- The Rise of the Modern Art Market in London: 1850–1939 ed. by Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich
For the last decade, art history has increasingly emphasized the role of the art market, and this book follows closely on the heels of several publications in the same field, most recently Thomas sM. Bayer and John R. Page’s 2011 The Development of the Art Market in England. Fletcher and Helmreich’s welcome volume of essays focuses on the commercialization of the London art dealer in the second half of the nineteenth century and on the importance of London as “a key node [End Page 157] in a far-flung network formed by . . . artists, dealers, critics, curators and consumers” (20). For dealers like Marchant, Goupil, and others, the ability to take advantage of such networks was, so the authors argue, entirely dependent on their location in an international center with trade links to Europe and the U.S. The book has a comprehensive introduction (available online), and along with the glossary of “selected” London dealers, art galleries, and other exhibition spaces, it provides a useful context. This book very much emphasizes the market in relation to British art, and apart from Anna Gruetzner Robins’s essay on Roger Fry, a wider view of London as a center for the dissemination of “foreign,” especially modern European art remains a bubbling undercurrent rather than a main focus. This limited scope may explain why major dealers like Reid and Lefevre or Knoedler are underemphasized (and notably absent from the glossary), and it is underscored by the editors’ insistence on anglicizing French names and by the irritating French typos on page eighty-eight.
The book is divided into three “sections”: the first four essays, grouped under the umbrella “Structures,” examine networks and marketing strategies introduced by dealers such as Ernest Gambart and the Goupil Gallery. Mark Westgarth, an established scholar in this field, explores in detail the expansion of the art market in the mid-nineteenth century and traces the development of the picture dealer as a distinct entity. Fletcher analyzes marketing strategies like the one-man show to map the terrain and show how dealers gradually established themselves in the fashionable shopping district around Bond Street. Helmreich shows how the Goupil Gallery used several strategies to develop the business into a “corporate network” (68), enabling the dealer to spread risk and to market works more widely. Together with Robins’s intelligent chapter on Roger Fry and his engagement with Paris art dealers, these essays provide an absorbing introduction, illustrated by street maps, archival photography, and dealer stock books, yet even these are sadly let down by the poor quality of the reproductions.
Andrew Stephenson’s essay on London galleries in the interwar years shifts the emphasis from the dealer to the consumer, especially the younger, predominantly female buyer, and explores the developing taste for design crafts during the Great Depression. This chapter highlights the impact of modern retail practices on art dealers such as the Mayor Gallery and showcases innovative shop displays as well as a new, streamlined functionalism in interior design. Ysanne Holt’s excellent chapter on Studio magazine dovetails neatly with Stephenson and argues that the market that emerged in Britain in the 1920s was more international and outward-looking than has previously been acknowledged. As Stephenson has shown, the Depression forced a number of artists to adapt to more commercial art forms such as poster art and textile design. This new diversity of artistic practice is reflected in the pages of the Studio, which itself was aimed at a more metropolitan consumer “with an aesthetic, yet practical concern for the domestic interior” (155).
Holt’s essay is included in the second section of the book, “Intersections,” which opens with Julie F. Codell’s essay on marketing strategies adopted by the Art Journal and the Magazine of Art. This chapter analyzes how such publications were able to respond to market forces—they promoted British artists through biographical...