Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Elon Danziger

The collection formed by Sir Francis Cook (1817-1901) at Doughty House, Richmond, is known today mainly for a number of extraordinary pictures that it once included, among them Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi's Adoration of the Magi (fig. 1), Van Eyck's Three Marys at the Sepulchre (fig. 2), Velázquez's Old woman cooking eggs (fig. 3) and Rembrandt's Portrait of a boy (then identified as a portrait of Titus; fig. 4). It was not his ambition to assemble a choice set of masterpieces, but rather an encyclopaedic collection to rival the breadth and depth of the public galleries of England and Europe. In this effort he was aided by Sir John Charles Robinson (1824-1913), who for thirty years served as his adviser. In the twentieth century Cook's grandson Herbert (1868-1939), whose contributions to England's cultural life included a major role in the founding of The Burlington Magazine, enhanced the collection by acquiring many masterpieces and put his personal stamp on it by adding notable works from the Venetian High Renaissance. But financial adversity and the tumult of the Second World War precipitated the dispersal of the collection in the mid-twentieth century, and from the suburbs of London the pictures have been scattered across the world.Francis Cook was born in 1817 into prosperous circumstances. His father was a young businessman who had newly arrived in London from his family's sheep farm in Norfolk. Initial success as a linen retailer enabled him to establish a wholesale firm that became so successful - eventually trading finished silk, linen, wool, and cotton all over England and the colonies - that in 1837 he was able to move his family to Roydon Hall, a country estate in Kent. Two years later he sent Francis, his second son, on a tour of Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, and the Iberian peninsula. In Lisbon Francis met Emily Lucas, the daughter of an English merchant, whom he brought back to England as his wife. Within a few years they had two children (a third eventually followed), and around 1849 moved to Doughty House, a modest Georgian residence in Richmond.The premature death in 1852 of his elder brother William put Francis in a new position of responsibility and privilege: he became co-principal of Cook, Son, & Co., which by then had a very large warehouse across from the southern transept of St. Paul's. In 1855, on one of the regular trips he made to Portugal with his wife, he leased and then bought the quinta of Monserrate near Sintra, where Beckford had lived and Byron had written parts of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Soon thereafter he hired James T. Knowles Sr. to build a magnificent Moorish-style palace that was to become Francis's summer home.After the death of his father in 1869, Francis became head of the firm, and by some accounts he was then one of the three richest men in England. He was created a baronet in 1886. The year before, his first wife having died, Francis married Tennessee Claflin, an American ex-patriate and advocate of female suffrage and 'free-love'. He remained vigorous as a businessman and collector until his death at the age of eighty-four.Today Francis Cook is best known for forming one of the most important art collections of the nineteenth century. He began humbly with the purchase of about a dozen renaissance plaquettes during his youthful tour of Italy in 1840. In the later 1850s, established at Doughty House and awaiting construction of his palace at Monserrate, he began collecting Greek, Roman and Etruscan marble, bronzes, and ceramics. There is no evidence that Francis owned any paintings before 1868; if he did, they must have been insignificant.It was John Charles Robinson, a luminary and leader in the Victorian art world, who catalysed Francis Cook's transformation into an extraordinary collector. Robinson and Cook knew each other by the decisive year 1868, possibly having met during Robinsons's 1865 visit to Portugal (Robinson had an unusually strong interest in Spanish and Portuguese art). In the winter of 1868, having recently lost his post at the South Kensington Museum (for various reasons, including the impact of his fiery and uncompromising personality), and needing to support his wife and young children, Robinson resolved to sell his collection of paintings. He interested Francis Cook in about thirty of the ninety or one hundred pictures he was offering. Francis's selection strongly favoured Italian painters, but his ambitions enlarged quickly to the full range of Old Masters. When in May 1868 Robinson put his remaining paintings and a number of drawings up for auction in Paris, Francis bought about twenty Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Netherlandish works on offer there (including Rubens' Meleager and Atalanta hunting the boar, lot 20, below). Barely two weeks after Robinson's Paris auction, Prince Albert opened the National Exhibition of Works of Art in Leeds, a sequel to the great Manchester exhibition of the previous decade. 