William Stirling-Maxwell

(1818—1878) art historian, historian, and book collector

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(1818–78). Wealthy Scottish landowner, writer, Hispanophile, and collector. He succeeded to the family estates at Keir (Perthshire) in 1847 and adopted the name Maxwell when he succeeded his uncle to a baronetcy in 1865. In 1848 he published his three-volume Annals of the Artists of Spain, encompassing Spanish art and architecture from the Middle Ages to Goya. Like his friend Richard Ford, author of the Handbook for Spain (1845), a pioneering guidebook, Stirling relied heavily on Spanish sourcebooks for information and documentation; and generally his approach was far more that of a political and social historian than of an art historian preoccupied with style and attribution. From his manuscript travel journals, dating from 1841, 1842, 1845, 1849, and his published work it becomes clear that he looked to Spanish art for an austere but naturalistic alternative to the classical tradition of Italy and France. He shows admirable open-mindedness and curiosity in his approach to still unfashionable artists including El Greco as well as fascination with the more disturbing and grotesque modes of expression employed by Goya. Nevertheless like most of his contemporaries he was still preoccupied above all with Velázquez and Murillo, and in the Annals ambitiously attempts to provide a full catalogue of the known works of these two artists. The Annals also reflect Stirling-Maxwell's interest in modern methods of reproducing works of art which may have originated from his activities as a print collector. Attached to the three-volume text he issued a limited edition volume (25 copies) of photographic images or Talbotypes, most made from reproductive prints, the frontispieces of books, or drawings of buildings and paintings in Spain or France by Richard Ford, JoséRoldán, and William Barclay. Among the prints selected for reproduction are several rare Goya etchings after Velázquez which Stirling-Maxwell had already collected in Spain. He also reproduced original drawings by Cano and Murillo from Ford's collection, and describes them as ‘the only original works of these masters to be copied by the sun’.


From The Oxford Companion to Western Art in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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