Connections: the international network of the Belgian art trade (1830-1914)
The world of the art market is a small world. Everyone knows everyone and that was no different in the 19th century. The purpose of this project is to expose, starting from a number of "Belgian" 19th-century art dealers, their network, not only their mutual relationships, but also those with contemporary artists, collectors and other art connoisseurs. It is well known that the art trade is closely involved in the production, distribution and consumption of art, but the role that the extensive network of art dealers played in this has hardly been studied. These connections can be studied through research of the most important tools that the art trade used in the 19th century, such as the organization of exhibitions, the use of engraving, art criticism and the auction market.
I began my source research starting from the figure of Léon Gauchez (1825-1907). Gradually this research was also extended to a number of other prominent “Belgian” art dealers such as Etienne Le Roy (1808-1878), Ernest Gambart (1814-1902), Arthur Stevens (1825-1899), Prosper-Léopold Everard (1835-1881) and etcetera. The fact that Gauchez will be the central figure in my research is not only due to his importance and central role in the Belgian art trade of the second half of the 19th century, but also to the fact that he has left an extraordinary amount of source material (thousands of letters) and therefore his case is well documented.
By studying the behavior, practices and interactions of art dealers, I will investigate how the art world functioned both at national and international level in the 19th century, what role networks played in it, whether or not similar patterns can be discovered between these dealers themselves but also in comparison with other contemporary actors.