'A first appearance, if we mistake not, in great Art exhibitions,' wrote the Art Journal, 'has been made by Mr Cook, of St. Paul's Church Yard. The merit of many of the works he contributes is "vouchsafed" under authority of Mr J. C. Robinson, whose collection Mr Cook purchased.' The Art Journal and The Times found much to praise in the group of eighteen, mainly Italian pictures. Among the works exhibited were Antonello da Messina's Christ at the Column (Musée du Louvre, Paris, fig. 5), Millet's Mountain Landscape with Lightning (National Gallery, London), and Sodoma's Saint George and the Dragon (National Gallery of Art, Washington). Francis acquired other important works from Robinson's collection that he did not show at Leeds, including El Greco's Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Parmigianino's charming little Holy Family (Princes Gate Collection, Courtauld Institute of Art, London).The decade after Francis's father's death in 1869 was the busiest and most productive in Francis's life. Now head of the company, he oversaw its continued growth and prosperity. Overnight he became one of the most voracious collectors in England: in 1876, just eight years after starting a picture collection, he owned 510 paintings. Many of his most inspired purchases date to this period of intense activity: Metsu's Woman at Her Toilet (acquired 1870; Norton Simon Collection), Velázquez's Old Woman Cooking Eggs (probably acquired c. 1870; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), Van Eyck's Three Marys at the Sepulchre (acquired c. 1872; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam), Rembrandt's Portrait of a lady wearing a beret (acquired 1873; Wiederkehr Collection, Zürich), Clouet's Portrait of a Lady (acquired 1874; National Gallery of Art, Washington), Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi's Adoration of the Magi (acquired 1874; National Gallery of Art, Washington), Turner's Grand Junction Canal at Southall Mill (acquired c. 1874; private collection, England), Fra Bartolomeo's Holy Family (acquired by 1875; Cook Collection, Jersey), Turner's 'Fifth' Plague of Egypt (acquired 1876; Indianapolis Museum of Art).J. C. Robinsons' role in Francis's collecting is usually defined as an advisor. As Cook's grandson put it: 'to Sir Charles's extraordinary knowledge and flair at a time when experts were few and opportunities many is due the successful acquisition by Sir Francis of numberless treasures worth to-day ten times what he paid for them.' It was a point of pride that the collection owed its strength to a good eye, not deep pockets: 'Sir Francis Cook never cared to buy "ten-thousand-pounders"', his grandson acknowledged, and in the catalogues he edited took care to include the low prices paid for many masterpieces.But Robinson did more than simply advise Francis. More than half the pictures of known provenance that were at one time in the Cook collection can be shown to have actually been purchased from or through Robinson, who acted as a dealer or agent for Francis, and usually, as his account book shows, at a significant profit.Robinson championed Cook the collector. In May 1885, while Cook's baronetcy was under consideration, Robinson published the painting collection for the first time in an openly admiring, illustrated article in the Art Journal, and the next year effused about Monserrate, 'the most noble and beautiful landscape garden in the world,' in the London Times.And yet it would be wrong to think that Francis Cook took a secondary or even passive role in the formation of his collection. Although no correspondence between the two men survives, Robinson's account book documents regular exchanges and sales of pictures by Cook to him, bearing out Cook's grandson's assertion that Francis was 'constantly improving the quality of the whole by getting rid of inferior examples'. Finally there is the testimony of Cook's obituarists: he was 'known to every picture dealer, to every art sale room in Europe,' and 'his great pride was his wonderful collection of pictures and objets d'art... [T]o many art lovers the recollection of their tour through the galleries, piloted by the venerable owner, attired in old smoking-coat and cap, will long be pleasant.'With the rapid expansion of the painting collection came the need for a place to display it. While a few pictures were kept at Monserrate, and some even decorated the warehouse near St Paul's, the majority was shown at Doughty House, Richmond. This compact late Georgian home, which overlooks the Thames from a quiet residential street, takes its name from