Annotations and Tate history in the Bowness Collection

In March 2021, I began a secondment in the Collections & Academic Liaison department. A major component of my job was to continue the work of cataloguing the exhibition catalogues that belonged to the late Professor Sir Alan Bowness (donation arranged by Sophie Bowness). Sir Alan was head of the Tate Gallery from 1980 to 1988, he was personally connected to Barbara Hepworth and other artists, and laid the foundation for the Tate St Ives, among many other accomplishments.

The Bowness Collection is not only important and interesting in terms of the individual items of the collection, but in the way it reflects the art market and the direction of the Tate Gallery’s acquisitions. The collection contains many smaller catalogues, view cards, exhibition posters, and other ephemera which are often inserted in accompanying catalogues. Going through these exhibition catalogues I have gained insights into the world of gallery openings, blockbuster exhibits, and contemporary art.

In one of the catalogues Immendorff (Bowness.a.85), a retrospective catalogue of the neo-expressionist artist Jörg Immendorff, Sir Alan has left numerous notes and check marks on the price list near the end of the catalogue. Though I have seen Sir Alan’s hand on other catalogues, this volume contained more inscriptions than usual and appear to indicate how Sir Alan was selecting artwork of interest. Scribbled in pencil are notes of the corresponding page number where the work can be seen, stars *and* check marks and descriptions of the work, i.e. “baby crying.” One of the more amusing notes is a wry “mostly yellow” in reference to the painting Pass (Deutsche Farben) [ Passport (German Colours)], a depiction of the German flag (in fairness this painting is mostly yellow).

On the last pages, the notes increase, as it appears Sir Alan was possibly determining which piece(s) to purchase. The note “WirKommen / orange” would likely relate to the colourful linocut “We’re Coming/Wir kommen” from Immendorff’s Cafe Deutschland 1983 series of prints – a series that now belongs to the Tate Gallery.

There are further notes and calculations that I personally cannot glean. Why are there checkmarks for E on some of the listings, for example? Perhaps readers and researchers accessing Bowness’ collection in due course through the Rare Books Reading Room will interpret further. If you are interested in the Bowness Collection, you can see how much has been catalogued by searching by classmark “Bowness.” on iDiscover.

Emily Perdue

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