A woman of no importance? Mrs Workman’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art

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Abstract / Description of output

This article discusses Elizabeth Workman’s collection in the context of the early reception of Impressionism by women artists in Britain and the USA. In the 1920s Elizabeth Russell Workman (1874–1962) was recognized as one of the most enlightened collectors of her generation in Britain; Percy Wyndham Lewis described her as ‘one of the only people in England to understand French painting’. She began collecting French Impressionism well before more prominent collectors such as Samuel Courtauld and in several ways was more adventurous in her tastes. And yet today, not only is her important collection of modern French art all but forgotten, Elizabeth Workman herself remains an invisible, unknown figure, occasionally listed in provenance histories, and more often than not under her husband’s name. Born and brought up in Rhu, Dunbartonshire, Elizabeth lived in London with her husband Robert, a prominent shipowner. Her collection included works not only by Scottish contemporary artists, acquired from the early 1900s onwards, but also by Monet, Degas, Sisley, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard, Matisse, Picasso, and Braque, the bulk of which were bought through the dealers Reid & Lefèvre just after the First World War. However, when Robert’s business ran into financial difficulties in the late 1920s much of the collection was dispersed, with the result that its full extent and importance has never properly been recognized. Drawing on material in the family archive, as well as information from sale catalogues and dealer stock books, this article establishes a more comprehensive overview of the Workman collection. Its aim is to reassess Elizabeth’s importance as a British collector in the interwar period and to identify her individual tastes, taking into consideration the changing economic context. It also draws parallels with earlier patterns of collecting among women collectors of the previous generation, especially those whose contribution has been overshadowed by the activities of a spouse or agent.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages26
Journal19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Issue number31
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • collecting
  • Impressionism
  • Post-Impressionism
  • collecting networks
  • art market
  • gender studies


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