Elizabeth Doughty, a longtime resident. The relatively modest house comprised two main storeys, a mezzanine, and a semi-basement for services. The living space needed by a wealthy family with three children left little room for the display of works of art and it must have been in the early 1870s that Francis had a fifteen-foot-wide skylit gallery built along the back of the house. Around the same time had a glass conservatory built beside the house, linked to the new gallery by an elevated room. The picture collection continued to grow in the late 1870s and 1880s, if less rapidly. In 1878 Francis bought Metsu's Lady at the spinet (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam); in 1881 the gem-like Virgin and Child with angels by Benozzo Gozzoli (National Gallery, London); in 1882 Fernando Gallego's enormous altarpiece from the cathedral in Ciudad Rodrigo (University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson); in 1883 Poussin's Rape of the Sabine Women (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); about 1884 Sweerts' Plague in an ancient city (then attributed to Poussin; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; fig. 6); and in 1886 Reynolds' St John the Baptist in the Wilderness (Minneapolis Institute of Art).Probably in the 1870s, but at any rate by 1885, an impressive skylit new gallery, measuring one hundred by twenty-five feet was added to Doughty House. This was building on a more than domestic scale and emulated the great national collections of Europe. By 1896 a skylit octagonal room, probably inspired by the Uffizi's Tribuna, had been added beyond the Long Gallery. By this time Francis had bought several more masterpieces, including Moretto's Pietà (purchased 1892; National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Van Dyck's Betrayal of Christ (purchased 1896; Minneapolis Institute of Art).Virtually no nineteenth-century descriptions of Doughty House are known but, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, its gallery 'was always freely open to genuine students,' and in 1897 Cook himself mentioned in a letter to the Times that 'the daily visitors to the collections in this house are numerous'. Francis was a generous lender to exhibitions, particularly in the first and last decades of his collecting life. On 17th February 1901 Francis died, less than a month after Queen Victoria, with whose life his was nearly co-terminous.In his will, Francis had divided the collection between his two sons: 'the pictures and drawings, the antique sculptures and marbles, the tapestries, glass and terra cotta passing to... Sir Frederick Cook... whilst the bronzes, silver, ivories, china, miniatures, missals, antique gems and mediaeval jewellery were left to his second son, Mr Wyndham Cook.'Wyndham (1860-1905), appears to have had a high regard for his inheritance: he built a gallery for it at the back of his Chelsea home, was active in the Burtlington Fine Arts Club, made purchases of his own in England (including J.C. Robinson's gem collection) as well as around the world, and commissioned a scholarly catalogue, the first volume of which appeared in 1904. He died the next year, at the age of forty-four, but his widow kept firm control of the collection and even sponsored two further volumes of the catalogue in 1908 and 1910. Six months after she died in 1925, their only son Humphrey (1893-1978), sold the entire collection at Christie's for £75,000.Meanwhile, the larger share of the collection remained intact in the hands of Frederick Cook (1844-1920), who took custody of Doughty House and Monserrate a year after Francis's death. Upon taking possession of Doughty, Frederick aggrandised the house, cladding the exterior of the main floor in stone, surrounding the windows with elaborate neo-mannerist enframements, and crowning the façade with a triangular pediment. His granddaughter recorded that he added only one (second-rate) picture to the collection, and remembered him thus: 'He entered into his inheritance with zest and I am sure enjoyed playing the leading part, looking proudly at the vast array of paintings through clouds of tobacco smoke and slapping everyone on the back with loud, cheerful greetings.'Frederick's son, Herbert (1868-1939), the third baronet, had a deeper interest in art than even Francis, though he met with less success in business. In 1898 he married Mary Hood, a daughter of the Viscount Bridport, and established a home at Copseham, near Esher in Surrey. By his mid-twenties, he was a barrister at the Inner Temple and a contributor to art journals such as the Gazette des Beaux-Arts. His independence from received opinion became clear early on: he sponsored and wrote the preface to the attribution-toppling pamphlet on the 1894-95 New Gallery exhibition of Venetian art written by his friend Bernard Berenson. He was active