Wednesday, December 5, 2012

71. The Greek collection

After I wrote the blogs on Greek art and the works of Ricketts and Shannon (nos. 67, 68 and 69) I read an essay on their Greek and Roman collection in the Journal of the history of collections (vol. 24, no 3, 2012, p. 369-378). The advance access publication date of this issue of the e-journal was 19 April 2012, but through my library (the National Library of the Netherlands) access was delayed until 18 November, while the two supplementary documents are unavailable to this date. It it sometimes difficult to get access to new essays on Ricketts and Shannon, however, the author of the essay, Christina Rozeik, kindly send me the additional material, which sheds light on the acquisition history of the collection of Greek and Roman artefacts in the collection of Ricketts and Shannon that is now located in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Cover for All for art. The Ricketts and Shannon collection (1979)
The museum has always treated the donation as a treasure. The exhibition All for art, edited by Joseph Darracott in 1979, contained 232 objects from this collection, including Egyptian and Japanese art. Sixty objects from the Greek and Roman collection were described, which roughly equals 25% of all objects on display.

All for art. The Ricketts and Shannon collection, p. 38-39 (1979)
Another catalogue, edited by Eleni Vassilika, was published as a Fitzwilliam Museum handbook in 1998: Greek and Roman art. This book showed objects from the vast collection of the museum, including donations by other benefactors: individuals such as C.B. Marlay and institutions such as the Wellcome Trustees. Out of the 64 pieces that were presented twelve were from the Ricketts and Shannon bequest, which is 20%, more than from any other single collection, signalling the importance of the objects that were originally collected between 1898 and 1930 by Ricketts and Shannon. The book was dedicated to their memory.

Cover for Greek and Roman art (Cambridge, 1998)
Although their interest in Greek and Roman art started soon after they began to share rooms in 1886, they could not afford original artefacts right away. The first recorded acquisition is of some Tanagra statues in December 1898, when Shannon's diary attested that 'the weakest of the three cost us £35, the largest sum we have yet paid for a single thing', while Ricketts recorded that 'both our banking accounts vanished in this sale'. He added that the Tanagras 'proved forgeries and were given away'. A footnote in the article by Christina Rozeik, 'A maddening temptation', points out that an annotated copy of the sale catalogue shows that they paid nearly £57 in total. This is an amazing amount of money, as the artists were not that rich at the time, having been forced to move from their too expensive house in the Vale in 1894 to a dark and gloomy house in Beaufort Street in Richmond; however, by 1898 things were getting better and they moved to a pleasant house at 8 Spring Terrace in Richmond.

Rozeik describes the development of their collection as well as the restoration history of the collection. I will follow up on this story at a later date.