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Sir George Donaldson

Armchair, ca. 1898, designed by Odön Faragó, given by Sir George Donaldson

Armchair, ca. 1898, designed by Odön Faragó, given by Sir George Donaldson

Sir George Donaldson was an art dealer and collector who sold or donated many items to the South Kensington Museum. In 1900 he presented it with 30 items of Art Nouveau furniture, including works by artists such as Emile Gallé and Louis Marjorelle, which he had purchased at the International Exhibition in Paris, where he had served as a juror.

Sir George Hunter Donaldson was born in Edinburgh on 25 May 1845 and settled in Paris in the late 1860s, where he developed an interest in historic furniture. In 1871 he moved to London and opened a gallery in New Bond Street dealing in works of art (he counted John Jones and George Salting, both significant benefactors to the South Kensington Museum, among his clients), which traded until his retirement in the 1890s. The South Kensington Museum made its first purchase from Donaldson in 1885 and he continued to sell or donate furniture, carpets and ceramics to the Museum until his death in 1925. Donaldson also amassed an important collection of historical musical instruments, which he donated to the Royal College of Music in 1894.

Recognised for his expertise in furniture, Donaldson acted as a juror at the International Exhibitions in Paris in 1867, 1889 and 1900. The 1900 exhibition featured displays of New Art or ‘Art Nouveau’, which was then little known in Britain. With the assistance of a grant from the Board of Education, Donaldson presented 30 pieces of Art Nouveau furniture purchased at the 1900 exhibition to the Victoria and Albert Museum, so that British artists and designers could have access to the New Art that was then so influential in continental Europe. The collection, which contained important pieces of furniture by Émile Gallé, Louis Majorelle and other artists, was exhibited at the V&A in 1901 but proved so controversial among contemporary art critics that the display was moved for a time to the Bethnal Green Museum. Donaldson was knighted in 1904 and died in Hove on 19 March 1925.

Information in the V&A Archive

MA/1/D1359/1-2: Nominal file – Sir George Donaldson

MA/2/N3: New Art Furniture Collection

MA/30/207: Central inventory register, museum numbers 1980 to 2010-1900

MA/31/6 & 9: Register of loans in

MA/49/2/75: Press cuttings

ED 84/39: Précis of the Board minutes of the Science and Art Department, 1884-1887

ED 84/40: Précis of the Board minutes of the Science and Art Department, 1888-1892

Other archival sources

Royal Academy of Music, London

Selected printed works

‘“L'art Nouveau” At South Kensington.’ The Times. 19 August 1901

‘Sir G. Donaldson.’ [Obituary]. The Times. 20 March 1925

Donaldson, G. ‘The Victoria and Albert Museum, gift of new art furniture for circulation.’ Magazine of Art 25 (1900–01): 466-71. NAL pressmark: PP.400.S

Hershberg, Sorrel. ‘Donaldson, Sir George Hunter (1845–1925).’ In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. NAL pressmark: 920.041 DIC

Aslin, E. ‘Sir George Donaldson and art nouveau at South Kensington.’ Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 7 (1983): 9-14. NAL pressmark: PP.9.O

To locate material in the National Art Library, please search the Library Catalogue.

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