in the Burlington Fine Arts Club and served on the committee for the Lombard exhibition held there in 1899. In 1900 Herbert published a monograph on Giorgione, a lifelong fascination, which included a biography and catalogue raisonné. He was a prescient champion of Giorgione's authorship of the Allendale Nativity and Benson Holy Family (both National Gallery of Art, Washington), though he accepted many other works that are certainly not autograph. New editions of Giorgione appeared in 1904 and 1907.In 1903 Herbert was instrumental in creating the Burlington Magazine, as its own pages recorded at his death: 'he belonged... to the small group of art lovers through whose efforts this journal was founded'. He would write for it often. Herbert helped found the National Art-Collections Fund in the same year, and letters from Roger Fry to Mary Berenson show the importance of his energy and his bank balance to both these ventures.In the same year he published an abridged version of a lost catalogue, perhaps a manuscript, that existed in a single copy and appears to have given extensive information on the pictures. Copies of the thin abridged catalogue were lent to visitors and given to friends. The preface records that in 1902 and 1903 the collection was 'entirely rearranged', and a careful study of the 1904 and 1907 editions shows a gradually stricter adoption of the museological principle of segregating schools and periods by gallery or wall.Even additions to the house served this purpose: in the middle of the right wall of the Long Gallery, devoted to Dutch and Flemish Baroque pictures, a new annexe was built for paintings by Rembrandt and his school, which were formerly mixed with Italian masters 'of the best period' in the Octagon Room and elsewhere in the house. After experiencing the domesticity of the Drawing Room, the visitor received a jolt from the link to the Conservatory, an intimate and informal space which, one realises with alarm, was, from at least 1903, the Smoking Room. Its other function, perhaps played down by Frederick, was that of a chapel; hung with religious works, it culminated with a cassone (lot 23 in the following catalogue) put to use as an altar, with candles on top framing the Adoration tondo (fig. 1). Proceeding back through the Old Gallery, the visitor reached the magnificent Long Gallery with large Italian pictures to the left, small and medium-size Dutch and Flemish pictures on the right, and a row of ancient statuary and pottery down the centre. Beyond the Long Gallery was the Octagon Room, adorned with many of the most highly prized pictures; those on the lower registers were arranged on shallow shelves, perhaps so that trusted visitors could hold them for close examination. The last room in the sequence was the Organ Room, where on the side walls the Spanish and Portuguese pictures hung.In spite of all his work at Doughty, Herbert managed to find time to start his own collection for his home in Esher. In his twenties he seems to have purchased and received as gifts a handful of paintings, but it was in the years around 1910 that he began to collect seriously. He bought paintings he published and published paintings he bought. He travelled widely to study and acquire art - in his book on Giorgione he noted that he had seen every painting he discussed except those in St Petersburg. He acquired at least sixty-four paintings, including some highly significant ones: Tititan's (or, as he preferred, Giorgione and Titian's) 'Caterina Cornaro' (acquired 1914; now known simply as a female portrait or as 'La Schiavona'; National Gallery, London); Rembrandt's Portrait of a boy (acquired 1915); Norton Simon Collection, Pasadena); Velázquez's Jester Calabazas (acquired 1915; Cleveland Museum of Art); Ercole de'Roberti's Portia and Brutus (acquired 1920; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth); and Giorgione's Giovanni Borgherini and his tutor (acquired 1925; National Gallery of Art, Washington).In the early and mid-1910s yet more care was lavished on the Doughty House collection. Frederick and Herbert commissioned the architects Brewer, Smith & Brewer to build a further extension to the galleries. This time a double colonnade, glazed only on the main story, was added beside the Long Gallery with a garden gallery above and a loggia for ancient statuary below. Herbert immediately hung his 'Caterina Cornaro' in a place of honour in this airy new picture gallery.In this same period - 1913-1916 - Herbert oversaw an even greater achievement: the publication of the collection in three luxurious volumes. Herbert commissioned three professional art historians - Tancred Borenius, J. O. Kronig, and Maurice Brockwell - to write on the Italian, Dutch and Flemish, and other schools, respectively, and he himself served as editor, adding short notes of his own opinions whenever