James Christie/Thomas Gainsborough
The French Revolution instigated an enormous redistribution of art throughout Europe. London emerged as a funnel through which large numbers of objects flowed into galleries where entire collections—including the famous Orléans collection—were dispersed in auction sales. Although it developed into a major import market over several decades, only in this period did London establish itself as the hub of the international art trade.

While the Getty Provenance Index® is very strong in British sales records from the early 19th century, art transactions in the crucial decades from 1780 to 1800 have not yet been entered into the database—and, in some cases, have not even been identified. Without this data, researchers' ability to study fluctuations and trends in art commerce is disrupted. Given the interconnectedness of national art markets, this disruption is wide-reaching—preventing research on the art markets of Great Britain, the continuing lives of dispersed French collections, and the development of cultural networks throughout Europe. The Getty Research Institute and the National Gallery, London, are addressing this problem through a joint research endeavor. By combining resources, the two institutions are discovering extant sales records, entering them into the Provenance Index®, encouraging the innovative use of the databases to produce scholarship, and disseminating new, cutting-edge research to the larger scholarly community.


The Getty Provenance Index® includes over one million records—drawn from archival inventories, auction catalogs, and stock books—that document the exchange of artworks from the end of the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century. Comprising several databases, the index is one of the most powerful and important tools for scholars researching art markets, collecting practices, and the provenances of paintings.


The British Sales research project will result in expanded coverage of British materials in the Provenance Index®, a scholarly symposium, and a publication. These tools will allow researchers to track patterns of taste, to better understand cultural transfers, and to more fully explore the power of art markets. Further, generating new knowledge around the history of the art market will allow greater interdisciplinary exchange among scholars from a variety of fields, including art history, economics, and cultural studies.