Sir George Scharf and the early National Portrait Gallery: reconstructing an intellectual and professional artistic world, 1857–1895

Heath, Elizabeth (2018) Sir George Scharf and the early National Portrait Gallery: reconstructing an intellectual and professional artistic world, 1857–1895. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis investigates the professional practice of the National Portrait Gallery’s first Director
Sir George Scharf (1820–95). It is the first focused analysis of his career and influence, within
the nineteenth-century art and museum worlds. It attempts to position Scharf in relation to
developments in art historical scholarship and the professionalization of museum practice, in
the second half of the 1800s.

Chapter 1 outlines Scharf’s methodology for portraiture research and considers his scientific
approach alongside the establishment of art history as a discipline during his lifetime. Whilst
exploring Scharf’s development of research standards to be carried forward by successors, it
argues for his active role amongst a growing contingent of museum professionals.

Chapter 2 reconstructs Scharf’s social and professional networks, collating the names of
individuals with whom he interacted and mapping the physical sites of engagement. It
proposes that access to contacts proved vitally important to his official work and that Scharf
himself functioned as an influential figure in this sphere.

The third chapter concerns the nature of Scharf’s relationships with members of the NPG’s
Board of Trustees. It investigates his early collaboration with two expert Trustees and charts
his interactions with consecutive Chairmen of the Board, demonstrating Scharf’s increasing
authority with regards to Gallery procedures.

Chapters 4 and 5 explore Scharf’s interventions relative to the organization and interpretation
of the collection across the NPG’s early exhibition spaces. Chapter 4 argues that an increased
capacity for display enabled Scharf to implement a rational hanging scheme, in line with the
Gallery’s instructive purpose and inspired by contemporary debates over the efficient
presentation of public art. The final chapter documents Scharf’s efforts to contextualize the
national portraits, ranging from manipulating the exhibition environment, to expanding the
NPG’s catalogue according to a scholarly model.

In its examination of George Scharf’s career spanning five decades, particularly his
engagement with discourse surrounding public art museums in the Victorian period, this thesis
aims to make a significant contribution to the fields of museum studies and studies in the
history of collecting and display.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Art History
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N0400 Art museums, galleries, etc.
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2018 14:44
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:37

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