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Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell's Gallery

Charles William Dowdeswell operated a frame making and print shop at 36 Chancery Lane, and opened his gallery at 133 New Bond Street by 1880.  The firm moved to 160 New Bond Street in 1887, and exhibitions were held in that space until at least 1918 (see National Art Library catalogues.) The gallery exhibited a wide range of work, including paintings and drawings by Sutton Palmer, Birket Foster, Whistler, Alfred East, and Byam Shaw; and published prints by Charles Méyron, Seymour Haden and Whistler. In London of today: An illustrated handbook for the season, Charles Eyre Pascoe advised visitors that “for the most part Messrs. Dowdeswell and Dowdeswells … make a speciality of showing the work … of young and rising artists of the English school. Their rooms [133 New Bond Street] are among the pleasantest in Bond Street, and one may be sure of finding there at all seasons some pictures, by well-known modern painters, worthy of notice.” (299)

In the summer of 1887, the firm moved into new premises at 160 New Bond Street, previously the home of Salon Parisien. A notice in the British Architect described the new gallery: “The dark drop, the blood, the comedy, the scent, and the gurgling fountain of Le Salon Parisien are gone, and one of the most beautiful amongst London picture galleries has taken their place. Messrs. Dowdeswell have now moved up to 160, New Bond Street, and in place of the numerous peers and surprises of Le Salon Parisien have provided a fine gallery about 100 feet long, which consists of three compartments, divided off by draped portiéries, and excellently upholstered with drapery, varied between dark blue, green, and sage green and brown.” (“Notes on Current Events,” British Architect, 15 July 1887, 39.)

Dowsewells Interior
Advertisement, The Year’s Art 1892, 13

Contributor's Essay

Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell, dealers in old masters paintings between London and the United States.

The gallery ran by Charles William Dowdeswell (1832-1915) and his son Charles Water Dowdeswell (1858-1929) is now mainly remembered for its contemporary art shows of the 1880s and 1890s.[1] The gallery famously held the first Impressionist exhibition in London in 1883, the show Drawings, paintings, and pastels by members of 'La Société des Impressionistes', which held stock by Parisian dealer Paul Durand-Ruel.[2] Walter Dowdeswell was also in contact with the American-British painter James Whistler, whose works he exhibited in 1884 and 1886.[3] By 1887, when William and Walter Dowdeswell moved to larger premises at 160 New Bond Street, they were already running an established contemporary art gallery that operated as a limited company, 'Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell Ltd', and was colloquially known as Dowdeswell's.[4]

William and Walter Dowdeswell, however, were not exclusively dealers in contemporary art. In parallel with the modern art exhibitions, the gallery also dealt in old masters paintings since at least December 1885, when it held an exhibition with this title.[5] In 1893 Dowdeswell sold a Portrait of a Woman, now attributed to Dirck Sandvoort, to Denman Waldo Ross, a Harvard professor, collector and Trustee of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, who donated the painting to this museum in the same year.[6] By 1897 the Dowdeswells were already advertising the main selling point of their gallery as 'Pictures of the British, Dutch and Italian School', whereas 'Modern Etchings and Engravings' took second placement in their adverts. Dowdeswell's old masters exhibitions became more frequent in the first decade of the 20th century, when they were held annually from 1905 until 1914.

This aspect of Dowdeswell's business is very little known, mere subject of passing remarks in the provenance of works of art, and has not been, as yet, written up in full. Yet, Dowdeswell's dealings in old masters paintings deserve further attention as this gallery is connected with the history of important works, collectors and museums. For instance, in 1902 Dowdeswell's bought Mantegna's Holy Family (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) from Court Augusto d'Aiuti in Naples, and subsequently sold this work to Eduard F. Weber in Hamburg for a record price of £4,000 (about £450,000 in 2015).[7] By 1902 Dowdeswell's already broke sales records and operated effectively in an international sales network of old masters paintings: it knew what to buy, where to buy it and who would buy it. In the absence of archival records - a returning problem when studying art dealers - how Dowdeswell's reached this position in the old masters market is still a matter of speculation.

