Dulwich Picture Gallery I


1.3 The Dulwich collection and its catalogues

Ralph Cockburn (1779–1820) was appointed as the first Keeper or Custodian of the Gallery in 1814; he had been educated at the Royal Academy schools, and he later occasionally exhibited at the summer exhibition. He painted portraits and miniatures.1 His main duties for Dulwich Picture Gallery seem to have been the cleaning of the pictures, supervising the copyists, writing a brief catalogue (ordered by room and by wall), and making aquatint reproductions of them, which were later coloured by hand by his daughter [1].2 The next keeper was Stephen Poyntz Denning (1795–1864), also an artist like Cockburn; his work is represented in the collection by a portrait of the little Princess Victoria (DPG304) [2]. A manuscript catalogue he wrote exists in two versions (1858 and 1859), for which he used all the books available at the time (a list is included) and his eye.3 How did he otherwise know that DPG1 (related to Rubens), with a circle of putti, was inspired by a scene painted by Rubens in the Gallery of the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris, unless he had seen it himself in the Louvre or remembered a print after the scene?

The next catalogues were made by people not employed by the Gallery. John Charles Lewis Sparkes (1833–1907) was the first with his catalogue of 1876; he was partly attached to the Art Department of Dulwich College (as well as being Headmaster of Lambeth School). His text is organized alphabetically, from which it appears that artists’ names had been added to the numbers on the frame labels, otherwise visitors would not have been able to find their way round the collection.4 Four years later, at the suggestion of the Council of the Royal Academy, the services of Dr Jean Paul Richter (1847–1937) were secured. As a specialist in the Italian Renaissance, working along the lines of the Italian connoisseur Giovanni Morelli (1818–91), Richter rewrote all the entries except those of the British School.5 There were no radical new insights into the paintings that are under discussion here, except perhaps for the entries on David Teniers (whose works were seemingly arbitrarily divided between Teniers the elder and younger),6 Rembrandt and Rubens. Richter was, though, the first scholar to say that Jacob’s Dream (DPG126), now recognized as by Arent de Gelder, was not painted by Rembrandt himself.7 In the Rubens entries he was over-cautious, assigning the sketches DPG451 (Venus and Adonis) and DPG40A-B (Four Saints), and the unfinished portrait DPG143 (Katherine Manners (?)), to ‘scholars or imitators’ of Rubens, without suggesting new attributions.8 The 1880 catalogue was re-edited in 1892 and 1905. In the 1892 edition the pictures were renumbered: as a consequence there were now two types of numbers on the frames, the old in black and the new ones in red.9 The Alleyn and Cartwright pictures were now included in the catalogue, at least the ones that were on display.10 Sir Edward Tyas Cook (1857–1919), author of the 1914 catalogue, was also an outsider. His catalogue was re-edited in 1926. He was a journalist, and a Ruskin scholar.11 The 1914 catalogue was in numerical order, with plenty of attention paid to the 18th- and 19th-century writings about the collection, and less to the latest scholarly publications.

During the Second World War the pictures were stored for safety with the National Gallery’s paintings in Welsh mines. In the meantime, the building was badly damaged by a bomb in 1944; it was not until 1953 that the reconstructed Gallery re-opened to the public. At that time a handlist was made with 615 numbers, probably at least partly based on the text of the catalogue of an exhibition of 54 Dulwich pictures held in the National Gallery and Leeds in 1947–53. Ludwig Burchard (1886–1960) was responsible for the entries on Rubens and Van Dyck,12 Sir Ellis Waterhouse (1905– 85) on Gainsborough and Hogarth; all the other paintings were dealt with by Anthony Blunt (1907–83).

Ralph Cockburn after Jacob van Ruisdael
Landscape, with a windmill, 1816-1820
paper, aquatint 130 x 181 mm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery

Stephen Poyntz Denning
Princess Victoria aged four, ca. 1823 or 1844
panel (mahogany), oil paint 27,9 x 22,7 cm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery, inv./cat.nr. DPG304

