This book was written to complement a major exhibition at the Courtauld Institute Gallery, which took up residence in Somerset House in 1990. For a variety of reasons – but mainly because the Gallery’s project focused on the Royal Academy exhibitions and not on the individual works that they contained – the decision was made at an early stage to produce a volume of essays dealing with the salient aspects of the topic as a whole, as opposed to a catalogue of the objects we just happened to be able to put on display. The complexities of this enterprise were such as to necessitate the involvement of a large team of authors, and it is to them that I owe my principal debt of thanks. Not only have they adhered to the highest standards of professionalism, but each has also stuck closely to her or his brief in an admirable demonstration of intellectual commitment to the common good; even more heroically, they put up with the badgering of an editor who was rarely capable of leaving well enough alone. I can hope only that they share my pride and pleasure in the results.
If I had to single out one of my contributors for service above and beyond the call of duty, this would have to be Anne Puetz. Under the aegis of a Curatorial Research Fellowship provided by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Anne has selflessly devoted three years of unremitting toil to Art on The Line in its various aspects. Although most of her labour has been in service of the exhibition, she has also played an absolutely essential part in the genesis of this book. It is almost entirely thanks to her efforts that the Courtauld Institute library has been able to put together the largest single archive of contemporary press reviews of the early Royal Academy shows – a mine of information that provided vital support for much of the research underpinning the following chapters. Anne has come to know this material better than anyone else and has willingly shared her knowledge with the rest of us; directly or indirectly, we all owe her a great deal.
So, too, do we to Professor Hamish Miles, who allowed us to borrow and photocopy his extensive personal collection of review materials, painstakingly compiled during the many years that he has been researching the works of David Wilkie. This was a scholarly act of truly exceptional faith and generosity. The archive has also benefited from the crucial help provided by Susan Palmer of Sir John Soane’s Museum and by Mark Pomeroy of the Royal Academy of Arts; in addition, significant contributions have come from Dr Holger Hoock of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and from another of our authors, Greg Smith. I should also like to express my gratitude to Dr Sue Price, the Courtauld Institute Librarian, for doing her utmost to ensure that the materials we assembled could be put to the best possible use by our team of researchers and by the scholarly community at large.
Elsewhere in the Institute, a heartfelt vote of thanks is due to its Director, Professor Eric Fernie, for his unswerving support for Art on The Line from the moment of its inception. I am grateful also to the Courtauld Research Committee for its help with funding, and in particular for enabling me to avail myself of the services of Dr Sibylle Beck, who has carried out the difficult task of picture research in so exemplary a fashion. A further word of appreciation is due to John Murdoch, the Director of the Courtauld Institute Gallery, for persuading me that this was a project worth doing and for playing such an instrumental role in carrying it through. But neither the exhibition nor the book could ever have got off the ground without the active encouragement of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and of its Director, Dr Brian Allen. What Brian and his colleagues recognized from the outset in Art on The Line was a unique opportunity to involve university- and museum-based scholars in a project of exceptional significance for everyone interested in the history of British art. The Centre has done everything in its power to turn this idea into a reality, and for this I can say only ‘thank you very much’.
David H. Solkin