The English Prize: The Capture of the “Westmorland,” an Episode of the Grand Tour
This exhibition told the extraordinary story of the capture of the Westmorland, a British merchant ship laden with works of art acquired by young British travelers on the Grand Tour in Italy, and the subsequent disposition of its contents. Shortly after sailing from Livorno, Italy, in 1778, the ship was captured by the French navy. It was escorted to Malaga in southern Spain where its contents were inventoried and acquired by agents who in turn sold most of the works of art on board to King Carlos III of Spain. Much of the material was subsequently presented by the king to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. The original inventories, which survive in the Academia’s archives, were remarkably thorough, enabling the identification of many of the items on board the ship when it was captured. Many of the objects from the Westmorland remain in the Real Academia today, but significant works were passed on to the Spanish Royal Collection and are now in the Prado or in royal residences in Spain. Because most of these works can be associated with the tourists who were sending them back to Britain, the contents of the Westmorland form the most complete “cross-section” of the Grand Tour discovered to date.
The exhibition came out of a major research project initiated in the late 1990s, led by Professor José María Luzón Nogué, that investigates the story of the Westmorland and its contents. With the support of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London, remarkable progress was made in identifying and cataloguing these extraordinarily diverse treasures, and this research formed the basis of the exhibition.
The English Prize was co-organized by the Yale Center for British Art and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, in association with the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, and the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford. It was curated by Scott Wilcox, Chief Curator of Art Collections and Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings
at the Center, and María Dolores Sánchez-Jáuregui Alpañés, Senior Research Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and affiliate of the Real Academia Artes de San Fernando. The exhibition was accompanied by a major publication edited by the curators, with contributions by Professor Luzón and a team of eminent eighteenth-century specialists, including John Brewer, Kim Sloan, Frank Salmon, Clare Hornsby, and John Wilton-Ely. A major scholarly program was planned alongside the exhibition, including substantial collaboration with the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale. The exhibition was supported in part by the David T. Langrock Foundation.
In-kind support was provided by the makers of Parmigiano Reggiano® cheese. Historically known as Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano® cheese has sailed out from its place of origin in North Central Italy since the thirteenthcentury to ports the world over. It is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheese and is well known as being the “King of Cheeses” for its nutritional value, its refined taste, and its culinary versatility. The thirty-two wheels of Parmesan on the Westmorland attest to the significance and value of this Italian treasure through the centuries.
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology,
University of Oxford: May 17–August 27, 2012
Yale Center for British Art:
October 4, 2012–January 13, 2013