Cataloguing Cole: Fishes, Photographs and the Forces

Written by Sharon Maxwell, Archivist (Cataloguing & Projects)

Some of the original packaging used by Cole to house his archive

Some of the original packaging used by Cole to house his archive

I have recently been cataloguing the personal papers of Professor Francis J Cole, (1872-1959), the first Professor of Zoology at the University of Reading. The fascinating papers in the Cole collection include research for his academic writings and publications, bibliographies and indexes relating to his library and his bibliographic studies and photographic material including thousands of glass negatives and lantern slides used by Cole in his teaching.  Cataloguing this material has given me an insight into Cole’s research methods and his interests.

Cole was born in London, England on 3 February 1872. On leaving school Cole’s aim was to go to Oxford and read zoology. He learnt zoology at the Royal College of Science, and he also attended lectures at the Royal Institution and studied at Christ Church, Oxford and the University of Edinburgh.  In 1894 he was appointed lecturer in zoology at Liverpool University College, later the University of Liverpool.  He stayed there for twelve years and combined work during term time at Liverpool with research during vacation at Jesus College, Oxford.  In this way he obtained a B.Sc.

In later years Cole re-used many of his old College notebooks to record his research notes, examples of which can be seen here, alongside a photograph of Professor Cole taken in 1939 (MS 5315/2/2)

In later years Cole re-used many of his old College notebooks to record his research notes, examples of which can be seen here, alongside a photograph of Professor Cole taken in 1939 (MS 5315/2/2)degree at Oxford by research in 1905.

degree at Oxford by research in 1905. In 1906 Cole took up an appointment as lecturer in zoology at University College, Reading, and in the following year became the first occupant of the chair of zoology, which he held until his retirement in 1939.  In these thirty-two years he built up a flourishing department, founded a Museum of Comparative Anatomy which is now called by his name, and collected a magnificent library of early works on medicine and comparative anatomy.


He was awarded the Rolleston Prize at Oxford in 1902 for his researches on the cranial nerves of fishes, Chimaera.  Later he published a series of papers on the myxinoid fishes and received the Neill Gold Medal and Prize of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1908.  His D. Sc., Oxford, followed in 1910. During World War I he was commissioned in the 4th Territorial Battalion

A small image of Professor Cole in his uniform and a notebook he used to record notes for his work with his Battalion on the east coast during WWI, you can see his diagram detailing positions and trenches

A small image of Professor Cole in his uniform and a notebook he used to record notes for his work with his Battalion on the east coast during WWI, you can see his diagram detailing positions and trenches

of the Essex Regiment and was stationed on the east coast in charge of a coastal gun emplacement.


Cole’s detailed notes and transcriptions of each letter written by Leeuwenhoek

Cole’s detailed notes and transcriptions of each letter written by Leeuwenhoek

Returning to Reading after the war Cole turned more and more to the history of biology. His collection includes research for many of his major publications on this subject, including the zoological researches of Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), and his history of comparative anatomy.

The material that has survived in Cole’s archive gives you an insight into his style of research, he liked to produce detailed indexes to sources that he used, which refer you to material within his own library and to sources he found in other libraries and museums, so that you can closely follow his research path.  He also took great care with the illustrations produced to accompany his published writings, drawing many of the original images himself and annotating proofs until they were perfect for publication.

Proofs and original drawings by Cole for his study on the nerves and sense organs of fishes, (MS 5315/1/2)

Proofs and original drawings by Cole for his study on the nerves and sense organs of fishes, (MS 5315/1/2)


Cole clearly liked to enliven his lectures and talks, and his collection includes thousands of glass

Index cards created by Cole to keep track of his vast collection of glass negatives, (MS 5315/3/14)

Index cards created by Cole to keep track of his vast collection of glass negatives, (MS 5315/3/14)

negatives and lantern slides.  Ceri, our Reading Room Assistant is currently cataloguing these images and each negative will soon be digitised so that an image of the negative will appear alongside its catalogue description. Our volunteers Ron and Jan are carefully re-packaging these items into acid-free covers and boxes to preserve them for the future.

Professor Cole’s papers are available for research in the reading room, reference MS 5315 and the glass negatives will be available to view on our online catalogue in the near future.


