly on the Dutch school, to which 34 of the catalogues are dedicated. Rembrandt's works occupy one entire volume, and the same is true of Peter Paul Rubens who - together with Anthony van Dyck, David Teniers the Younger and Gonzales Coques - represents the Flemish school. An additional volume is dedicated to three French artists, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, the latter being the only eighteenth-century painter treated by Smith. …

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