The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Martin Enrico Luigi Gaetano Colnaghi, 1821-1908

Nationality: British
Date of Birth: 1821.11.16
Place of Birth:
Date of Death: 1908.06.27
Place of Death:


Martin Enrico Luigi Gaetano Colnaghi, known as Henry Colnaghi, was a London art dealer. He was the eldest son of Martin Lewis Gaetano Colnaghi. His younger brother Oswald Bernard Colnaghi was also an art dealer. Henry Colnaghi married Sarah Nash, then Elizabeth Maxwell Howard who died in 1888, and then in 1889 Amy daughter of George Smith.


The Colnaghi's art dealing business had its origins in a firm founded in the mid-seventeenth century in Paris and London by Giovanni Battista Torre (d 1780), a pyrotechnist and printseller who dealt in English etchings and mezzotints. In 1785 Henry Colnaghi's grandfather Paul Colnaghi became Torre's partner in London. In 1788 he completely took over the London side of the business, and began publishing reproductive engravings of historical and topographical subjects and portraits, receiving a Royal Warrant from George IV to supplement the royal print and drawing collection.

Successive generations of the Colnaghi family built up the range and reputation of the business, and in the 1830s, under the management of Henry's uncle Dominic Colnaghi, the firm's premises at 14 Pall Mall East, became a lively centre where important artistic, literary and political figures would congregate.

A significant number of Whistler paintings passed through the hands of the firm of Colnaghi, including La Mère Gérard (2) (YMSM 27), Harmony in Green and Rose: The Music Room (YMSM 34), The Coast of Brittany (YMSM 37), Whistler in his Studio (YMSM 63), Study in Grey for the Portrait of F. R. Leyland (YMSM 95), Arrangement in Black: Reading (YMSM 224), An Orange Note: Sweet Shop (YMSM 264), Note in Blue and Opal: The Sun Cloud (YMSM 271), A Courtyard with an Open Workshop and a Standing Woman (YMSM 308), Coast Scene: Bathers (YMSM 326), Study for 'Brown and Gold: Lillie "In our Alley!" ' (YMSM 463), Violet and Rose: Carmen qui rit (YMSM 506), The Sea, Pourville (YMSM 520), The Shore, Pourville (YMSM 521) and Howth Head, near Dublin (YMSM 538). The company also bought and sold over one hundred watercolours, pastels and drawings.

Henry Colgnaghi was responsible for organising a system of railway advertising that was taken up by the city stationer W. H. Smith. Around 1860 he began travelling as a buyer for his family's firm. His expertise lay in the area of Dutch and Flemish old masters. He then worked in a similar capacity for Henry Graves, before setting up his own business in Pimlico. In 1877 he bought Flatou's Gallery at 11 Haymarket, renaming it the Guardi Gallery. In 1888 he took over the galleries of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours at 53 Pall Mall, which became the Marlborough Galleries.

In 1878 Henry Colnaghi was approached about being a witness on behalf of Whistler in his libel trial against Ruskin, although he was not in the event called upon (#13283).


Colnaghi's, 1760–1960, London, 1960; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; Maas, Jeremy, The Victorian Art World in Photographs, London, 1984; MacDonald, Margaret F., James McNeill Whistler. Drawings, Pastels and Watercolours. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1995; 'Colnaghi's', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 6 September 2002).