Between The 'Collection Museum' and The University:The Rise of the Connoisseur-Scholar and the Evolution of Art Museum Curatorial Practice 1900-1940

  • Halona Norton-Westbrook

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis investigates the evolution of curatorial practice in Britain and the United States in the first four decades of the twentieth century through an analysis of the formative years of two museums, the Wallace and Frick Collections, and of two academic programmes, the Fogg Art Museum Course at Harvard University and the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London. Through these case studies, this study charts the emergence and development of a specialised curatorial knowledge base that was influenced by traditions of connoisseurship and criticism and shaped by discussions surrounding art history's disciplinary parameters taking place in the museum, the press, the art market and the university. This investigation makes visible the processes through which art museum curators, keepers and directors collaborated in the creation and standardisation of their own expertise and contends that this quest was fundamentally intertwined with struggles for authority, agency and professional recognition. The manifestation of this expertise resulted in a renegotiation of institutional power dynamics and gave rise to a new type of art museum leader: the connoisseur-scholar, who performed an important function in the art museum's transition from a space dominated by gentlemanly amateurs to one in which academically trained art historians increasingly assumed positions of authority. Asserting that the formation of this knowledge base cannot be separated from the academic institutionalisation of art history and curatorial training, this study demonstrates that individuals operating in the spheres of the art museum and the university were engaged in a dialogue through which the core values of these respective endeavours were realised. Detailing these processes and relationships and locating them within the context of a shift towards aesthetic idealism, this thesis provides insight into the historical origins of modern-day curatorial practice in Britain and the United States.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHelen Rees Leahy (Supervisor)


  • art museum curators
  • history of curating

Cite this