Exhibition: The English Prize, The Capture of the Westmorland

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 25, 2011

From the YCBA:

The English Prize: The Capture of the Westmorland, an Episode of the Grand Tour
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 17 May — 27 August 2012
The Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 20 September 2012 — 6 January 2013

Curated by Scott Wilcox, Elisabeth Fairman, and María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui Alpañés

This exhibition tells the extraordinary story of the capture of the Westmorland, a British merchant ship laden with works of art acquired by young British travelers on the Grand Tour in Italy, and the subsequent disposition of its contents. Shortly after sailing from Livorno, Italy, in 1778, the ship was captured by the French navy, which was well aware of its exceptional contents. The Westmorland was escorted to Málaga, in southern Spain, where its contents were inventoried and acquired by agents who in turn sold most of the works of art on board to King Carlos III of Spain. Much of the material was subsequently presented by the king to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. The original inventories, which survive in the Academia’s archives, are remarkably thorough, enabling the identification of many of the items on board the ship when it was captured. Much of the material remains in the Real Academia, but significant works were passed on to the Spanish Royal Collection and are now in the Museo Nacional del Prado or in royal residences in Spain. Because most of these works can be associated with the tourists who were sending them back to Britain, the contents of the Westmorland forms the most complete “cross section” of the Grand Tour discovered to date. The exhibition comes out of a major research project initiated in the late 1990s, led by Professor José María Luzón Nogué, that investigates the story of the Westmorland and its contents. In recent years, with the support of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London, remarkable progress has been made in identifying and cataloguing these extraordinarily diverse treasures, and this research forms the basis of the exhibition.

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Catalogue: María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui Alpañés and Scott Wilcox, eds., The English Prize: The Capture of the Westmorland, an Episode of the Grand Tour (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 400 pages, ISBN: 9780300176056, $75.

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Charlotte Higgins writes about the exhibition for The Guardian (20 November 2011).

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