Something in the air is arousing an interest in collectors and collections — both private and public — of which the success of The Hare with Amber Eyes and The Children’s Book are perhaps the most visible recent examples.
Something in the air is arousing an interest in collectors and collections — both private and public — of which the success of The Hare with Amber Eyes and The Children’s Book are perhaps the most visible recent examples. Jacqueline Yallop’s book is firmly in this vein, deploying an astonishing breadth of research to reveal, in a blend of narrative, contextual history, museology and biography, some of the forgotten stories that lie behind the scenes (literally as well as metaphorically) of many of our greatest museum collections.
Against a background of massive exhibitions, early museum policy and social and artistic snobberies, Yallop tells the tale of five individuals with differing interests and aspirations. The only museum professional amongst them is John Charles Robinson, the son of a Nottingham printer and auctioneer, a trained artist whose forceful character took him from a Government School of Design in Hanley to the South Kensington Museum — now the Victoria and Albert — in its first heady years. There he found himself in a state of more or less constant war with Henry Cole, the museum’s original director.
Determined to acquire more than just instructive pieces from which British designers and manufacturers could learn (in line with the museum’s founding remit), Robinson ranged across a Europe still awash with objects dispersed from royal and aristocratic private collections, buying paintings, sculpture and artefacts purely on their aesthetic merits. Like a boy in a sweet shop with government money to spend — and overspend — he didn’t hold back.