Archive of Lucy Wertheim, Gallerist and Founder of the Twenties Group of Artists, Acquired

  • 17 April 2024

Increasing the representation of women and documenting a wider range of professional art historical activities are key goals of our recently revised Archive Collection policy. We are delighted to announce the acquisition of a third archive that fulfils both aims: the Lucy Wertheim Archive was kindly donated to the Paul Mellon Centre (PMC) in June 2023 by Philippe and Lucilla Garner.

Lucy Carrington Wertheim (1883–1971), was a collector, patron and gallerist. With a great enthusiasm for art, but no formal training in the subject, she championed both respected names alongside completely unknown artists. Her archive, which predominantly includes extensive correspondence with the artists she patronised as well as publicity material related to the exhibitions she supported, provides a rich resource across a wealth of subjects.

Wertheim, the daughter of wealthy cotton merchants, began collecting art in the 1920s, buying works by Henry Moore and Cedric Morris amongst others. Motivated by the idea that British artists should have the same opportunities to succeed and flourish as their European contemporaries, her patronage manifested itself in various ways. With a view to showcasing the best talent of the age, she opened her first gallery in 1930, at 3–5 Burlington Gardens, Mayfair, and thereafter began dealing and exhibiting art. The list of artists she supported was impressive, including both men and women – many of whom were respected as the emerging modernist talents in Britain at the time: Christopher Wood, Frances Hodgkins, Kenneth Hall and Basil Rákóczi amongst others. Wertheim's commitment to nurturing new talent also prompted her to establish the Twenties Group, which aimed to promote the work of artists aged below thirty years old and counted Barbara Hepworth and Victor Pasmore amongst its members. Alongside these now familiar names, publicity albums in the archive reveal that Wertheim also regularly exhibited works by both unknown and amateur artists, holding shows incorporating paintings by bus drivers, pavement artists and featuring works by children (coordinated by Nan Youngman) for example.

Containing extensive correspondence with the artists she patronised, there is much of individual biographical interest but also, collectively, a story emerges concerning the role of patronage and what it was to be a young or emerging practitioner at the time. Likewise, the diversity of Wertheim’s interests not only reveals much about the tastes and trends of the mid-twentieth century but also sheds light on how these concerns influenced and shaped the field of British art.

Furthermore, as do the Petherbridge and MacCarthy Archives publicised in recent months, the Wertheim Archive demonstrates that the histories of British art are often created by people who might not necessarily have described themselves as professional “art historians”. It is the third collection created by a woman to have been acquired by the PMC in the last twelve months and has much to tell us about the difficulties of operating as a professional female in the male-dominated art world of the time. Finally, material related to unknown and amateur artists surfaces voices that may have been marginalised in previous art-historical narratives. The Wertheim Archive has not yet been catalogued but a boxlist is available and the material is open for consultation.

We are grateful to Philippe and Lucilla Garner for donating the Archive and to Karen Taylor who helped facilitate the acquisition.

For more information on the PMC’s collections see here.

The PMC’s revised Archive Collection Development Policy is available here.