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Brockwell, Maurice

    Full Name: Brockwell, Maurice

    Other Names:

    • Maurice Walter Brockwell

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1869

    Date Died: 1958

    Place Born: Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, UK

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): Flemish (culture or style) and Northern Renaissance

    Career(s): curators


    Curator of the Cook Collection, Doughty House and Flemish art scholar. Brockwell was the son of the Reverend Cannon J. C. Brockwell of Sheffield Cathedral. He was educated at St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School and Hurstpierpoint (preparatory school). He traveled widely in Europe, after which he secured a position with Charles Holroyd, Director of the National Gallery, rewriting official catalog entries. He also wrote a book for the Board of Trustees on the NGA’s Lewis bequest. He moved to Florence where he became the librarian at the Villa I Tatti and assistant to Bernard Berenson, then the leading scholar of the Italian Renaissance. In 1902, he married Mary Ellen Macnaughlen (d. 1952). Brockwell began article publishing, principally in the Atheneum, in 1906. He returned to England and compiled catalogs for the first of two Grafton Galleries shows under Roger Fry, the 1911 Old Masters. He met and became the collaborator of the aging William Henry James Weale, the seminal documentary scholar of Hubert and Jan van Eyck. He and Weale revised Weale’s 1908 book on the van Eyck in 1912, making many pronouncements–including the famous assertion that the National Gallery’s Arnolfini portrait is in fact a wedding document. Brockwell spoke the following year when the King of Belgium unveiled the Ghent altarpiece the following year. He also wrote a second catalog for the Grafton Galleries 1913 Spanish Painting exhibition. In the months before the outbreak of World War I, Brockwell compiled more than 200 brief biographies of artists for the German-language Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, edited by Felix Becker and Ulrich Thieme. He traveled to the United States in 1917, remaining until 1920, writing the exhibition catalog for the American War Relief show (together with Osvald Sirén) and then the Italian collection for Philadelphia Museum of Art. Brockwell also provided art research for the American collectors J. P. Morgan (1837-1913) and Joseph E. Widener (1871-1943). He lectured widely in the U. S., writing the book Erasmus: Humanist and Painter there. In 1920 he returned to England were he accepted the position of curator of the Cook Collection, Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey. He continued his sideline of cataloging, traveling twice again to the U.S. to document private collections. In 1927 he was selected to organize the Royal Academy Exhibition of Flemish and Belgian Art, collaborating on the catalog, with scholars Martin Conway, Tancred Borenius, Campbell Dodgson, and A. F. Kendrick held at Burlington House. The van Eyck continued to fascinate him, though his judgments seemed to lead him ever farther from the mainstream. He denied the existence of Hubert van Eyck, a debate aligning himself with Émile Renders and against Erwin Panofsky. In 1952 he wrote the book Pseudo-Arnolfini Portrait, suggesting that the famous oil in the National Gallery was in fact a portrait of Jan van Eyck and his wife. Two years later he issued his own volume on their research, The Van Eyck Problem.Brockwell avoided esthetic judgments or analysis, preferring to focused on a factual approach to the history of art (Times). A dynamic and somewhat theatrical lecturer, he spoke without the use of notes. He vociferously castigated earlier authors in his field for sloppy scholarship and the tendency to accept if not downright fabricate stories about the painters. Perhaps because of a lack of a broad education, he was frequently blind intellectual arguments on art. As early as 1917, he convinced himself he had discovered a painting by Desiderius Erasmus in the St. Louis collection of Edward A. Faust. His theories on the van Eyck are largely interesting footnotes to the history of art history.

    Selected Bibliography

    The National Gallery: Lewis Bequest. London: George Allen & Sons, 1909; A Catalogue of an Exhibition of Old Masters in Aid of the National Art-Collections Fund. London: P. L. Warner/the Medici Society Ltd., 1911; and Sirén, Osvald. Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Italian Primitives: in Aid of the American War Relief. New York: F. Kleinberger Galleries, 1917; Erasmus: Humanist and Painter: a Study of a Triptych in a Private Collection. New York: Privately Printed, 1918; and Conway, William Martin, and Borenius, Tancred, and Dodgson, Campbell, and Kendrick, A. F. Catalogue of the Loan Exhibition of Flemish & Belgian Art, Burlington House, London, 1927. London, Country Life, ltd./The Anglo-Belgian Union, 1927; “Hubert van Eyck: A Myth.” Connoisseur 92 (August 1933): 109-110; The Pseudo-Arnolfini Portrait: a Case of Mistaken Identity. London: Chatto & Windus, 1952; The Van Eyck Problem. London: Chatto & Windus, 1954.


    [obituary:] “Mr. Maurice Brockwell: a Devoted Student of Painting.” The Times (London) December 8, 1958. p. 15; addendum, Roe, F. Gordon. “Mr. Maurice Brockwell.” The Times (London) December 12, 1958, p. 15; Bedaux, Jan Baptist. “The Reality of Symbols: The Question of Disguised Symbolism in Jan van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait.” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 16, no. 1 (1986): 5, note 1.


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Brockwell, Maurice." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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