Archives & Library

Damaged & Destroyed

Three Stories of Preservation and Loss from the PMC’s Photographic Archive
Spotlight feature by Freddie Pegram

In 2021, the Paul Mellon Centre (PMC) will be publishing its photographic archive online. The archive comprises more than 100,000 reproductions of paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures. The photographs, which were taken over a forty-year period between the early 1960s to the late 1990s, offer images of objects from across six centuries, and focus in particular on sixteenth- to nineteenth-century British art.

This feature focuses on a selection of the damaged and destroyed works that are recorded in the Centre’s photographic archive, and uses them to suggest some of the values and limitations of such archives. It takes the form of three stories. The first offers a glimpse into the work and tragic life of the largely forgotten eighteenth-century artist Hugh Robinson; the second looks at four portraits of women associated with a titled Scottish family, the Rothes, which were totally destroyed during a high-profile warehouse fire in 1997; and the third looks at a damaged sketchbook by the nomadic Georgian artist George Chinnery.

Each of these stories offers a distinct point of entry into the Paul Mellon Centre’s rich photographic archive. And each, in turn, suggests some of the different ways in which we might think about the photographs of lost, destroyed or damaged pictures that are to be found buried within its crowded contents.