The advertisements that Dowdeswell's published in The Burlington Magazine throughout the first two decades of the 20th century are an important resource to trace the history of the gallery in the old masters market. These, in fact, are among the few extant testimonies of this aspect of the firm's history and they record practical information regarding Dowdeswell's, such as its official name and address, and its choices in terms of self-presentation like, for instance, the typographic vest chosen for the adverts. Moreover, the illustrations of Dowdeswell's adverts give a glimpse of what the firm held in stock and what type of images were considered so important to be published as advertisements. Dowdeswell's began advertising in The Burlington Magazine from its first issue in March 1903 and it continued to do so regularly for fourteen years, until February 1917. The Burlington online archive holds over 110 advertisements of the firm, a few of which illustrated.[8] In parallel with the paid advertisements, Dowdeswell's stock was sometimes of such quality to be the subject of articles in the Magazine. In August 1903 the Burlington published a short notice of a Portrait of a Woman by Rembrandt sold by Dowdeswell's to J. Hage in The Hague[9] The work soon after passed onto a public collection, the Nivaagaard Malerisamling in Nivå, Denmark, where is still held. Dowdeswell's later used this portrait to illustrate their firm's advertisements in The Burlington Magazine from 1908 until 1910. Again, in February 1907, Claude Phillips confirmed the attribution to Palma il Vecchio of a painting of two nymphs then at Dowdeswell's.[10] Phillips focused his whole article, in which Palma was compared with Giorgione and the young Titian, on this work. The illustration of Palma's Nymphs took pride of place in the Magazine: as a black and white photogravure by Emery Walker it was published as the issue's frontispiece for February 1907. This was, for an art dealer, perhaps the best possible kind of publicity: an illustrated article published in the most respected art journal in the country in which the attribution to an artist then very much en vogue was confirmed by an acknowledged art expert. In fact, this painting was acquired by the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt soon after and is still, as recognised work by Palma il Vecchio, part of the museum's collection. Another exceptional work in the stock of Dowdeswell recorded in the advertising pages of the Burlington is an Ecce Homo and the Mourning Virgin, now attributed to Adriaen Isenbrandt, and bought by the Metropolitan Museum of art in 1904 as work by Jan Mostaert.[11] This was clearly another great success for the dealers and a photograph of this work was still used by Dowdeswell as advertisement for their gallery in the Burlington as late as 1908.

As mentioned above, Dowdeswell's had commercial ties with the United States since the 1890s, and in the new century it developed a solid business relationship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1902 it had given to the museum six English, French and Dutch paintings on loan. These were published in the Metropolitan Museum 1902 guide, and the dealers openly credited and thanked by the museum curator George Story.[12] Dowdeswell's then sold an additional six old masters paintings to the Metropolitan in the period 1903-1911: works by Nicolas de Largillierre and Pompeo Batoni in 1903, Carlo Crivelli in 1905, Giovanni Baronzio in 1909, and Quentin Metsys in 1911. Ties with Boston continued too: in this year a Portrait of a Man by Andrea Solario was sold directly by Dowdeswell's to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.[13] Conversely, Dowdeswell did not sell any works to the London National Gallery in the 20th century. Only one work, Smugglers on the Irish Coast by late 18th century British painter Julius Caesar Ibbetson, was purchased in 1895 by this museum from Dowdeswell's.[14]

Apart from these single high-profile deals with museums, it is difficult to judge how financially profitable Dowdeswell's was. In Algernon Graves' listing of Christie's art sales, Dowdeswell's is recorded sporadically, as purchasers of lesser works at medium prices (around the £300 mark), but not afraid to take occasional risks on unidentified paintings. For instance, a Rest on the Flight into Egypt, purchased at Christie's on 31 May 1902 for £892 (catalogued as Early Flemish Madonna and Child) was then identified by the dealers as a work by Gerard David and as such sold to Frank Stoop (now Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).[15] The highest sum recorded by Graves for a Dowdeswell purchase is £1,365 in June 1907 for another version of the London National Gallery's Alchemist by Adriaen van Ostade (untraced).[16] Although this was a considerable sum at the time, in the climate of rising prices of works of art in the early 20th century, it was eclipsed by the much higher figures paid by other dealers, especially Agnew's, Duveen and Colnaghi. In 1905 Duveen had purchased two portraits by Van Dyck (Charles I and Henrietta Maria) at auction for a record £17,850 and in the same year, Agnew's had brokered the £45,000 sale of the Rokeby Venus to the National Art-Collections Fund. Colnaghi fulfilled a similar role in the 1907 acquisition by the London National Gallery of Holbein's Queen Christina for £70,000. Although these were exceptional prices they had a ripple effect on the cost of old masters paintings and, even if the market in this sector was booming, with such high purchase prices, access to liquidity and flow of cash was an increasing difficulty for art dealers who did not have large reserves of capital behind them.

