Design & Decoration S02 ep2 : Jeremy Howard, Colnaghi Gallery, [????]
Interview with Jeremy Howard
If Paul Colnaghi had emigrated to America in 1783, as Benjamin Franklin advised him to do, London would be without one of its oldest and most celebrated Galleries. Instead, Colnaghi went to work for Anthony Torre, whose father had established businesses in Paris and London. Anthony Torre's London premises enjoyed a reputation for stocking the finest wares of celebrated engravers. When Paul Colnaghi joined him in 1783, they soon moved to a superior address at 132 Pall Mall, and by 1788 the younger Colnaghi had taken control of the business. Paul Colnaghi was to raise the small business to a status unsurpassed in the art-dealing world. There were difficulties in the beginning; as a result of the French Revolution and the ensuing disorders, trade with the Continent suffered. Colnaghi, however, managed to weather the storm by a series of adroit moves. During 1792-1797, he published what is probably the most famous series of English stipple engravings, The Cries of London. At the same time he began to issue engravings of military, naval and patriotic heroes. For instance, on November 7, 1803, when news of Nelson's victory and death at Trafalgar reached London, Colnaghi had already commissioned a portrait engraving. Paul Colnaghi's connections with Europe, his knowledge of languages, and his integrity in business were all of great help to him during this turbulent period. He was able to supply the Government with views of beleaguered towns on the Continent, thus providing information for the besieging armies which would otherwise have been lacking.
Colnaghi: We’re very proud about the fact that we are London’s oldest art gallery, we’ve actually
been in business since 1760. We were actually originally founded in Paris and we were started up
by two Italian entrepreneurs, one of them was Mr Colnaghi and the other was his partner Tore who
was in fact a firework manufacturer and on the back of a business which started out in selling
scientific instruments, we then developed into print publishers and when the French Revolution
came along, very fortunately we had started up a small subsidiary gallery in London and we just
moved the business to London. Here he is, the illustrious founder of the firm, with a book of prints
which he’s leafing through on his knee.
Colnaghi: One of the first big deals that we did was selling a print of Lord Nelson just after the
Battle of Trafalgar. This was all about celebrity publishing, that’s where the money was.
Colnaghi: Here we have Madam Deshtyle who was one of the most celebrated novelists in early
19th Century France. This picture was actually commissioned about two years after she died, she
died in 1817 by the then Russian Ambassador and it shows her as the heroine in one of her novels,
a novel called Corinne and the heroine falls in love with a Scottish Lord who pursues her around
Italy and here we have her with her Greek lyre dressed in classical costume with her eyes lifted up
to heaven, so this if you like is a sort of news portrait, painted posthumously two years after the
great novelist died.
Colnaghi: This is something very different indeed. It’s painted by one of the last of the great
Broygal dynasty of artists, a Flemish artist from Antwerp who ended up in Italy and if you look at
this extremely lush still life you can see I think how he has absorbed a sort of freedom the re… of
Italian painting. Because it combines both the meticulousness of Flemish still life painting with a
sense of freedom in the brushwork, almost a theatricality which shows the lessons he’s absorbed
from Italian painting.
Colnaghi: While we’re on the subject of fruit and veg, here is Pomona, Pomona was in fact the
goddess of fruit and she was seduced by Vertumlis, the God of the seasons and you can see him
sneaking in in the background. Now Vertumlis came up with a rather unusual strategy for seducing
the voluptuous Pomona, he actually turned himself into a woman and seduced her in the guise of
an old woman and presumably the seduction scene is going to be taking place in about five or ten
Colnaghi: Well I blame my grandmother because she was one of the very first women to train as
an architect and she really fired me up with an interest in visual arts. She also gave me my first
book on silver hallmarks and when I was about 11 or 12, I used to go round markets trying to buy
silver spoons and things, and that’s really how I started off, and then I graduated from there to
Colnaghi: This is a very entertaining portrait painted on the Grand Tour by Pompeio Battoni, the
sitter is George the IIIrd’s younger brother, the Duke of York. Now George the IIIrd as you
probably know was somebody who was very much a family man. His younger brother, a bit like
George the IVth, his nephew in fact, was of a very different character and while he was in Italy he
had numerous affairs with Italian ladies and here you can see him standing in front of a very grand
consul table and gesturing towards the Colosseum in the background which at that stage was still
much more overgrown than it is today.
