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During the First World War he hitched his wagon to Lloyd George’s star; it got him a peerage, but when Lloyd George lost the 1922 election, Lee’s political ambitions stalled, and his very considerable energies were redirected towards the arts.

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There were precedents in Europe and America, the critic Roger Fry and the fine art dealer Duveen had expressed interest; but there was also opposition, rooted in a deep-seated insular conviction that the arts were the playthings of the rich and not a suitable subject for a university education.

Without the initiative and pertinacity of the founding fathers, Viscount Lee of Fareham, Samuel Courtauld, and Sir Robert Witt, it is doubtful whether the project would ever have got off the ground. Lee was the son of a Dorset rector who rose to eminence through the army, public service and government.

The foundation of The Courtauld Institute of Art was presided over by a triumvirate of collectors, brought together by a common wish to improve the understanding of the visual arts in this country.

By 1930 the idea of such an academic centre devoted to the serious study of the history of art had been in the air for some time.

The Warburg émigrés introduced standards of scholarship unknown among English art historians, and they practised a kind of art history far removed from the connoisseurship favoured by collectors and the art trade.

For the Warburg, the arts were inextricably bound up with the thought world of their time, and art history entailed research into the past, often of a rarefied academic order, in which the clear-cut distinction between history and art history ceased to exist.In the event the Portman Square house was to be the institute’s home for almost sixty years.The third member of the group, Sir Robert Witt, was a successful lawyer who collected Old Master drawings; but his principal contribution to the enterprise was a vast collection of reproductions of paintings.These were to become in effect the surrogate primary sources for budding art historians.Witt’s collection had been conceived as a research facility for the art trade, but it was a ready-made teaching instrument, paralleled by the similar collection of Sir Martin Conway, who, by agreement with Witt, left the collecting of reproductions of paintings and drawings to him and concentrated on the rest of the visual arts.On 12 December 1933, as a direct response to the advent of a Nazi government in Germany, the group of scholars attached to the Warburg Library at Hamburg decided to seek refuge abroad.

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