In the 1960s and 1970s the Gallery struggled to survive financially, the low point being the auction of one of the top works of the Desenfans/Bourgeois collection, Domenichino’s The Adoration of the Shepherds, acquired by the National Gallery of Scotland in 1971.13 After that there was still a lack of money. In 1977 another auction was prepared, in which several paintings regarded as artistically less important would have been offered. Some paintings from the Cartwright collection were in mind. But the auction did not take place, mainly because opposing forces arose who said, first, that those paintings would yield little, and, secondly, that it would be extremely regrettable if one of the few surviving ‘simple’ London painting collections of the 17th century were to be dispersed. Better times dawned when Giles Waterfield (1949–2016) was appointed first Director in 1979. One of his first activities was to commission a scientific catalogue by Peter Murray (1920–92). Murray was, like Richter, not in the Gallery’s employ: he was a Professor of the History of Art at Birkbeck College, London, and a Renaissance expert. His 1980 catalogue and handlist discussed only the pictures actually on display, and little reference was made to the 19th-century publications. At the time there were 651 pictures.14 The catalogue of 1998 is by Richard Beresford, Curator at the Gallery. Summary but very up-to-date, it counted 656 pictures, all illustrated, for which he had consulted all possible experts and publications.

Since 1994 the Gallery, now an independent charitable trust, is no longer part of Dulwich College, but the archives are still held there and are of utmost importance for the history of the Gallery and the pictures in it.15 When museums and galleries started to study their own histories in the 1980s, Dulwich Picture Gallery held a series of exhibitions with accompanying catalogues. The two 17th-century benefactors each received their own catalogue and exhibition, Alleyn in 1994 and Cartwright in 1987–8.16 The architect Sir John Soane was the subject of three exhibitions, the last, Soane’s Favourite Subject, under the Gallery’s second Director, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, in 2000.17 In the Rich Summer of Art the 19th-century appreciation of the Gallery in copies and in writing was discussed.18 In the 1993 catalogue and exhibition about Rembrandt’s Girl (DPG163) much attention was paid to the later appreciation reflected in copies and prints.19 The Polish connection was studied twice.20 The Gallery has organized a continuous programme of conservation projects to improve the technical quality of the pictures and their frames.21 Consequently the condition of both is gratifyingly high, certainly compared with British galleries of the same size.


1 British Picture Restorers, 1600–1950, https://www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/directory-of-british-picture-restorers/british-picture-restorers-1600-1950-c.php (accessed 1 Jan. 2021).

2 Cockburn 1830.

3 The catalogues are not paginated; the 1858 one counts 366 numbers; the 1859 one (in principle in neater version of the first, but with changes in the text) goes no further than no. 202. The role of his son, a clergyman, who seems to have been involved as well, is unclear.

4 Sparkes 1876, p. vii.

5 The information pertaining to the measurements and the reproduction prints were still Sparkes’s responsibility: Richter & Sparkes 1880, p. v.

6 Murray 1980a, p. 23 (note 11).

7 Richter & Sparkes 1880, p. 128. It was not until 1914 that Lilienfeld attributed the picture to Arent de Gelder.

8 Rightfully Richter de-attributed DPG290, now De Vos, and DPG127, now Van Dyck. Here too he did not suggest other names.

9 Richter & Sparkes 1892, p. xiv.

10 Those pictures had been catalogued for the first time in Sparkes & Carver 1890.

11 Sir Edward Cook, together with A. Wedderburn, edited The Works of John Ruskin, 39 vols (London 1903–12/2009–10, available at https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/ruskin/empi/ (Jan. 1, 2021). He had already published a popular handbook about the National Gallery: see Cook 1888.

12 The Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard is based on the material that Burchard had collected, now kept in the Rubenianum in Antwerp: see https://www.rubenianum.be/nl/pagina/corpus-rubenianum-ludwig-burchard-online (Jan. 1, 2021). There an overview is given of the volumes published and the titles of the volumes that will be published.

13 The Domenichino was one of four paintings valued in the Insurance List of 1804 at £ 1,200, the highest in this list (the others being DPG281, Murillo, DPG225, after Poussin, and DPG236, Poussin). Fittingly, during the Bourgeois Bequest’s 200th anniversary celebration in 2011 the Domenichino returned as part of the Masterpiece a Month: Presiding Genius series: each month a different masterpiece was placed as a high altarpiece in the centre of Soane’s enfilade, and Dominichino was in the spotlight in December.

14 A numerical index of non-exhibited paintings was added: Murray 1980a, pp. 299–305.

15 Warner 1881 published an inventory of the archival material, some of it in extenso.

16 Reid & Maniura 1994 (Alleyn) and Kalinsky & Waterfield 1987 (Cartwright).

17 Waterfield 1987; Waterfield 1996 and Nevola 2000.

18 Waterfield 1988.

19 Bomford, Sumner & Waterfield 1993.

20 Bomford & Waterfield 1992 and Dejardin, Juszczak & Małachowicz 2009.

21 See Conserving 1995. Twelve panels, mostly by Rubens, have recently undergone dendrochronological study: see Tyers 2014.

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