One of the exhibition checklists scanned for the Documenting the Gilded Age project is an example of an annotated document. The checklist of the Exhibition of Eighteenth Century English Pictures held at Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., which had London and New York City locations, in October of 1922 contains small sketches and handwritten descriptions of the paintings that were on view (see illustrations). It cannot be determined if these annotations were added at the time of the exhibition or at a later date. In either case, they are helpful in identifying what paintings were shown. An example of this is the Benjamin West canvas Venus Instructing Cupid, recorded as number ten in the Tooth & Sons checklist. A pencil drawing of the painting in the margin of the page depicts a seated Venus on the left with an outstretched arm pointing at something beyond the oval frame of the picture. A winged cupid sits in her lap intently listening to what she is saying (see illustration).
A search of the titles included in the catalogue raisonné, a comprehensive listing of the works by an artist, The Paintings of Benjamin West does not find Venus Instructing Cupid (Erffa and Stanley). However, with the aid of the drawing in the margin of the Tooth & Sons checklist a visual match can be found in the illustrations to the text of this catalogue raisonné, and an examination of the entry for the match confirms that it is the same painting that appeared in the 1922 Tooth & Sons exhibition, even though this exhibition is not listed in its catalogue raisonné entry (Erffa and Staley, 232, no. 128). The title for the painting given in the catalogue raisonné is simply Venus and Cupid, which was its title when it was originally exhibited in 1765 with the Society of Artists, London (Erffa and Staley, 232). The painting sold with the title Venus Instructing Cupid in an April 28, 1922, sale at Christie’s, London, when works from the estate of “Capt R.A. Ogilvy, deceased, late of Pellipar House, Co. Londonderry” were sold (Christie’s, lot 115). It continued to be known by this title when it was in the inventory of Tooth & Sons and at the auction of Arthur Tooth’s collection after his death (American Art Galleries, lot 71). The painting was donated by James M. Cowan, Aurora, Illinois, to the city of Nashville, Tennessee, in 1927, under the title Venus Teaching Cupid, (The Parthenon). Its current owner is The Parthenon in Nashville. Like many works of art, the title has changed throughout the years, making it a challenge to track its provenance, exhibition, and literature history.
Besides the sketch, the dimensions and provenance specified in the Tooth & Sons checklist act as points of confirmation between the painting in the 1922 exhibition and the entry in the catalogue raisonné. West’s catalogue raisonné records the dimensions of Venus and Cupid as 37 1/2 x 32 1/4 in., and the checklist records its dimensions as 37 x 32 in. (Erffa and Staley, 232). At the time of the 1922 exhibition, the painting had come “from the collection of the late Capt. G. A. [R.A. in some sources] Ogilvy, Bellipar House, Londonderry, Ireland.” Ogilvy and Tooth & Sons are both listed in the provenance section of the catalogue raisonné entry for the painting. These three pieces of information further secure a confirmation that Venus Instructing Cupid exhibited at Tooth & Sons in 1922 is the same painting included in the catalogue raisonné for West under the title Venus and Cupid.
American Art Association. XVIII–XIX Century Paintings. New York: America Art Association, 1925. Print.
Christie, Manson & Woods. Early British Portraits. London: Christie, Manson & Woods, 1922. Print.
Erffa, Helmut von and Allen Staley. The Paintings of Benjamin West. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986. Print.
Parthenon. Catalogue of Paintings, Jas. M. Cowan Collection: Donated 1927. Nashville, TN, 1927. Print.