It is very possible that Dowdeswell's had liquidity problems. In the early 1900s the gallery operated on the American art market with Theron J. Blakeslee, a dealer that would make front page news when he committed suicide in 1914 because of his failing business  - Blakeslee had ran large debts to buy stock.[17] In April 1904 Blakeslee's and the Dowdeswells' stock was auctioned at the American Art Galleries in New York.[18] The catalogue of the sale listed 161 English, French, Dutch and Flemish works, which were sold, according to a contemporary report in the American art magazine Brush and Pencil, for $127,695. The reviewer commented that 'it was a bargain sale, many of the canvases going for almost absolutely low figures'.[19] Did Blakeslee and the Dowdeswells need liquidity quickly to keep themselves afloat in between large deals and therefore sold their wares cheaply? Or was perhaps the auction in New York a failed gamble, and they had hoped to achieve more money for their paintings? It is likely that a steady source of income for Dowdeswell's, as for many dealers at the time, was the sale of art reproductions. In fact, its early Burlington advertisements from 1903 until 1906 emphasized this side of their business and illustrated as publicity for Dowdeswell's the cheaper, mass-produced photographic reproductions ('Swantypes') of famous works they held for sale rather than the costly, unique originals from their stock. In the Burlington adverts Dowdeswell's chose to illustrate repetitively the Portrait of Marie Adelaide de France by Jean-Marc Nattier from Versailles and Boy with Rabbit by Henry Raeburn from the Royal Academy, indicating that these reproductions must have been the gallery's best sellers.

In spite of the few successful deals and the mass-marketed reproductions, Dowdeswell's was perhaps not so profitable. According to American Art News, in October 1912 Dowdeswell's merged with Duveen Brothers, firm of the arch-famous (and arch-infamous) dealer Joseph Duveen. American Art News stated clearly that Duveen Brothers 'had acquired the good will and control of [Dowdeswell's] business'.[20] But, was American Art News stating a fact or was it merely divulging Duveen's version of the story? The terms of the alleged merge, in fact, remain unclear as Dowdeswell's, according to William's biographers, appear to have been already liquidated at auction in February 1912.[21] Some form of stock merge, or exchange, however, must have occurred: a Virgin and Child by the workshop of Verrocchio in the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York lists concurrently a Dowdeswell provenance in 1912 and Duveen Brothers in 1912-1913.[22] Even if many sources confirm that from 1912 Walter acted for Duveen, the London gallery seems to have maintained its independence and to be controlled by William only. The official company name, in fact, dropped its double surname and became just Dowdeswell. There are indications that it kept operating in a smaller capacity: it ceased to illustrate works with costly reproductions and the size of its adverts in the Burlington became much smaller. William, now 78 years of age, continued to hold exhibitions of modern British art and old masters, although, unsurprisingly, in diminished form.[23] This suggests, as William's biographers infer, that rather than a merge with Duveen there had been a split between William and Walter, with the former holding on to the family business and the latter moving on to Duveen Brothers, and bringing some of the stock with him. It is likely, however, that William had an associate in running the London gallery: after his death in June 1915 somebody must have continued to run the firm as the gallery continued trading with the same name and its exhibitions are recorded until 1918.

Dowdeswell's business history shows how a gallery rooted in contemporary art changed sector of the market to capture the opportunities offered by a renewed flourishing of the trade in old masters paintings; and how Dowdeswell's kept its firm afloat by means of its subject expertise, international connections, diversification of its stock, and by forging a varied array of professional collaborations. It also demonstrates, however, the growing difficulties that smaller business faced as the conditions of the old masters market changed in the course of the early 20th century.  As Charles Holmes remarked in 1903, the buyers of more moderate means had now to 'depend upon [their] wits' because they had been priced out of the principal deals in the old masters market.[24] This had turned into a game motored by the sheer power of capital and almost exclusively reserved to players of high-end means, millionaire collectors and dealers with high liquidity reserves. Dowdeswell's could not survive financially for long, but the many works handled by these dealers and now preserved in public galleries worldwide bear witness, not only to the competence of their choices, but are also a testimony of a brief period in the old masters market when some works were still relatively affordable and smaller firms could survive through their expertise, creativity and skills.
- Barbara Pezzini

Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell Limited, Advertisement, The Burlington Magazine, September 1905.
Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell Limited, Advertisement, The Burlington Magazine, September 1905.

Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell Limited, Advertisement, The Burlington Magazine, April 1907.

[1] P. Fletcher and A. Helmreich. 'Selected galleries, dealers and exhibition spaces in London, 1850-1939', in The Rise of the Modern Art Market in London, Manchester, 2011, p. 300. A brief obituary for Charles William Dowdeswell was published in The Burlington Magazine 27 (June 1915), p. 28.

[2] Drawings, paintings, and pastels by members of 'La Société des Impressionistes, (1883), catalogue available at the National Art Library, London, pressmark: 200.B.146.  

[3] The Whistler-Dowdeswell correspondence at the University of Glasgow archive is available online,[accessed December 2015].

[4] 'Notes on Current Events', British Architect (15 July 1887), p. 39.

[5] Old Masters (December 1885 and January 1886), The Year's Art, 1887, p. 76.  

[6] Provenance of this work available online,[accessed December 2015].

[7] Prices of works by Andrea Mantegna traced in G. Reitlinger, The Economics of Taste, London 1961, p. 379.

[8] All advertisments can be searched digitally online in the Burlington Index,[accessed December 2015].

[9][Anonymous], 'Portrait of a Lady by Rembrandt', The Burlington Magazine 2 (August 1903), pp. 360-365. For the full provenance of this portrait, see J. Bruyn et al, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, Vol 2, Dordrecht, 1986, pp. 256-262.

[10] C. Phillips, 'A further note on Palma il Vecchio', The Burlington Magazine 10 (February 1907), pp. 247-317. It is possible that Phillips acted as advisor for Dowdeswell, see his article on Paris Bordone in The Burlington Magazine 28 (December 1915), pp. 93-98.

[11] Information on this work available online,[accessed December 2015].

[12] Catalogue of the Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1902, p. 6. The works on loan were: Poultry by Melchior de Hondekoeter; Portrait of a Man by Thomas de Keyser; Portrait of Miss Franks by Joshua Reynolds; View on the Stour by John Constable; Portrait of Mr. Andrew Bonar by Henry Raeburn; and a Portrait of M.lle de Blives by Jean-Marc Nattier.

[13] Provenance and details of this work available online:[accessed December 2015].

[14] NG1460, now transferred to Tate.

[15] Sale, Christie's, London, May 31, 1902, no. 70, as Early Flemish School, for £892.10.0, to Dowdeswell A. Graves, Art Sales, London, 1918, Vol. 1, p. 282.); [Dowdeswell & Dowdeswell, London, from 1902]; Subsequent work history: Mr. and Mrs. Frank Stoop, London (by 1906–28); [Duveen, London and New York, 1928; sold for $300,000 to Jules Bache, hence to Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1949].

[16] Graves, Art Sales, Vol. 2, p. 305.

[17] 'Art dealer suicide in his 5th Avenue shop', The New York Times, 8 March 1914. News report available online:

[18][accessed December 2015].

[19] 'Art Sales', Brush and Pencil 14 (July 1904), p. 294.

[20] 'Dowdeswells-Duveen', American Art News 11 (12 October 1912), p. 1.

[21] 'William Dowdeswell', Grove Art Online,[accessed December 2015].

[22] Information on the provenance of this work available online,[accessed December 2015]. The work was later discussed by Claude Phillips, 'Florentine Painting Before 1500', The Burlington Magazine 34 (June 1919), p. 216. Phillips stated that the work 'might without temerity be ascribed to Verrocchio himself'.

[23] Later Dowdeswell's exhibitions are listed in the Burlington, for instance in Vol. 24 (December 1913), p. xiv. and (March 1914), p. iv. Available online:[accessed December 2015]

[24] C. Holmes, Pictures and picture collecting, London, 1903, p. 26.

