Thomas Gainsborough. The Portraits, Fancy Pictures and Copies after Old Masters by Hugh Belsey wins prestigious William MB Berger Prize
“A magnificent book. Difficult to find any flaws in it, a magnum opus. It brings to life so many female sitters, who have now been given their place in history for the first time. Magisterial. Author and publisher are to be congratulated.” (Judges comments)
Thomas Gainsborough. The Portraits, Fancy Pictures and Copies after Old Masters by Hugh Belsey has been announced as the winner of the 18th annual William MB Berger Prize for British Art History.
The work – published by Yale University Press for The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art – saw off a shortlist including works spanning more than 400 years of art history, books exploring Roger Fry, Nicholas Hilliard, Van Gogh, Edward Lear & 20th-century British architects.
The annual prize created to recognize excellence in the field of British art history was created in 2001 by the Berger Collection Educational Trust (BCET) and The British Art Journal, in honour of the late American collector and patron William MB Berger.
Since its inception, the Berger Prize has come to be recognized as the most respected in the field.
A panel of seven judges assessed all the works and picked Hugh Belsey as the winner, who will receive £5000.
Hugh Belsey says “I am delighted to be awarded the Berger Prize for my Gainsborough catalogue. The appreciation of my work by the judges is very humbling and extremely flattering. This recognition gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the financial support from the Paul Mellon Centre for my work together with the kindness and hard work of many people who helped me with the book. Brian Allen and the late John Hayes gave me so much encouragement, Jonny Yarker contributed a section of the book, Guilland Sutherland edited it and provided the elegant book design and Maisoon Rehani sourced all the illustrations. Without their help, and the help of many others, I am certain that a catalogue of Gainsborough’s portraits would still be a pipedream. I am most grateful.”
Scholars and enthusiasts alike have enjoyed this ambitious two-volume catalogue raisonné of Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits and copies of Old Master works. The catalogue contains approximately 1,100 paintings, including nearly 200 works newly attributed to the British master, as well as updated information about his subjects and specially commissioned photography. Each portrait entry includes the biography of the sitter—including several newly identified—the painting’s provenance, and exhibitions in which each work was shown. Gainsborough’s copies after Old Masters, painted in admiration and used to assimilate their style of painting into his own work, are documented here as well. Research includes in-depth analysis of newspaper archives and other printed material to establish the date of a painting’s production, chart the development of the artist’s style, and assess the impression the work made within the context of its time.
Katherine MB Berger, daughter of William MB Berger and Trustee of the Berger Collection Educational Trust, said, “The Berger Collection Educational Trust was established with the ethos that a deeper understanding of art and history will provide viewers and readers with new insights into the world and themselves – and Hugh Belsey’s catalogue raisonné of Thomas Gainsborough perfectly encapsulates that.”
Usually the winner is announced at an event in London during December, but the global pandemic means that is not possible in 2020, and so this year the Berger Prize is going online. There will be an online, free to view event on Tuesday 1 December from 6pm (UK time), where the winning work will be celebrated and explored with a panel discussion / Q&A.
Professor Robin Simon, Editor, The British Art Journal, said, “It is a huge shame we are not going to be able to hold a physical prizegiving event this year, but the opportunity to hold an event online means we can take a much deeper look at our winning title – Thomas Gainsborough. The Portraits, Fancy Pictures and Copies after Old Masters – and also share this experience with anyone globally. It’s actually an exciting opportunity to connect even more people with the Berger Prize and the work of Gainsborough.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS
2020 Berger Prize Short List
- Thomas Gainsborough. The Portraits, Fancy Pictures and Copies after Old Masters – Hugh Belsey (Yale University Press for The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
- Studio Lives. Architect, Art and Artist in 20th-Century Britain – Louise Campbell (Lund Humphries)
- Roger Fry and Italian Art – Caroline Elam (Ad Ilissum /The Burlington Magazine, distributed by Paul Holberton)
- Nicholas Hilliard. Life of an Artist – Elizabeth Goldring (Yale University Press for The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
- The EY exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain – Carol Jacobi, editor (Tate Publishing)
- Inventing Edward Lear – Sarah Lodge (Harvard University Press)
*Assessors of the 2020 Berger Prize
- Katherine MB Berger, daughter of William MB Berger and Trustee of the Berger Collection Educational Trust
- Dr John Wilson, former museum director and trustee of the Berger Collection Educational Trust
- Dr Alexander Marr, Reader in the History of Early Modern Art, University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Trinity College
- Dr Jonny Yarker, partner, Libson and Yarker, London
- Dr Kate Heard, Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, Royal Collection Trust
- James Hamilton, writer and curator; author of, for example, Turner, A Life and Gainsbrough, A Portrait
- Professor Robin Simon, University College London, and Professorial Research Fellow, University of Buckingham. Editor, The British Art Journal
About William MB Berger
William Merriam Bart Berger (1925–1999) was born in Denver, a fourth-generation Coloradan. Following family tradition, he built a career in finance, for which he was nationally recognized. Bernadette Joan Johnson Berger (1940–2015), also a Denver native, grew up in western Colorado and owned farms in Kansas She raised three daughters and worked as a securities trader and stockbroker.
Long-time collectors and art patrons, the couple chose to collect British art because of a shared love of British culture nurtured through ancestral and professional connections. The Bergers were passionate about art’s potential to educate and saw their collection as a resource for adults and children alike. As they observed, “We have always believed that art, as well as music, poetry, and literature, refreshes and enriches our lives.” By making their collection accessible, the Bergers hoped to foster a deeper understanding of art and history and to provide viewers with new insights into the world and themselves.
The Berger Collection Educational Trust (BCET) was created in 1999. It was established to sponsor educational activities related to the Berger Collection and to the people, culture, and history the artworks portray. Since 1996 the collection of more than 60 paintings – including works by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Sir Peter Lely, Angelica Kauffman, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, Sir Thomas Lawrence, George Stubbs, Benjamin West and John Singer Sargent –
has been administered by the Denver Art Museum, where a selection of works has been on display on a rotating basis.
Previous winners of the Berger Prize
- 2019: Nicholas Savage, Burlington House: Home of the Royal Academy of Arts. Royal Academy of Arts.
- 2018: David Hansen, Dempsey’s People: A Folio of British Street Portraits 1824-1844.
- 2017: Sacha Llewellyn, Winifred Knights 1899–1947
- 2016: Giles Waterfield, The People’s Galleries. Art Museums and Exhibitions in Britain 1800–1914.
- 2015: William L Pressly, James Barry’s Murals at the Royal Society of Arts: Envisioning a New Public Art.
- 2014: Alex Bremner, Imperial Gothic: Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture in the British Empire 1840–1870.
- 2013: Emily Howe, Henrietta McBurney, David Park, Stephen Rickerby, and Lisa Shekede, Wall Paintings of Eton.
- 2012: Terry Friedman, The Eighteenth Century Church in Britain.
- 2011: Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe, Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World.
- 2010: Diana Donald and Jane Munro, eds., Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts.
- 2008: Thomas P. Campbell, Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty. Tapestries at the Tudor Court.
- 2007: John Harris, OBE, Moving Rooms: The Trade in Architectural Salvages.
- 2006: Judith Bronkhurst, William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné
- 2005: Paula Henderson, The Tudor House and Garden
- 2004: Derek Keene, Arthur Burns, and Andrew Saint, St Paul’s: The Cathedral Church of London 604-2004
- 2003: Brian Andrews, Creating a Gothic Paradise: Pugin at the Antipodes
- 2002: David H Solkin, Art on The Line. The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780 –1836
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