Saturday, 1 August 2020

The Illuminations of John Malcolm (1805–1893), of Poltalloch


As discussed in a previous post, the British Library has the small but important collection of illuminated cuttings and leaves formed by John Malcolm, of Poltalloch, depicted above.

I have begun to prepare a detailed list of the provenances of the items in the collection, but I begin today with some general background.

John Malcolm (1805–1893), of Poltalloch, near the west coast of Scotland, became fourteenth laird of Poltalloch on the death of his elder brother, Neill, in 1857. He inherited large houses in Scotland and London, extensive landed estates in Argyll, and sugar plantations in Jamaica. His wife died the following year; she had inherited from her father a grand house and 119-hectare (nearly 300-acre) estate in south-east London, which was rented out. John Malcolm also owned successful cattle stations in South Australia (which he had stocked with Scottish breeds), which he sold in 1873 for £175,000.
"It was Malcolm's enormous wealth that enabled him to become one of the leading collectors of his day. In 1860 he purchased en bloc the remarkable collection of Renaissance drawings formed by the great connoisseur J. C. Robinson, then superintendent of the art collections of the South Kensington Museum, later the Victoria and Albert Museum. The great strengths of this core collection of some 554 sheets were the works of Italian Renaissance masters, including thirteen drawings attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, twenty-three to Michelangelo, and thirteen to Raphael ... On Robinson's advice Malcolm continued to add to his collection ..." (Oxford Dictionary of Biography [online with subscription])
J.C. Robinson was the author of the catalogues of John Malcolm's collection of drawings and illuminations, and had also been editor of the catalogue of the 1862 exhibition at the South Kensington Museum, to which Robert Holford loaned the group of single leaves and cuttings later acquired by Malcolm (as discussed in the previous post).

Malcolm and Holford must have known each other well. They both belonged to the Fine Arts Club, founded in 1857, and its successor, the Burlington Fine Arts Club, founded in 1866. In The Burlington Fine Arts Club ... Rules, Regulations, and Bye-Laws (1899) [Archive.org], is a summary of the history of the Club, which singles out Malcolm and Holford among its early members, who had also both belonged to its predecessor:
Malcolm's London house, at 7 Great Stanhope Street, was almost next door to Holford's, Dorchester House:

In a series of entries on the BL's catalogue of illuminated manuscripts, Anne-Marie Eze noted that John Malcolm probably acquired most of his illuminations between the publication of the catalogue of his collection in 1869 (from which they are absent), and the second edition of 1876 (in which 15 are present).

J. C. Robinson, Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings by the Old Masters, Forming the Collection of  John Malcolm of Poltalloch, Esq. (London, 1876) [Google Books]

This does indeed seem to be very likely, because the Preface to the 1876 second edition states:
"Appendix II. contains a description of certain beautiful Italian illuminations, which have been added of late years to the collection." [emphasis added]
It is tempting to imagine that it was the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition of illuminated manuscripts in 1874 that inspired Malcolm to extend his collection beyond its core focus on prints and drawings (and it cannot have hurt his acquisitive nature that he had received £175,000 the previous year from the sale of his Australian cattle stations, as mentioned above):

The first 161 items in the exhibition catalogue are codices, but they are followed by about 50 single leaves and cuttings, including (just) one loaned by Malcolm:
BL, Add. MS 35254Q [Source]

The fact that this is one of Malcolm's few illuminations that was not from the Holford collection, suggests to me that Malcolm's acquisition of the Holford illuminations post-dates the exhibition. If so, we can narrow the date of Malcolm's acquisition of the Holford illuminations to the years 1874-1876.

Malcolm was probably encouraged to consider consider Renaissance drawings and medieval manuscript illuminations as part of a continuum, by the presence in his collection of a cutting from a Psalter with a miniature/drawing attributed to Fra Angelico, of which these are the verso and recto, respectively:
Malcolm already owned this when the first edition of his catalogue was published in 1869:

The "Collection (W)" on the last line of the description indicates that he got it from the collection of Dr Rev Henry Wellesley (d.1866) [Wikipedia], in whose posthumous sale it was lot 123 (where it was bought for £8 8s by "Whitehead", doubtless Thomas Miller Whitehead, whom we have now encountered in several past blogposts):

After John Malcolm's death in 1893, his collection of about 1,000 drawings, 400 prints, and the illuminations, passed to his son, John Wingfield Malcolm (1833-1902) [Wikipedia]. He placed the collection on deposit at the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings, and it was bought for £25,000 in 1895. For obvious reasons, the Department retained the remarkable Fra Angelico drawing when they transferred the other Malcolm manuscript illuminations to the Department of Manuscripts in 1899.

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