Obituary of Sir John Charles Robinson fromThe Times, 11 April 1913
We regret to announce that Sir John Charles Robinson, CB, FSA, died yesterday at his residence, Newton Manor, Swanage. He had reached the great age of 88, having been born in Nottingham in December 1824, but until very recently he was as active as ever in the interest which he displayed in questions concerning the art of the past and in those antiquarian subjects to which he had devoted the greater part of his long life.He was trained in Paris as an artist and on his return he exhibited more than once at the Royal Academy; but it was rather as an organizer, teacher and collector that he made his mark. For some five years he was headmaster of the Art School at Hanley and his influence soon made itself felt in Mintons and other porcelain factories. He was one of the young men who took up with great zeal that movement inaugurated by Prince Albert, about the time of the first Great Exhibitions, for establishing a general system of art education in England and when the South Kensington Museum was founded in 1852 he was made first superintendent of the art collections. This post he held for 17 years and it is to him more than anyone that the provincial museums owe the system of circulating works of art and ancient craftsmanship from the national stores. More than this, Mr Robinson, who had a natural flair for works of art of every description and who was alive to the beauty of the then neglected productions of the Italian Renaissance, spent many seasons in travelling for the Museum in Italy and Spain. With the small funds at his disposal he was able to acquire at what we should now consider a paltry price a vast number of those works in marble, bronze, majolica and terracotta which quickly gave South Kensington a unique position among the museums of Europe. Mr Robinson found it possible, with the expenditure of a few thousands or even hundreds of pounds annually, to lay up a store for the nation such as is now unattainable at any price; a store which, if we could image it coming into the market today, would realize 50 or 100 times what he gave for it. He, for example, influenced Mr Gladstone and obtained a grant for the purchase of the best objects in the Gigli-Campana collection. Unfortunately he came in the end to disagree with some of the chiefs of the Museum, the grounds of the dispute being such as it is quite unnecessary to enter upon here, and in 1869 he resigned his connection with the Museum, retiring with a pension.Three years before, in conjunction with the celebrated Italian diplomatist and writer, the Marquis D'Azeglio and a few other friends, he founded the Fine Arts Club which afterwards developed into the Burlington and for many years acted as it honorary secretary. Into this little club were gathered the principal connoisseurs and collectors of the day such as Mr C S Bale, Sir William Drake, Mr Mitchell, Mr Malcolm of Poltalloch and others; and through his association with them Mr Robinson rapidly obtained an important position as the advisor of those who wished to acquire fine collections. His principal achievements in this way were on behalf of Mr Malcolm, many of whose splendid ancient drawings, now in the British Museum, had been bought by Mr Robinson at the Woodburn and other sales; and the late Sir Francis Cook of Richmond, whose well-known collection of old pictures was brought together under the same advice. It is noteworthy that this collection is especially strong in Spanish pictures and that Mr Robinson stood at that time almost alone among English connoisseurs as a frequent traveller to Spain for art purposes. As time went on he bought a good deal for himself and at one time was the owner of an important collection of Spanish, Italian and Dutch pictures, of Italian marbles, medals and bronzes and of drawings by old masters. He was also active, long after his official connection with the public museums had ceased, in organizing funds for the purchase of works of art for the nation. The chief instance of this was at the time of the famous Fountaine sale (1884) when he, by letter to 'The Times' and in other ways, stirred up public opinion in favour of acquiring some of that matchless store of majolica, Limoges enamels and Palissy ware, and at the time of the sale he was in command of a considerable sum of money for this purpose which he expended very judiciously.In 1882 Mr Robinson once more entered the service of the Crown, being in that year appointed Surveyor of the Queen's pictures; a post which he held for nearly 20 years till the death of Queen Victoria. But whether the fault lay with the Queen herself, who did not like changes and alterations in the Royal possessions, or whether Mr Robinson wanted energy in this matter, it cannot be said that anything was done during this period to put the pictures in order or to make the collections more popular. That was reserved for the next reign and for the next Surveyor, Mr Lionel Cust. In regard to modern art Mr Robinson, who was himself an etcher of ability, was instrumental with his friend Sir F Seymour Haden, in founding the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers of which he became an honorary member. He was in high favour with the Empress Frederick and gave her valuable help in forming the rather remarkable collection which she and her husband brought together at Cronberg. Many other crowned heads appreciated Mr Robinson's services. At home he was made a Knight in 1887, a CB in 1901 and he was the holder of high orders from the Sovereigns of Belgium, Spain and Portugal.His publications were very numerous and include several of the official catalogues issued by South Kensington, the descriptive catalogue of the Raphael and Michael Angelo drawings at Oxford, several private catalogues and a multitude of articles in the magazines and art periodicals, together with many letters to the 'The Times'. The articles and letters were often either directly controversial or provocative of controversy, for it must be admitted that Sir J C Robinson had a way of maintaining his own sometimes paradoxical opinions about various works of art in a manner which did not always approve itself to other connoisseurs. Still, though one may disagree with him on many questions of connoisseurship, it cannot be denied that in the middle of the last century he did a really great public service and that our unrivalled collections at South Kensington could never have been what they are had the Museum not been served by a man so energetic, shrewd and clever as he was.He married, in 1852, the daughter of Alderman Newton of Norwich; this lady died recently. One of his sons is Mr Charles Newton Robinson and another is Mr Gerald Robinson, the mezzotint engraver. For many years he lived in Harley Street, but moved some years ago to the beautiful old house at Swanage where he died.