Search New Archive Collection Now: Includes Records by M. Knoedler & Co

  • 11 May 2022

The Frank Simpson Archive is now fully catalogued and the descriptions are searchable online. The archive, which comprises material compiled and collected by Frank Henry Simpson (1911–2002) throughout his career, is particularly significant because it includes a large volume of records created by the dealer M. Knoedler & Co.

Simpson was an amateur art historian who worked as a library professional at The Courtauld Institute of Art (1933–1945), The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham (1945–1958), the London office of M. Knoedler & Co. (1958–1971) and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art from 1971 until his retirement in 1976. He had a life-long interest in the collecting of pictures, particularly from salerooms, in England during the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries, and throughout his various places of employ compiled a huge volume of information on the subject.

The Simpson Archive consists of approximately eight hundred files, over six hundred of which contain correspondence, research notes and images of works of art which passed through the salerooms of M. Knoedler & Co. These records date mainly from the early- to mid-twentieth century, and include information on roughly five thousand works of mostly British, but also European, art. As such they document the disbanding of collections after the First World War and present an incredibly rich resource for the study of provenance more generally. Another highlight of the Simpson Archive is the records from The Courtauld Institute of Art. These mainly concern course information from 1932–1936 and provide a unique record of the discipline at this time.

The archive may also be of interest to those researching the role of women in the art world during the first half of the twentieth century. Many of the records in the archive were created by Letitia Simpson (1884–1964), Simpson’s aunt, who was employed at M. Knoedler & Co.’s London office from 1915 to 1958. Records show that her opinion on works of art were widely respected in the art world, although nothing else is known about her. There are also several letters in the archive from Hilda Finberg (ca.1885–1959), friend of Letitia’s and wife of art historian Alexander Joseph Finberg (1866–1939), which show she was actively engaged in research on various artists.

The collection has a slightly complicated acquisition history: some of the records in the archive were left at the Paul Mellon Centre by Simpson after he retired in 1976, whilst others were acquired by donation from The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham in 2013. The latter included the M. Knoedler & Co. records, but why this material ended up at the Barber remains unknown. The original order of the material had been lost prior to acquisition and so, in order to make the collection easier to understand and navigate, it was rearranged chronologically to reflect Simpson’s employment history, during the cataloguing process.

The Simpson Archive has been catalogued in great detail and includes, for example, the title (as given in the records) of each work of art documented in the Knoedler files. The catalogue descriptions for the entire collection can be searched using the online catalogue and a web feature highlights information and individuals featured in the collection, which are of particular interest.

If you would like to consult this archive, please make an appointment or send an enquiry.