Sources and further reading:

Much of the biographical information above was taken from an article written by N.B. Eales in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 1959, Vol. XIV, No. 1

See also the Cole Library and the Cole Museum for further insight into Professor Cole’s collections

Cliveden House Exhibition

At the end of February, staff from Special Collections were joined by students of the history department at Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire to showcase material from the Nancy and Waldorf Astor Archives. The material for the exhibition was chosen by the students as part of their discovering archives and collections module during the autumn term when they spent several weeks in the reading room at Special Collections. During that time they helped to catalogue the myriad of names in the Cliveden visitor books, got the chance to shadow archive staff and organise the material that formed the basis of February’s exhibition.

Students with Dr Jacqui Turner and Guy Baxter (University Archivist) in the reading room (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

Students with Dr Jacqui Turner and Guy Baxter (University Archivist) in the reading room (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

This is the second year in a row that students have had the chance to co-curate an exhibition at Cliveden and it proved just as popular with visitors as last year, if not more so. The exhibition offered a rare opportunity for visitors (including hotel guests and staff, as well as the National Trust staff that work on the Cliveden estate) to see original documents in their original setting.

Students at Cliveden House with general manager Sue Williams (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

Students at Cliveden House with general manager Sue Williams (Photo: Jacqui Turner)

You can see more of the display and find out more about the project in this short video:

The exhibition was separated into different themes including women’s suffrage, the Cliveden estate and the Cliveden stud. Hear more about the aspects of the exhibition in this conversation between Dr Jacqui Turner and two of the students who co-curated the exhibition:

The Nancy and Waldorf Astor archives can be accessed in our reading room. For more information about accessing our collections, click here.

Finding Items in the Cole Library

Written by Helen Westhrop, Library Assistant

Next week I begin the reclassification of the Cole Library; by this I mean to give each item a place on the electronic catalogue. Until now, some of the items have been added to Enterprise, the Library catalogue, while the rest have only been accessible by the card catalogue. When the collection was held at the Main Library, it was browsable (and still is, by appointment with the UMASCS Librarians), but is now held in closed access storage and needs to be accessible via the Enterprise catalogue to make it easy for readers to request items for consultation in the Reading Room at Special Collections.  

The Cole Library holds approximately 8,000 volumes of printed books and scientific papers, covering the history of early medicine and zoology in general, and more particularly, comparative anatomy and reproductive physiology, from earliest times to the present day. Among these there are 1,700 or more pre-1851 works, including many continental books. Many significant works in the history of the biological sciences are present, by authors such as Galen, Fabricius, Belon, Wotton, Gesner, Bartholin, Swammerdam, Harvey, Ray, Haller, Leeuwenhoek, Linnaeus, the Hunters and Darwin.  There are also some individual works like: Pliny’s Natural history, Venice : Jenson (1472) with illuminations; Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica 1st ed., Basle (1543) and 2nd ed. (1555); in a contemporary Swiss binding and a substantial run of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, from 1665 that attract a lot of interest from visitors.

The collection was originally the private library of Professor F J Cole (1872-1959), F.R.S.,  Professor of Zoology in the University of Reading from 1907 to 1939. He was a book collector and bibliophile from his schooldays until his death. His major historical work A history of comparative anatomy(1944) was based substantially on his own collection.

For this project, I will begin by adding items to the database to ensure that each book is findable.  I will be working alongside a cataloguer who will be noting the illustrations, illustrators and any fine binding on folio sized books so I will have an expert on hand at all times to ensure the collection and all information is shared as much as possible.

We have looked forward to this project for a long time; we are excited to be making the Cole Library more easily and widely searchable to students and raise the profile of the collection to a much wider number of researchers.  I will encounter much dry material such as fish morphology; however there will also be some incredible texts to to make the task enjoyable.  During my task I will be on the lookout for non-science texts; for example, history, culture and literature and will also be watchful for nineteenth-century medical holdings or anatomical atlases.

So there is a lot to do and week by week I hope to post images from the collection by way of a progress report.

Behind the scenes: getting to know readers old and new

Hello, my name is Erika Delbecque and like Louise, I am new to UMASCS. I am, however, not new to the University of Reading; I worked here as a Trainee Liaison Librarian a few years ago. I have now returned to Reading as one of the two part-time UMASCS Librarians. In this role, I will be looking after the Special Collections and the MERL library.

