Collection

The project  

 

The project

The purpose of the Cross-Channel database is to bring to the public a group of works in many cases under-recognized, unknown, or hitherto inadequately identified. The database is especially intended to highlight the extent of French collections of British art.

The project was launched in the wake of the 1994 Louvre exhibition D'outre-Manche. L'Art Britannique dans les Collections Publiques Françaises ("Cross-Channel: British Art in French Public Collections"), which presented the initial results of our research. Since then our knowledge of the field has increased and, encouraged by the ongoing interest in British art in France, the nation's public collections have expanded via sometimes spectacular acquisitions.
This online catalogue is the creation of a French team comprising Marie-Alice Seydoux, Camille Dorange, Guillaume Faroult and myself. It brings together almost 3000 works by British artists in every field except engraving and photography; all the works are pre-1940 and all belong to French public collections. Each is presented in an individual entry comprising the following sections: title, artist, medium, dimensions, inventory number, provenance, bibliography and exhibition history. All of them are reproduced when current copyright provisions permit. The present location of the work is specified, and photographs of the institution in question are included, together with a link to its website.

The catalogue also incorporates historical and thematic studies of British art and its relations with France, as well as a French bibliography, a selection of significant works, a timeline and biographical information.

Any attempt to appreciate art in national terms inevitably raises problems of definition. What exactly is meant by a "British" artist? Here we have opted for giving the adjective the broadest possible scope: so the reader will find English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish artists, but also those who at one time or another were part of the Commonwealth—Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders, for example—or otherwise fell within the ambit of the Empire. The interpretation of British status is equally broad, extending to artists born in a Commonwealth country to parents of British extraction, artists born to British parents in foreign countries, and immigrant artists who lived for a substantial period in the countries concerned. Where possible, the language of origin has been retained for names of people and places.

It is now more than fifteen years since work on this database began. For the identification and attribution of certain works thanks must go to many British and American colleagues, whose accessibility and generosity have always been, for me, a source of pleasure and gratitude. The database and inventory are our tribute to the community of historians of British art; a tribute that also, for the general public, testifies to the richness of the reciprocity between France and Britain and the age-old affection of the French for the art of their neighbors. Not least, the database reminds French visitors of the sheer diversity of their heritage—even when it is British.

It is my hope that the work done here will lead to fresh discoveries in French public collections, some of which have still to be fully explored; and that further additions to our collections will testify to the quality and vitality of artistic give and take on both sides of the Channel.

                  
Olivier Meslay