Talbot Hughes was an artist who formed a large collection of English historical costumes and accessories, dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, which he sold to Harrods, the London department store, which in turn presented it to the V&A in 1913.
Talbot Hughes was born in 1869, the son of the still-life painter William Hughes. He practised primarily as a genre painter and exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Society of British Artists. He was elected to the Arts Club in 1894 and the Society of Oil Painters in 1903. In 1910 Hughes sold the V&A a small collection of bags and purses. Over the course of 20 years he had amassed a large and important collection of English historical costumes and accessories, dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, which he used as props for his paintings.
When Hughes decided to sell this collection of 752 items in 1913, the proprietor of an American department store expressed a desire to purchase it for £5,000 with a view to donating it to the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Hughes, however, did not want the collection to go abroad, so he sold this collection (T.391 to 1143-1913) for £2,500 to Harrods, the London department store, which in turn presented it to V&A. This arrangement had been negotiated by the V&A’s Director, Sir Cecil Harcourt Smith. The collection was exhibited at Harrods for three weeks before going on display at the V&A on Christmas Eve.
Following this acquisition, Hughes presented the Museum sporadically with individual gifts until 1931. In contrast to the costume collection, Hughes had no compunction about disposing of his collection of 450 portrait miniatures in oil to an overseas buyer. These were purchased by Philip Rosenbach of the Rosenbach Company of New York and Philadelphia in 1928. Hughes died in 1942.
Information in the V&A Archive
MA/1/H926: Nominal file – Harrods Ltd
MA/1/H3222: Nominal file – Hughes, Talbot
MA/49/2/90-91: Press cuttings
Other archival sources
V&A, National Art Library, letter to Isidore Spielmann, 13 April 1908, NAL pressmark: MSL/1999/2/1260
Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia, Rosenbach Company records, 1903-1953
Selected printed works
Harcourt-Smith, Cecil. Old English costumes selected from the collection formed by Mr. Talbot Hughes; a sequence of fashions through the 18th & 19th centuries. Presented to the Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, by Harrods Ltd. London: The St. Catherine Press, 1913. NAL pressmark: 59.N.22
Hughes, Talbot. Dress design, an account of costume for artists & dressmakers; illustrated by the author from old examples, together with 35 pages of collotypes. London: J. Hogg 1913. NAL pressmark: 303.E
Kains-Jackson, C. Catalogue of a collection of cabinet pictures by Talbot Hughes. London: Fine Art Society, 1901. NAL pressmark: 200.B.162
Petrov, J. ‘“The habit of their age”: English genre painters, dress collecting, and museums, 1910–1914.’ Journal of the History of Collections 20, no.2 (2008): 237-251. NAL pressmark: PP.69.E
Taylor, Lou. Establishing Dress History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. NAL pressmark: 602.AE.1084
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