These collections are incredibly varied and broad in scope, and I am really excited to be working with them. I have already come across a few fascinating items. For example, I encountered the following volume when I assisted at a class for third-year English students on Editing the Renaissance:

The title page of the 1640 edition of the works of Ben Jonson, with a portrait of the author on the opposite page

The title page of the 1640 edition of the works of Ben Jonson, with a portrait of the author on the opposite page

This is an edition of the works of the playwright Ben Jonson, printed by Richard Bishop in 1640. One early reader of this book has crossed out several words throughout the text. For example, this picture shows a fragment from Cynthia’s Revells, a satire first performed in 1600:

RF 822.34 VOL. 1 - Jonson

The words that are crossed out are faith, ‘fore heaven, and a pox on’t. In this way, this reader, who appears to have objected to swearing and mentioning religion in secular plays, has consistently removed all oaths and references to faith from the text in this play and several others in this volume. Although this reader did not actually write anything in this book, we can deduce a lot about him or her and the period he or she lived in by the blotches of ink that are scattered throughout the book.

Traces of previous readers like this one remind us of a book’s journey before it reached its place on the shelves at UMASCS. Starting at the printer’s office in 1640, this book travelled through the ages on a journey from owner to owner, before it was presented to the University of Reading by Professor D. J. Gordon in 1960. In this way, the traces that previous readers left behind can provide fascinating glimpses into the history of a book. They are one of the things that make being a Special Collections Librarian so exciting.

Behind the Scenes: A Tour of Treasures!

Hello! My name is Louise Cowan and I’m a new member of staff here at UMASCS.  Although my official role is ‘Trainee Liaison Librarian’ and I will mostly be based at the University Library at Whiteknights Campus, I am excited to be spending one day a week working with the Special Collections team to support and contribute to their fantastic social media channels!

Today was my first official day and as part of my induction I was treated to a behind the scenes tour by UMASCS Librarian, Fiona Melhuish.

The special collections store at UMASCS

The special collections store at UMASCS

The large store rooms are amazing treasure troves of rare books full of beautiful illustrations, archives of documents with fascinating stories, and unique ephemeral collections.

As an MA graduate in Children’s Literature one of my favourites from today’s tour was the popular Children’s Collection; in particular, this beautiful copy of ‘Peter and Wendy’, illustrated by Mabel Lucie Attwell:

Peter and Wendy by J.M.Barrie

Peter and Wendy by J.M.Barrie


I also love the John Lewis Printing Collection which consists of roughly 20,000 items illustrating the history of printing from the fifteenth century to the present. This little Christmas card is a treat:

Philosopher dogs, Group XI : 3 Juvenile : c1850-

Group XI : 3 Juvenile : c1850-

And as it is officially #MusGif Day  I couldn’t resist making a Gif from this charming trio of cats:

Christmas Cats, Group XI : 3 Juvenile : c1850-

Group XI : 3 Juvenile : c1850-

I’m really looking forward to delving in, learning more and sharing the collections with you.   Make sure you follow us on Twitter: @UniRdg_SpecColl and Instagram: @unirdg_collections to keep up-to-date!

‘What does a poet need to be successful?’: Alun Lewis (1915-1944) in the spotlight

This post comes from Brian Ryder, one of our volunteers here at Special Collections. Brian’s history with Reading collections is a long one; he used to be one of our project cataloguers and is now working his way through the Routledge & Kegan Paul archive. Here, upon the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alun Lewis, using examples from our special collections archives, Brian tells the fascinating tale of Welsh war poet Alun Lewis (1915-1944) and asks ‘what does a poet need to be successful?’. 

Alun Lewis material

Alun Lewis material

Alun Lewis, one of the foremost poets of World War II, was born one hundred years ago this month and his centenary was marked by the BBC with a dramatization of his short life on Radio 4. He was born into a family from a Welsh mining community in which his father was the only one of four brothers who did not spend his working life down the mines – becoming instead a schoolteacher and later Director of Education for Aberdare.  Alun won a scholarship to a boarding school where he was extremely unhappy but where he began to write poetry and remained determined to work hard and escape the pits as his father had done. After university he followed his father into teaching but in the spring of 1940, wanting “to experience life in as many phases as I’m capable of”, he enlisted in the army, writing to a friend that:

“I’m not going to kill. Be killed perhaps, instead”.

