The travel diaries cover the period 16 August 1855 to 1 July 1858 and record details of Mündler’s visits to foreign private collections, churches and galleries, names of dealers and potential private vendors, and opinions on paintings seen.
Otto Mündler travel diaries
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Otto Mündler (1811-1870) was a German dealer and art historian who served as the National Gallery’s Travelling Agent in the 1850s, travelling to Italy to look for paintings the Gallery might be interested in acquiring. He was held in high esteem by the Director, Sir Charles Eastlake, who considered him ‘by far the best connoisseur (though of course not infallible) I know’ [Letter to Ralph N Wornum, 3 Jul 1861; NGA2/3/3/79].
Born 3 February 1811 in Kempten, Southern Bavaria, Mündler was the son of a French teacher. Originally destined for the clergy, Mündler studied theology in Munich and then at the Protestant University of Erlangen.
By 1833 he had completed his studies; after a brief stint preaching in Kempten, he became a tutor to the Regis family in 1834. In January 1835 he moved to Paris, which was to remain his home for the rest of his life. Initially he was employed as a tutor to Pierre-Francois Guestier, who recognised his talent and put him in charge of his private collection.
In 1837 he visited England; it is possible that he first met Charles Eastlake at this time. Eastlake and Mündler were acquainted by 1842 when they are mentioned together in Ferrara.
When the National Gallery’s structure was reformed in 1855 following the parliamentary enquiry in 1853, the posts of Director and Travelling Agent were created and the role of Keeper defined. It seems possible Eastlake recommended Mündler for the post of Travelling Agent, whose duties were set out in a Treasury Minute of 27 March 1855: ‘to visit the private collections of distinguished families abroad, ascertaining and describing the contents, and obtaining the earliest information of any intended sale’ [NG17/1, p.5]. This post was initially created for a term not exceeding five years and came with a salary of £300 pa; but after constant criticism both in the press and in parliament, the role was terminated in 1858. Mündler received £150 in compensation for his ‘abrupt dismissal’ [NG1/4, p.145].
Martin Davies thought that there may originally have been three diaries. In 1943, the subject of their publication by the National Gallery was considered in an exchange of letters between Davies and Kenneth Clark [NG16/59/5].
The travel diaries at the National Gallery are a reinschrift of the Mundler notebooks in the Staatlich Museen zu Berlin.
The diaries have been arranged in chronological order.
Open to bona fide researchers by appointment with the Archivist
Other Finding Aids
The most recent and complete list is held on CALM ALM
Catalogued by Nicholas Smith, June 2019
Conditions Governing Use
It is the responsibility of the reader to determine the exact copyright status of a work
All material has been retained.
The requirement for the Travelling Agent to keep a diary ‘in order to satisfy his employer that he has been sufficiently industrious and active’ was set out in a Treasury Minute of 27 March 1855 [NG17/1, p.8]. Sir Charles Eastlake foresaw the broader evidentiary importance of the diaries, which he retrieved from Paris in 1858 [Letter from Messrs McCracken to R.N. Wornum, 28 Aug 1858; NG5/258/1]: ‘[they] are at present for the sole use of the Trustees; but a time might come when those diaries may be referred to as containing abundant and accurate details which may be useful for the history of art’ [NG17/1, p.86]. It is not known when the diaries were transferred to the Archive.
No accruals are expected.