Sir Francis Watson, former director of The Wallace Collection: papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Papers created and accumulated by Watson in the course of his work at the Wallace Collection (1938-1974) as well as papers from his work for external bodies, including the Royal Collection (formerly known as the 'King’s/Queen’s Works of Art') and personal papers and effects.

Administrative / Biographical History

Francis John Bagott Watson (F.J.B. Watson) was born on the 24th August 1907 in Dudley, Worcestershire. He was the son of Hugh Watson, a headmaster, and Ellen Marian Watson (née Bagott). He was educated first at Dudley Grammar School and later Shrewsbury School, before attending St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Mathematics and English.

Following his graduation in 1929, Watson travelled to France and Italy before returning to England to work at Brentano’s Publishing House in 1929 (until it closed in 1930) and he then went on to work at the Harold Shaylor publishing firm from 1930-1934.

In 1934 Watson began his career in the art world by working as Registrar at the recently founded Courtauld Institute of Art where he came in to contact with numerous art historians including Charles F. Bell, the retired Keeper of Fine Arts at the Ashmolean museum. Bell later bequeathed his personal library to Watson.

In 1938 James Mann (the Deputy Director of the Courtauld Institute) was appointed as the Director (or ‘Keeper’) of the Wallace Collection and, on his move, he offered Watson a position as Assistant to the Keeper. Watson accepted the role and his first major task was to produce a catalogue of the furniture at the museum with the assistance of Trenchard Cox. Cox and Watson also worked together on preparing the museum for imminent war in the 1930s, which involved moving the material to safety. During the Second World War (1939-1945) Watson was seconded to the Admiralty. On returning to the Wallace Collection in 1945, Watson was able to continue his work and the furniture catalogue was finally published in 1956. This publication was highly praised and led to him being regarded as the leading authority on French furniture in the UK. Following its publication, Watson was regularly invited to lecture in America, where he often stayed as guests of Mr and Mrs Charles Wrightsman. Watson later produced a catalogue of their vast collection (which was eventually donated to the Metropolitan Museum) between 1966 and 1970 and it received critical acclaim. Watson’s expertise was often also consulted by a number of collectors seeking advice on what to buy and sell.

In 1947 he was appointed Deputy Surveyor of the Royal Collection (formerly known as the ‘King’s/Queen’s Works of Art’) and by 1963 he had become the Surveyor of the Royal Collection as well as the Director of the Wallace Collection. He held both of these positions until his retirement in 1974, although he continued to act as an advisor to the Royal Collection. He also held a number of other academic roles, including acting as Slade Professor of fine art at Oxford University in 1969-1970; Wrightsman Professor of the New York University from 1970-1971 (from whom he had received the Gold Medal in 1966); Kress Professor at the National Gallery in Washington; Regent Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and a guest lecturer at the University of California.

In addition to his official positions, Watson was connected to other bodies related to the arts and art history world, including being Chairman of the Walpole Society (from 1971-1976); the first Chairman of the Furniture History Society (from 1964); and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the British Academy. He also organised an exhibition entitled ‘Eighteenth Century Venice’ in 1951 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (where he was a Trustee for 25 years) and delivered the Fred Cook Memorial Lecture on the Guardi family of painters in 1966. Watson also wrote an article on Thomas Patch for the Walpole Society, which included a catalogue of Patch’s known works, as well as consulted for a number of institutions including the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.

Watson married Mary “Jane” Rosalie Gray (1904-1969), daughter of George Strong, in 1941. After the death of his wife in 1969, Watson adopted Ch’eng Huan, a Cambridge law student from China, as his son. Watson was also a keen student of Sinology. Watson also became a regular contributor to The Times Literary Supplement. He travelled extensively, visiting colleagues and friends around the world including Hong Kong, America, Mexico, Bali and Java.

Watson died on the 27th September 1992 in Wiltshire.

Arrangement

The original order of the collection has been maintained where possible and arranged to reflect the form of the records. An artificial arrangement has been implemented where no original order was discernible.

Conditions Governing Access

Available for consultation by appointment only at the Wallace Collection Library and Archive Reading Room, opening hours Tuesday to Friday 10 am to 5 pm. To make an appointment contact library@wallacecollection.org. Further visitor information can be found on the Wallace Collection Library and Archive web pages.

Access to some files may be restricted. These are identified at file level.

Other Finding Aids

The full catalogue can be viewed and searched via the archive module of Wallace Live.

Conditions Governing Use

Readers are permitted to use cameras on the purchase of a reprographics permit. The charges are £2 for a daily or £5 for a weekly permit.

Accruals

Additional material possible.