he disagreed with attributions. The entries provide brief descriptions of the pictures, a provenance note, a bibliography, a list of exhibitions, and, often, critical discussion of questions of attribution and meaning. All but the least significant works are illustrated in photogravure plates and collotypes. Entries are arranged by school and within school by artist, each of whom received a brief biography. The resulting order of pictures determined a unique number for each painting, which is still useful for identification purposes today.Now began Herbert's ascension to the very highest ranks of the art world. In 1916 he became a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Upon his father's death in 1920, he succeeded to the baronetcy and moved to Doughty House with his wife and children. He hired a dedicated curator for the collection, his friend Maurice Brockwell, who, besides writing a volume of the catalogue, had published a series of articles on the pictures in the Connoisseur. In 1923 the Prime Minister invited Herbert to serve as a trustee of the National Gallery. He would remain on both boards until 1930.However, all was not well with Cook & Son. Still extremely prosperous in the early 1910s - it had a staff of more than 1500 - the firm suffered during the war years, and in 1920 it became a public company owing to its precarious finances. Upon Frederick's death in the same year, Herbert became chairman, but he could not stave off the losses, and in 1921 the company lost over £400,000. In 1931 he resigned due to health problems, and a cousin (a descendant of Francis's younger brother) took control. All this could not but affect Herbert's personal finances and in 1929 and 1931 he even tried to sell his beloved Monserrate. Although unsuccessful, he raised some money by parting with much of the land that lay beyond the original quinta. By then he was sixty and badly afflicted with Parkinson's disease, which he endured for a decade.Herbert had one son upon whom the baronetcy would devolve. Francis Ferdinand Maurice Cook (1907-1978) was in his twenties during his father's illness. From boyhood he had loved cars - not only touring and racing, but also designing car bodies. It was this creative bent to which, after an abortive study of mathematics, he decided to devote himself. He became a painter and worked in a traditional representational style. In 1933 Herbert entered an agreement with Francis (formalised in 1934) by which thirty first- and second-rank paintings, presumably of Francis's choosing, would become his, subject to certain conditions of sale. Other works would go to national collections, with the remainder to be held safely in trust for successive generations as they had been since the first Francis's bequest.News of the Cooks' financial straits were already spreading. In 1935 Christie's enquired whether they could be of service; the following year it was Duveen. Herbert remained adamant that the collection should not be dispersed. But in 1939, a month before he died, he drafted a new will that appointed four lawyers and accountants as trustees for the large balance of the art collection not given to Francis, as well as Doughty House itself, and empowered them to sell with Francis's consent.After Herbert's death, the dealers descended. Only one, Nathan Katz from Dieren in Holland, met with any success. He offered a six-figure sum for forty Dutch pictures, and before long the deal was concluded. The most significant of the paintings thus sold was Berckheyde's Huis Elswout, Overveen; this, like many others to reach the Nazis, is now part of Holland's collection of recuperated art. Other paintings sold to Katz, notably Ter Borch's Lady spinning, Rembrandt's Portrait of Aletta Adriaensdr. and Metsu's Lady at a spinet, were bought in early 1940 by Willem Van der Vorm and since 1972 have been on long-term loan to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam.In July 1939, one of the Cook trustees wrote to the directors of the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, asking if they 'would like an early opportunity of considering whether they wanted anything' for their museums. When word of the offer reached Kenneth Clark, then director of the National Gallery in London, he began frantic discussions with the trustees and the young Francis Cook. He convinced them that in the present state of war four highly important paintings should be safeguarded with the National Gallery's own collection in Wales. In the 1920s Herbert Cook and other trustees of the National Gallery had established a 'Paramount Pictures List', which included those 'supreme masterpieces' that 'must be acquired for the nation at any cost'. Among these was Van Eyck's Three Marys. The government had committed to spend up to £100,000 to save it and was prepared to do so even in wartime. Robert