In May 1941 publisher George Allen & Unwin, whose archive is held by the university, having seen his poetry and short stories appear in newspapers and periodicals, wrote to Lewis saying that they would be interested in seeing his future work with a view to publication. He wrote back to them with enthusiasm, providing a full list of his published work and throwing in for good measure a copy of Caseg Press Broadsheet No. 1 (shown below), first of a series initiated by Lewis and his friend John Petts with poems by one and woodcuts by the other (AUC 117/7). The more they saw of his writing the more keen Allen & Unwin were to become his publisher and they began in 1942 with both Raiders’ dawn (poetry) and The last inspection (short stories).

Alun Lewis (AUC 117/7).

Alun Lewis (AUC 117/7).

In July 1941 Lewis married Gweno Ellis, also a school teacher.  After her husband’s war service moved him, late in 1942, from the home front to India with the prospect of active service in Burma against the Japanese, Gweno played a significant role in seeing her husband’s literary output pass smoothly through the publishing process.

When he became entitled to a few days’ leave in July 1943 Lewis presented himself at the home in the Nilgiri hills of Dr Wallace Aykroyd, Director of the Nutrition Research Laboratories in nearby Coonor, and his wife Freda who offered open house to British military and nursing personnel stationed in the area. Alun found that Dr Aykroyd was away at a Conference on Food and Agriculture in Hot Springs, Virginia but was none the less made welcome by his wife with whom he fell instantly in love. The two continued to meet when circumstances permitted and when they were apart exchanged frequent letters for the rest of that year and into 1944.

Early in 1944 Lewis was posted to the north Burma coast and prepared for action against the Japanese. He wrote his last letter to his publisher on 23 January 1944 with the post script: (AUC  197/6)

“If I should become a casualty, all proceeds from my books will go to my wife … Please send her the proofs: I doubt whether I’ll be here then.”

Alun Lewis (AUC  197/6).

Alun Lewis (AUC 197/6).

On March 5 he was shot in the head with a round from his own revolver; he died six hours later and was buried that day. An immediate court of enquiry concluded that the death had been accidental but it now seems to be widely accepted that it was suicide. Among the reasons for believing that this revised view was correct were that:  Alun had recently had a bout with malaria which had left him prone to depression; he and Freda are reported to have worried that their affair would cause distress to both spouses; his writings from that time suggest a rather desperate state of mind; and the prospect of his first experience of action at the front line conflicted badly with his pacifist inclinations.

Alun Lewis (AUC 117/7).

Alun Lewis (AUC 117/7).

Gweno grieved in the company of Alun’s parents but did not neglect the demands of her late husband’spublishing commitments, starting with Ha! Ha! Among the trumpets: poems in transit  (Allen & Unwin, 1945) which carried a foreword by World War I poet Robert Graves whose advice and encouragement Lewis had enjoyed although the two never actually met. After that she set to on the publication of Alun’s letters to her which became Letters from India (Penmark Press, 1946) followed by In the green tree (Allen & Unwin, 1948) containing short stories, a selection of his letters – mainly to Gweno but including some to his parents – and illustrations by John Petts.

The Aykroyds left India after the war ended and Wallace spent the rest of his working life in various academic posts in England. He wrote a number of books, the last of which was The conquest of famine (Chatto & Windus, 1974). This is another imprint whose archive is held by the university and the file for this title shows that Dr Aykroyd died in 1979 when he and his wife were living together in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Freda lived on to the age of ninety-five and a volume of Alun’s letters to her, which she had prepared for publication during her seventies, was issued the year after her death (A cypress walk: Enitharmon, 2006). Gweno Lewis is still listed as the copyright holder for Alun’s works.

What does a poet need to be successful? It must help to be good at seeking, and being prepared to accept, the advice of the leading poets of the day as Lewis showed he was, not just with Robert Graves but with Herbert Read, Stephen Spender, and others. He also met the challenges of versifying the great subjects of life, death, love and war. Perhaps most lucky of all he had both a widow and a lover keeping his flame alive over so many years.

See our Special Collections website for more information.

Behind the scenes: Volunteering at Special Collections

Today’s post comes from Eleanor Wale, a former volunteer for our library team as well as in MERL. Eleanor’s volunteering stood her in good stead, and she is now the Library Graduate Trainee for Christ’s College, Cambridge.

