Magazine article The Spectator

Public Faces in Semi-Private Places

Magazine article The Spectator

Public Faces in Semi-Private Places

Article excerpt

PICTURES IN THE GARRICK CLUB

by Geoffrey Ashton Garrick Club, L96, pp. 570

There is a long and honourable tradition of publishing catalogues of private and public collections, stretching back to 17th-century handlists which included elephants' tusks next door to family portraits and which probably owed their impulse to the Baconian desire for the systematic ordering and classification of knowledge. Certainly the first catalogues of collections in England derived from the circle of the Royal Society and included Elias Ashmole's catalogue of his own collection and Nehemiah Grew's catalogue of the collections of the Royal Society. In the mid-19th century, John Charles Robinson set new standards in museum cataloguing with his Italian Sculpture of the Middle Ages and Period of the Revival of Art, published by the Department of Science and Art in 1862; and in the late 19th century private scholars like G. C. Williamson made a good living providing lavish catalogues of private collections, including the great catalogues of the works of art assembled by Pierpont Morgan.

Amongst clubs, which lie halfway between private and public collections in that they do not reflect the taste of a family or individual, but are quasi-institutional, the Garrick Club has always been efficient in making information about its extensive collection of theatrical portraits publicly available. Perhaps this derives from the fact that one of its major donors, the comic actor Charles Matthews, published a Catalogue raisonne of Mr Matthews' Gallery of Theatrical Portraits in 1933 at the price of one shilling. In 1908, the club published the first formal Catalogue of the Pictures and Miniatures in the Possession of the Garrick Club, a small, vellum-bound volume with anecdotal information about the sitters (for obvious reasons, club members have always been rather more interested in who the sitter was than in the quality of the art); and in 1936 one of my predecessors as Director of the National Portrait Gallery, the saintly Kingsley Adams, published a further, much more substantial catalogue, which gave more attention to issues of attribution.

Given the existence of not one, but two, existing 20th-century catalogues and given the fact that the compilation of scholarly catalogues is one of the most expensive and labour-intensive forms of academic activity, it is greatly to the credit of the Garrick Club that they should have commissioned a third, up-to-date catalogue, which they have published privately by subscription (not the least interesting part of the catalogue is the subscription list, which provides an intriguing cross-section of the literary, legal and theatrical establishment). …

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