Witt of the National Art-Collections Fund, knowing the high sums that could be attained for Old Masters, appealed to the trustees: letting the Van Eyck or any masterpiece leave the country was the 'last thing [Francis's] father would have approved or allowed.' Yet he and Clark were unable to convince the trustees or Francis to accept any sum under £150,000 for the Van Eyck. When in April 1940 D. G. Van Beuningen offered an astronomical £250,000, the painting was swiftly sold. After this, sales ceased for a few years, but this painful loss to the nation proved a harbinger of further depletions.By 1941 the three paintings in Wales, together with twenty-two other important works, were shipped to New York, ostensibly for safekeeping in a bank vault. The remaining pictures were stacked in the basement of Doughty House or kept at Cothay Manor in Somerset, another of Francis's properties. Maurice Brockwell retired as keeper upon Herbert's death and in 1941 the trustees hired S. C. Kaines Smith of the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, on the understanding that his main charge would be the sale of a great many pictures. In 1942 Francis gave his father's favourite painting, 'La Schiavona', to the National Gallery in memory of Herbert, via the National Art-Collections Fund. In 1943, as the war intensified, more pictures were transferred to Cothay - advisedly, as it turned out, for the next summer Doughty was badly damaged by bombardments.Renewed financial pressures, together with the difficulty of managing a vast art collection without a proper home, led to new discussions about the fate of the collection. In the summer of 1944 some £400,000 had to be raised for the trust and the only way to do so, as Kaines Smith and the trustees convinced Francis with some difficulty, was to reduce a museum-like collection to 'a group of the hundred best pictures... suitable for hanging in a moderately sized private house not provided with a picture gallery.'Kaines Smith was shrewd and patient in sales. Thus he began inviting enquiries from the swarm of dealers who had for so long knocked on Doughty House's door. These included Contini-Bonacossi, Seligmann, Drey, Agnew, Duveen, and Rosenberg & Stiebel. In response to their initial offers he usually conveyed sympathy on his own part but intransigence on Francis's (which was sometimes real) and the trustees' (which never was). Once he felt the price offered was high enough, he sold, and 242 paintings had left the collection by 1952.The most important buyer was the foundation formed by Samuel H. Kress. Its greatest acquisition was the early Renaissance Adoration tondo (fig. 1), which in late 1946, after two years of fruitless negotiations as the painting was shuttled between small Cook exhibitions in Toledo, Ohio, and Canada, and the New York bank vault, was poised to return to England. An exceptional last-minute recommendation from Berenson led the Kress foundation trustees to agree to buy the painting for a very large sum. Shortly afterwards they gave it to the newly founded National Gallery of Art in Washington, where it remains one of the most important works in the collection. The Kress Foundation bought dozens of other Cook paintings, mostly through Contini-Bonacossi, and gave twenty-one of the most important works to the National Gallery of Art. Among the purchases were Moretto's Pietà and Titian's Ranuccio Farnese (both in Washington); Paris Bordon's Perseus armed by Mercury and Minerva (Birmingham [Alabama] Museum of Art); François Perrier's Polyphemus and the sea nymphs (Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA); and the Gallego altarpiece.A few years after the war ended, Francis moved to the Channel Islands, taking with him only a small number of pictures, Doughty House itself having been given up in 1949. In 1955 Francis sold the first of the great paintings from the group that had been reserved for him in 1934; he and the trustees concluded deals with the National Gallery of Scotland for Velázquez's Old woman cooking eggs and the Minneapolis Institute of Art for Van Dyck's Betrayal of Christ. Such sales continued into the 1960s with Filippo Lippi's Saints (sold 1963; Cleveland Museum of Art) and Ercole de' Roberti's Wife of Hasdrubal (sold 1964; National Gallery of Art, Washington), while Rembrandt's Portrait of a boy went to Pasadena and Velázquez's Calabazas to Cleveland at an eventful Christie's sale in 1965. Since then further Cook paintings have been sold at auction and privately - the Louvre's purchase in 1992 of Antonello da Messina's Christ at the column (fig. 5) through Christie's, stands out among these sales.

The above essay is a reduced version of the article of the same title that appeared in the July 2004 edition of the Burlington Magazine (pp. 444-58).

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