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Prichard, Matthew Stewart

Date born: January 4, 1865

Place Born: Keynsham, Somerset, United Kingdom

Date died: October 15, 1936

Place died: Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom

Museum curator and exponent of Byzantine art. Prichard's parents were Charles Henry Prichard, a merchant, and Mattie Stewart (Prichard) (d. 1881). He attended Marlborough College in 1883 and graduated from New College, Oxford, 1887 with a law degree. He practiced briefly London. In 1892 he came under the spell a group of predominantly homosexual Oxford-educated esthetes living at Lewes House, Sussex, centered around the wealth Bostonian Edward Perry "Ned" Warren (1860-1928), his partner John Marshall (1862-1928). Warren introduced Prichard to his brother, Samuel Dennis Warren (-1910), then president of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who appointed Prichard museum secretary in 1902. Prichard worked as a classical antiquities specialist for the museum and, by 1904, assistant director. He developed a disdain for the artificial arrangement and display of objects in museums and their appeal to the wealthy, a theme he would carry with him his life. Through the MFA he met the art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) and the Japanese museum curator and artist Okakura Kakuzo (1862-1913), the latter instilling in him an appreciation of oriental art. In 1905 he also met the British art historian Roger Fry, then a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in Boston impressing Fry with his singular ideas of museums and knowledge of oriental art. Prichard's views on museology, which ran counter to most institutional collecting naturally led to conflicts. Ultimately the board of trustees dismissed him in 1907 for demanding the removal of the museum's plaster casts of classical sculpture. Prichard left the U.S., living for Europe. In Italy he discovered Byzantine art at San Marco and Ravenna, an art genre which, for the rest of his life, he would inspire collectors, artists and scholars to pursue. He met and maintained a correspondence with the Italianist Bernard Berenson. He settled in Paris at the end of 1908. In Paris he toured the Louvre with Fry. He also met the art collectors Michael Stein (1865-1938) (Gertrude Stein's oldest brother) and his wife, Sarah (1870-1953), who introduced him to Henri Matisse the following year; the two developed creatively from one another. Prichard introduced Matisse to Byzantine art and he, in turn, became a devotee to the artist (Matisse did a drypoint of Prichard in 1914). Prichard made the acquaintance of the nineteen-year-old Georges Duthuit, who became Prichard's most important pre-war disciple. Prichard adopted the art philosophy of Henri Bergson (1859-1941) as personal esthetic, disparaging Western art's traditional verisimilitude in favor of decoration. An alluring personality, he imparted his esthetic to many, including the art critic (and future son-in-law of Matisse), Georges Duthuit, Fry and the poet T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). In 1910, he visited the seminal exhibition of Islamic art in Munich. The show also caught the eye of others he inspired, particularly Whittemore, who was on hand to nurse Prichard through a long illness recovery in Paris the same year. Prichard was caught in Germany when World War I was declared in 1914 and was interned as an enemy citizen in Ruhleben, a POW camp. He remained there until the War's end, having food sent to him by his American friends (the U.S. was not yet a participant in the War). The confinement affected Prichard dramatically. He settled in London in 1918, and after briefly working for a government committee on prisoners, developed a new coterie of followers at the Gargoyle Club, holding morning discourses on aesthetics (Pope-Hennessy) to David Tennant, the club's owner, and (future V&A and Met curator) John Pope-Hennessy. Prichard organized a conference at the Taylor Institution, Oxford, in 1919. The conference lectures appeared in 1921, one of his few published writing on art. In the 1930, he supported and anonymously wrote portions of the first and second preliminary reports on the Byzantine mosaics in Hagia Sofia organized by Whittemore. He suffered a heart attack at his brother's home in 1936 and died. His personal papers consist of letters to Mrs Gardner and notebooks, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and notebooks at the Bibliothèque Byzantine, Fonds Thomas Whittemore, Paris.

Though Prichard's career as a professional art historian was limited to brief work in a museum and ghost-written reports on Byzantine art, his influence on art historians and developers of the discipline was immense. A charismatic teacher religious and in later years, profoundly anti-materialistic, his interests in both art and Byzantium were intensely spiritual. LS

Home Country:  United Kingdom

Sources: Prichard, Matthew Stewart. [unpublished notebooks]. Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Archives; Prichard, Matthew Stewart. [manuscript notebooks]. Paris, Collège de France, École des Langues Orientales Vivantes Bibliothèque Byzantine, Fonds Thomas Whittemore; Ketchum, John Davidson. Ruhleben: a Prison Camp Society. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965, p. 260; Hadley, Rollin van N., ed. The Letters of Bernard Berenson and Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1887-1924, with Correspondence by Mary Berenson. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987, pp. 381, 444, 624; Labrusse, Rémi. "Prichard, Matthew Stewart." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Sox, David. Bachelors of Art: Edward Perry Warren and the Lewes Brotherhood. London: Fourth Estate, 1991 pp. 167-186; Pope-Hennessy, John. Learning to Look.  New York:  Doubleday, 1991, pp. 273-274; Nelson, Robert. Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950: Holy Wisdom Modern Monument. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, pp. 156-161.

Bibliography: "Current Theories of the Arrangement of Museums of Art." ; Greek and Byzantine Art (1921), is the text of a conference given at the Taylor Institution, Oxford, in 1919; [anonymous contributions] and Whittemore, Thomas, et al. The Mosaics of St. Sophia at Istanbul: Preliminary Report on the Year's Work, 1931-1932: The Mosaics of the Narthex. Paris: Byzantine Institute of America, printed by J. Johnson at the Oxford University Press, 1933, The Mosaics of St. Sophia at Istanbul: Preliminary Report on the Year's Work: Second Preliminary Report, Work Done in 1933 and 1934: the Mosaics of the Southern Vestibule, 1936.

Subject's name: Matthew Stewart Prichard