Labelling Landscape Institute books

Labelling Landscape Institute books

Having been a volunteer at both the University of Reading’s Special Collections and the Museum of English Rural Life, I was fortunate to get a glimpse behind the scenes in heritage and information sectors. While the hands-on nature of being a tour guide at MERL engaged my enthusiasm for history, it was volunteering at Special Collections that appealed to my love of libraries and my passion for books. While volunteering back home at my local public library during my GCSEs and A Levels gave me experience in public libraries, it was learning of Library Graduate Trainee Schemes during a careers session provided by the University that spurred me to seek further library experience in academic or research libraries while studying for my history degree. This was how I began to volunteer at MERL and Special Collections.

I first answered the door once a week to visitors of Special Collections, so that the Reading Room desk remained manned, while transcribing a Longman Publisher’s ledger into an Excel spreadsheet, a task that was worked on by many volunteers. This was a pleasant and useful task – and as I have since discovered, anyone interested in working in libraries must be able to perform this type of task adeptly, without losing either enthusiasm or concentration! As this duty became redundant I was then asked to help with the re-indexing of the library cuttings. These have often been acquired from external sources. Despite not getting through as many as I had wished, re-indexing was a thoroughly enjoyable task. The process of indexing the cuttings under the library, not museum, system not only rationalised and explained the classification system used but also showed me various interesting and amusing clippings.

The last major task I helped with was the labelling of books from the Landscape Institute. Although hours of typing and cutting labels down to size might not be the most interesting task for some people, I personally enjoyed using the Kroy machine and exploring the classification system further; now working with the Library of Congress Classification system I have found that using a non-Dewey system at MERL and Special Collections was immensely useful!

During my final year of my degree I also worked in the University’s main library. Yet, having begun to work in Christ’s College Library Cambridge where I will begin my traineeship in September, it is certainly my volunteering experience at MERL and Special Collections that has confirmed my love of library work. Without a doubt the volunteering I have been fortunate enough to undertake at Special Collections gave me a wonderful insight into the workings of academic libraries, particularly where the collections are unusual and unique. I can only hope my traineeship at Christ’s will be as enjoyable a time as I had at MERL and Special Collections!

Favourite finds: Eric Partridge and his war of words

This post comes from Brian Ryder, one of our volunteers here at Special Collections. Brian’s history with Reading collections is a long one; he used to be one of our project cataloguers and is now working his way through the Routledge & Kegan Paul archive.

From September 1943 until January 1945 A/C [Aircraftman] Eric Partridge was a clerk in the RAF living and working in Wantage Hall, a hall of residence requisitioned from Reading University.

Eric Partridge, lexicographer, in 1971, on a visit to Devon (photo by G88keeper, Wikimedia)

Eric Partridge, lexicographer, in 1971, on a visit to Devon (photo by G88keeper, Wikimedia)

Born in 1894 in New Zealand, Eric moved with his family to Australia in 1907. In 1915 he joined the Australian army and saw active service with the Anzacs in Gallipoli and on the western front. In the 1920s he came to England and taught at a school in Lancashire and the universities of Manchester and London before abandoning teaching to become a ‘man of letters’ and owner of a publishing house with the imprint Scholartis Press. One of its early publications – with the liberal use of asterisks – was Songs and slang of the British soldier which he co-edited with John Brophy using material they had accumulated during their own war service. The publishing house foundered in the depression but by the outbreak of World War II Partridge had established a reputation as a lexicographer and etymologist only for his main publisher – George Routledge – to be taken aback when in September 1940 he enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

On 7 February 1941 he wrote to Cecil Franklin, managing director of Routledge, ‘I now have a commission in the Army Education Corps. … The enclosed pamphlet … concerns a subject dear to me; and it is needed. … If you’ll publish it before the end of March [it will] enable me to realize something on it in the [royalties] cheque you send me in May, for I badly need the money.’ To which Franklin replied, ‘I have read your pamphlet, ‘The teaching of English in His Majesty’s forces’, but I am very sorry that we cannot undertake its publication. We … cannot afford, at the present moment, to put money into … a pamphlet which is bound to be a failure.’