160 New Bond StreetAddress: 160 New Bond St  

Start Date: 1887

End Date: at least 1914 [at least 1918]*

Other Locations:
36 Chancery Lane (by 1879-at least 1879)
133 New Bond St (1880-1886 as Dowdeswell's Gallery)

Charles William Dowdeswell (1832-1915)

Charles Dowdewell

Walter Dowdeswell (1858-1929)

Selected exhibitions

Selection of Drawings by David Law, October 1880. (1880) [NAL]

Sketches and drawings by Sutton Palmer…illustrating some of the beauties of Yorkshire scenery (1881) [NAL]

Sketches and drawings by Sutton Palmer…illustrating some of the beauties of Surrey scenery (1882) [NAL]

Drawing by Mr. Birket Foster of the cathedral cities of England and Wales, and of picturesque nature by land and sea by Mr. John Mogford (1883) [NAL]

Drawings, paintings, and pastels by members of “La Société des Impressionistes” (1883) [NAL]

Alpine Drawings, by J. M. Donne (January 1884) [TYA 1885, 61]

Cathedral Churches, by Wyke Bayliss (February and March 1884) [TYA 1885, 61]

Notes, Harmonies, and Nocturnes, by J. MacNeill Whistler, “during Season” (1884) [TYA 1885, 61]

East Coast of England Drawings, by C. Robertson. (1884) [TYA 1885, 61]

Her First Dance, by W.Q. Orchardson, R.A.; A Waif and The Stowaway by J.E. Millais, R.A. (May 1885) [TYA 1886, 63]

Old Masters (December 1885 and January 1886) [TYA 1887, 76]

The Border Land, Landscapes by James Orrock, R.I. (February and March 1886) [TYA 1887, 76]

Arrangement in Brown and Gold, drawings and pastels by J. McN. Whistler (April and May 1886) [TYA 1887, 76]

The Start and Finish of the Season, by W. Wilson R.I. and F. Walton, R.I. (June and July 1886) [TYA 1887, 76]

 “Dots – Notes – Spots,” by A. Ludovici, jun., R.B.A. (February 1888) [TYA 1889, 101]

 “Pastels,” by James Guthrie (January 1891) [TYA 1892, 98]

The Thirteenth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours (March 1891) [TYA 1892, 99]

“India,” by Mortimer Menpes (April and May 1891) [TYA 1892, 99]

“The Return from Calvary” and “Pictures of the Holy Land,” by Herbert Schmalz,
            (November and December 1891) [TYA 1892, 99]

Landscapes by Jan Van Beers (May 1904) [TYA 1905, 129]

 “Along the Italian Riviera,” by Henry S. Tuke, A.R.A. (July 1904) [TYA 1905, 129]

The Neglected Invitation and Other Pictures by Byam Shaw (April 1906) [TYA 1907, 137]

“The English Lakes,” Water Colours by R. Gwelo Goodman (February 1909) [TYA 1910, 137]

“Old World Gardens,” Water Colours by E. Arthur Rowe (March 1909) [TYA 1910, 137]

A Loan Exhibition of the Pictures of Jan Steen, in aid of the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic, opened by H.R.H. The Duchess of Albany, May 13th 1909. [TYA 1910, 137]

The Poems of Robert Browning, Water Colours by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, A.R.W.S. (June and July 1909) [TYA 1910, 137]

For more exhibitions, see: “Exhibitions associated with: Dowdeswell and Dowdeswell”
Exhibition Culture in London 1878-1908, University of Glasgow


The Correspondence of James McNeill Whistler, University of Glasgow Accessed 30 July 2012.

Fletcher, Pamela and Anne Helmreich. “Selected galleries, dealers and exhibition spaces in London, 1850-1939.” In The Rise of the Modern Art Market in London, 1850-1939. Eds. Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011. 300.

Pascoe, Charles Eyre. London of today: An illustrated handbook for the season. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1885.

*The dates that appear in the heading are those identified as securely documented “start” and “end” dates when the map animation was created. Additional research has extended the time span that the gallery can be documented at this address.

Unless otherwise noted, the documentation of a gallery’s start and end dates at a location is drawn from listings in The Year’s Art.

How to cite:
Pamela Fletcher and David Israel, London Gallery Project, 2007; Revised September 2012.

Bowdoin College