Colnaghi: Another artist who interested himself in low life subject matter was the Flemish artist
David Tenyes who is probably one of the best known Flemish artists after Rubens and van Dyke of
the 17th Century and here we have a typical scene by Tenyes taking place outside a pub, people
gambling and somebody seems to be urinating against the fence in the background, that’s also very
typical of Flemish painting, although the subject matter is rather coarse, the way in which it is
painted is extremely refined if you look at the details of the still life painting of the pewter jug and
also the ceramic jug in the foreground he’s very interested in describing the effect of light on these
surfaces and it’s all painted with a meticulous, almost miniaturist, technique.
Colnaghi: This is another painting by David Tenyes, it’s a small landscape with a cave on the right
hand side and a traveller asking the way. A rather unexceptional subject, but typical of the
northern love of everyday subject matter.
Colnaghi: If you were on the Grand Tour in the 18th Century and you were a rich English milord,
you would very often go to Penini and commission or buy an imaginary landscape with all the
famous ruins of antiquity, this is what he really specialised in and he was extremely influential for
example the French artist Uber Robert was very influenced by him and the whole taste for ruins
was then transferred back to England and in fact had an impact on interior decoration.
Colnaghi: I would say the greater majority of our stock and the sort of things that we show in the
exhibitions are more the northern school so 17th Century Dutch and Flemish painting and also
French 18th Century painting and here we have some very good examples. In the middle we’ve got
a marine painting by an artist called Adam Willutz and I say it’s a marine painting in fact it’s a
biblical subject but you could be forgiven for not realising that. Here in the middle is Christ
preaching to the multitude but it’s typical of the way in which Flemish artists approached religious
subject matter, that they're really much more interested in the sort of everyday scenes that are
going on so here we have the fishermen who’d been laying out their catch on the beach, here
we’ve got a wonderfully painted boat and then we’ve got people who seem to be much more
interested in one another than in what Christ is trying to say to them on the beach.
Colnaghi: Moving a little further north of the Netherlands to Holland, we have the leading still life
painter of the early 18th Century, he worked between the late 17th Century and the middle of the
18th Century, and he’s one of the last of the great Dutch still life painters, his name of Jan van
Hoysen and here you can see a bunch of fruit which I certainly wouldn’t want to buy myself if I
saw it in the market because it’s got flies and ants and all sorts of creepy crawlies running over it,
and that’s typical of the sort of conceit if you like of artists the sort of tricks they like to play to
show their virtuosity.
Colnaghi: This is the Colnaghi library which is one of the finest private art libraries in London, this
is the nerve centre of our research. On the easel we have a painting of a still life painted by an
artist called Betera who specialised in painting musical instruments. He grew up and was active
near Cremona which you probably know was the place where Stradivarius was active so it’s the
great music instrument centre of northern Italy.
Colnaghi: Here we have a drawing by the great French 18th Century master, Francois Buchet,
which shows a nativity scene and it’s very closely connected with an altarpiece that he painted for
Madam DePompadeur who was possibly his greatest patron. Now we normally thing of Buchet in
terms of rather sexy scenes of mythological subjects and it’s quite rare to find him doing here a
religious subject, which is very strongly inspired in fact by Italian prototypes in particular
Coragiou and also by the 17th Century work of Louis Lenar.
Colnaghi: Here we have a scene of Venice by Fredrick Narley who was a German artist who spent
his working life in Italy. Narley really specialised in doing view painting which has all the sort of
crispness of Canaletto but combined with a feeling for light which is very characteristic of the
great 19th Century romantic landscape painters like Turner.
Colnaghi: And just up to the right here we have an intriguing Vanitas still life. Vanitas because
what it’s doing is pointing out the vanity of human life. It’s all about life being brief if you like and
art being long so here we have the bubbles which celebrate the fact that life is going to burst like a
bubble within a few seconds, we have the snuffed out candle, we have the skull, we have flowers
and the watches and so forth, and the hourglass, all of which remind us of the passing of time. But,
one interesting little feature here, which tells us that art may provide a solution is the laurel wreath
around the skull.
Colnaghi: These two landscapes were painted by an Austrian artist called Ferg who was born and
trained in Vienna but actually ended up living in London in the middle of the 18th Century, he died
in 1740. And what we see here is a group of people who have assembled to watch a theatrical
performance and in the background you can see these actors and from the look of the costume this
in fact must be one of the Commedia dell’arte performances which were immortalised in the
paintings of Vato because here we can see a harlequin who was one of the stock characters in the
Commedia dell’arte. I think he’s just making a rude gesture towards the crowd. I don’t think he’s
pulling down his pants.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Jeremy Howard, Colnaghi Gallery, ???