looking back: 145 years in business

 

  • "the 145-year-old gallery here operates more of a salon with selected art objects, furniture and carpets from the 19th and 20th centuries. here you feel transported into another time, in which the English modernity...is resurrecting in front of the eye." - stephanie dieckvoss, 2020

  • In our 145th year of business, we still find ourselves looking back into the archives for inspiration: from the artworks...

    In our 145th year of business, we still find ourselves looking back into the archives for inspiration: from the artworks and objects we’ve handled, to the collections we’ve helped cultivate, and the fashions we started…

     

    This kaleidoscopic perspective provides the rich tapestry of our past, whilst also stimulating our future projects. The pandemic of 2020 was an event which no one could have predicted, no more than the Spanish Flu one hundred years ago. In 1920, and following from the First World War, The Fine Art Society opened the year with a show by the cartoonist and humourist, Louis Raemaekers: a group of artworks which aptly demonstrated the country’s “social troubles that have done so much to impede the nation’s return to a much-needed tranquillity” [1] . With this in mind, we took a closer look at the year 1920 and found it provides us with a microcosmic view of our business, demonstrating, with some consolation, that the tastes of our clients is as consistent now as they were then.

  • Numerous collections of decorative arts have been built and sold in our galleries over the decades, most recently the great... Numerous collections of decorative arts have been built and sold in our galleries over the decades, most recently the great... Numerous collections of decorative arts have been built and sold in our galleries over the decades, most recently the great... Numerous collections of decorative arts have been built and sold in our galleries over the decades, most recently the great... Numerous collections of decorative arts have been built and sold in our galleries over the decades, most recently the great...

    Numerous collections of decorative arts have been built and sold in our galleries over the decades, most recently the great collections of John Scott and Andrew McIntosh Patrick. 1920 provided one of the earliest: the remarkable collection of Mrs Graydon Stannus of ‘Old Irish Glass’. The Harding Collection, as it was known, was famous for its rare examples of 17th and 18th century lead glass, much of which displayed a soft blue-grey colour peculiar only to old Irish glass. The collection proved terrifically popular with clients, with a total of 67 items sold for over £3400 – almost £155,500 in today’s money. This was at a time when genuine hand-blown glass made using traditional methods was becoming a rarity, and the desire for original English artisanal glass was on the increase – much as it is today. Elizabeth Graydon-Stannus herself was an artist-glassmaker, exhibiting her own pieces alongside those of the great family collection. With the aim of reviving the old techniques of glass-making,[2] she established her own glassworks – Gray-Stan Glass, where, using very old lead glass recipes from the family collection, she produced richly coloured Art-Deco pieces that were as popular then as they are with collectors today

  • Much of the year following on from the Graydon Stannus exhibition was devoted to living artists, the majority of whom... Much of the year following on from the Graydon Stannus exhibition was devoted to living artists, the majority of whom... Much of the year following on from the Graydon Stannus exhibition was devoted to living artists, the majority of whom... Much of the year following on from the Graydon Stannus exhibition was devoted to living artists, the majority of whom...

    Much of the year following on from the Graydon Stannus exhibition was devoted to living artists, the majority of whom were working in watercolour – with no fewer than fourteen exhibitions, mostly focussing on landscapes in Britain, Europe and the Far East . For The Fine Art Society, living artists working in the medium had been a strong staple for business since the early 1880s, when 'artist-travellers' such as Alfred East and Sutton Palmer, whose 'Watercolours of The Holy Land, Egypt and California', provided picturesque and exotic landscapes at reasonably inexpensive prices compared to oils.

     

    The demand for moderately priced ‘contemporary’ art for both young and seasoned collectors alike was no different in 1920 than it is today. Artists including Reginald Smith, Ruth Dollman, Ann Airy and Walter Tyndale were hugely popular, with works priced between £15-£20 (£600-£900 today), producing total exhibition sales of between £265 and £720 (£12,000 and £32,100 today). Although the demand seen in those days has fallen, watercolours remain important to our trade, particularly in the cannon of nineteenth and twentieth century artists we exhibit, including John Frederick Lewis, George Leslie Hunter James Cowie  and Edward Bawden .

  • By far the most popular show by a living artist in 1920 was the work of Finlay Mackinnon, whose group... By far the most popular show by a living artist in 1920 was the work of Finlay Mackinnon, whose group... By far the most popular show by a living artist in 1920 was the work of Finlay Mackinnon, whose group...

    By far the most popular show by a living artist in 1920 was the work of Finlay Mackinnon, whose group of watercolours depicting The West Highlands and Skye almost sold out, with a total sale of just over £780 (or £35,6000 in new money). Today, much like a century ago, and indeed for centuries prior, Scottish landscape painting has enchanted and inspired collectors. It has provided the far-reaching Scottish diaspora with some of the answers to one of their greatest obsessions: namely, the fundamental question of where their forefathers originated. Scotland’s coastline in particular, is one which naturally inspires in its dramatic and varied geography, and is one we are celebrating in our current online exhibition ‘Coast’. From artists today, such as Ron Sandford , to those of the twentieth century, including John Boyd, Oscar Marzaroli  and Ian Fleming , and reaching back through to the eighteenth century in the work of John Clerk of Eldin this exhibition defines the cultural identity of the Scottish shores throughout the centuries.

     

    View the online exhibition here.

     

     

    [1] Cartoons “Victory and After” by Louis Raemaekers The Fine Art Society January 1920

    [2] The Jewelers' Circular - Volume 88 - Page 115 1924 


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