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Ford, Brinsley, Sir

    Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery

    Full Name: Ford, Brinsley, Sir

    Other Names:

    • Sir Richard Brinsley Ford

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1908

    Date Died: 1999

    Place Born: Petworth, West Sussex, England, UK

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): patronage

    Career(s): art collectors, art critics, and publishers


    Collector, art patronage scholar, director of the Burlington Magazine, 1952-1986. Ford was the son of Captain Richard Ford (1860-1940), a British army officer, and Rosamund Isabel Ramsden (1872-1911). He was descendant of the Irish dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). His great-grandfather, Richard Ford (1796-1856), was a connoisseur and author of the important travel book on Spain, Handbook For Spain,1845. Born to wealth, Ford attended Eton and then Trinity College, Oxford, graduating in 1930 in modern history. Ford’s father inherited the large family art collection in 1917, amassed by Benjamin Booth and his grandfather, mentioned in Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 1854, by Gustav Friedrich Waagen. The younger Ford joined the National Art Collections Fund in 1927. In 1929 he received a legacy from his maternal grandfather and began buying art personally in anticipation of the larger collection which would one day be his. Initially, he purchased contemporary art works. These included works by Henry Moore, Toulouse-Lautrec, Fuseli, Ingres, and Michelangelo (a preparatory drawing of Risen Christ in Santa Maria sopra Minerva which he acquired in 1936). He joined the Burlington Fine Arts Club where he met the Society artist Charles Barrow Prescott (1870-1932), and connoisseur and director of Colnaghi gallery Jim Shaw. He married Joan Mary Vyvyan (b. 1910) a distant cousin, in 1937. He began publishing scholarly articles in 1939 with a piece on Ingres’s portrait drawings in the Burlington Magazine. Ford joined the British Army as a gunner in the Royal Artillery the same year, before the outbreak of World War II. At his father’s death in 1940, Ford inherited the family collection (possession the following year). In 1941 Ford transferred from artillery to army intelligence (MI9) and was ultimately in charge of the Brussels office. After the war, he returned and set about assiduously collecting, turning the family’s Wyndham Place home into a major London collection. Ford focused on Italian seicento and settecento pictures during these years, especially works by Cavallino, Cozza, and Batoni. His monograph, The Drawings of Richard Wilson was published in 1951. In 1952 he was made director of the Burlington Magazine, seeing the Magazine through the lean years following the War by supporting it personally and cajoling support from others. Ford was made a trustee of the National Gallery in1954. Beginning in the 1970s, he assembled material for a dictionary of gentlemen who made the grand tour to Rome and Italy. A series of six essays in a special number of Apollo in 1974 concentrated on British grand-tour patronage. In 1974, too, he joined the executive committee of the National Art Collections Fund–formed under Ford in order to place new art work in National Trust properties–and the following year became its chairman, which he held until 1980. The same year, 1974, he mounted the exhibition “Richard Ford in Spain” in London, to assist the National Art Collections Fund, writing the catalog with Denys Sutton and lending the artwork. He was knighted for his work in 1984. Ford resigned from the Burlington Magazine and become president of the Walpole Society in 1986. His dictionary appeared in 1997, under the auspices of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, written by John Ingamells, as A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, In 1998 a catalog of his collection was published in the publications of the Walpole Society. He died of a heart attack at his home in 1999.

    Selected Bibliography

    “Ingres’ Portrait Drawings of English People at Rome, 1806-1820.” Burlington Magazine 75 (July 1939): 2-13; The Drawings of Richard Wilson. London: Faber and Faber, 1951; “Six Notable English Patrons in Rome 1750-1800.” Apollo 99 (June 1974): 392-461; and Sutton, Denys. Richard Ford in Spain: a Loan Exhibition in Aid of the National Art-Collections Fund. London: Wildenstein, 1974; Ingamells, John. A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, Compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.


    Jackson-Stops, Gervase. “Sir Brinsley Ford [the Apollo Portrait series].” Apollo 125 (1987): 363-9; [obituaries:] The Times (London) May 7, 1999; Ireland, George. “Sir Brinsley Ford.” The Independent (London) May 8, 1999, p. 8; “Sir Brinsley Ford, He Applied a Fine Mind and a Fine Bank Balance to the Acquisition of Fine Art.” The Guardian (London), May 12, 1999, p. 18; Elam, Caroline. “Sir Brinsley Ford: a Tribute.” Burlington Magazine 141 no. 1155 (June 1999): 327.



    "Ford, Brinsley, Sir." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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