Sir George Scharf's Survey of British Art Collections 1856/57. Creating a Digital Database in Collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Principal Investigator: Philip Cottrell

Funding: UCD, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust and Yale/Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art.

Publications: Philip Cottrell,  'Art Treasures of the United Kingdom and the United States: The George Scharf Papers'. The Art Bulletin, 94:618-40.

Philip Cottrell is currently involved in a collaborative project with the National Portrait Gallery, London which involves the creation of an online database devoted to an unpublished survey of over 200 British art collections carried out by Sir George Scharf in 1856/57. This arose from Scharf's stewardship of the largest exhibition of European art ever staged, the 1857 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition - a watershed event of considerable interest for scholars of British and Irish collecting and art historians generally. The material which forms the basis for the proposed database includes Scharf’s sketches and highly finished pencil drawings of hundreds of old masters, alongside detailed notes on their provenance and condition. Also present are plans of the Manchester Exhibition’s innovative hang, and sketches of British towns and landmarks which are of a wider socio-historical interest to online users.

Occupying an enormous iron and brick pavilion on the outskirts of Manchester, the Art Treasures Exhibition ran between May and October 1857. Of its 16,000 separate exhibits, more than 1,000 were old master loans which Scharf secured from a countrywide trawl of over 200 British collections. Details of Scharf’s appointments with lenders and the hundreds of works which he considered are painstakingly recorded within his sketchbooks. They contain a wealth of visual and technical data, and form the basis for what Scharf referred to as ‘an ideal gallery on paper, taking the choicest specimens of every [old] master... in this country’.

Users of the database, which should go live in 2017/18, will browse scanned pages from eight of the Scharf Sketchbooks, and pop-up pdf images. The accompanying text will provide descriptions and analysis of content, and links/ references to relevant material from elsewhere in the Scharf papers. These include further sketches, tracings, and notes relevant to artworks covered more systematically in the sketchbooks.