On 23 April 1941 Franklin felt obliged to write to Partridge again about his pamphlet: ‘May I congratulate you on The teaching of English in H.M forces? I presume you saw the leading article in The Times yesterday; and I understand there is an article on it in The Telegraph today. It is quite possible that we may get requests for copies.’ Indeed they did, for a couple of months’ later Routledge’s sales director was writing to Partridge to admit that ‘hardly a day goes by without an enquiry for your [pamphlet]. Have you any spare copies at all?’

This incident made no difference to the intransigence shown by Routledge in responding to Partridge’s suggestions for new books or for the reprinting of his back-list; all were declined, mainly on the grounds that they only had paper – which was rationed – for books they considered more important to the war effort. Almost every one of Partridge’s letters for the rest of the war protested his financial difficulties.

A letter from Partridge to his publishers asking that a new edition of his Dictionary of Cliches be issued

A letter from Partridge to his publishers asking that a new edition of his Dictionary of Cliches be issued

Partridge became a civilian again in January 1942, his reasons for this given to his publisher being health (he had recently told them of an operation for piles) and domestic. But on 31 August of that year he wrote to Franklin to say, ‘Are you perhaps forgetting that I must work for a living? Your rejection of my ideas renders it probable that, in three, or even two weeks’ time I shall be obliged to re-enlist in the Army (as a private) or to enlist in the RAF (ditto).’ War Office bureaucracy ensured that it took until December 1942 for him to be found in the RAF as a clerk, general duties.

During his later service when at Wantage Hall, Reading he would have been well-placed in any free time he had during the working week to check on Routledge’s claims to be unable to obtain paper for his works because the Paper Control Office of the Ministry of Supply was located in the Great Western Hotel near Reading railway station; however, his letters to Routledge contain no mention of his having done so. On leaving Reading, Partridge was to be found working in a Public Relations Office at the Air Ministry in Whitehall where he remained until demob in July 1945.

What good came from Partridge’s time in the forces? What made him enlist? Just one brief sentence in a letter to Routledge may give a clue – ‘My ears are open for R.A.F. slang and colloquialisms.’ In 1948 Secker & Warburg published A dictionary of Forces’ slang 1939-1945, edited, and the air force slang contributed by, Eric Partridge.

The University of Reading’s collections hold a great deal of Partridge’s correspondence. For more information, please see our catalogue or our records of British printing and publishing firms.

Happy birthday Beardsley!

The Peacock Skirt (Salome)

The Peacock Skirt (Salome)

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of Aubrey Beardsley, a favourite artist among staff here. Aubrey Beardsley was born in 1872 and died from tuberculosis in 1898 at the age of only twenty-five. During his short and brilliant career he became notorious for his illustrations in two ‘decadent’ periodicals of the period, The Yellow Book and The Savoy. His designs and illustrations for books such as Le Morte D’arthur, Lysistrata, Salome and Volpone added to his notoriety as the most daring artist of the 1890s.

We’ve covered Beardsley before, in:

Please do take a look and enjoy his absolutely stunning work!

Plate: ‘The Toilet’ – Belinda at her dressing table.

Plate: ‘The Toilet’ – Belinda at her dressing table.


The making of an exhibition: Max Weber

Professor Anna Gruetzner Robins (Department of Art, University of Reading) has been instrumental in building the current exhibition at London’s Ben Uri Gallery on the cubist painter Max Weber. The exhibition, which is on until 5 October, includes paintings and rare books from our collections.

Portrait of Max Weber from Alvin Langdon Coburn's Men of Mark (1913) (Coburn Collection)

Portrait of Max Weber from Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Men of Mark (1913) (Coburn Collection)

The making of Max Weber: An American Cubist in Paris and London 1905–15, currently on at the Ben Uri Gallery in London, took place over several years. The exhibition focuses on a collection of Weber  pictures  left to the University in 1966 by the photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn, who also features. I was unaware of their existence until a few years ago. I knew little about Weber but I remembered that his name cropped up in books I had read about the Bloomsbury Group, and  I could see that the pictures were of good quality. After reading Coburn’s letters to Weber, I realised that they represented some of Weber’s best early work, and that they had a great historic value for British Modernism. Many of them were in a 1913 exhibition organised by the critic and painter Roger Fry, and Coburn subsequently made his Hammersmith photographic studio a showcase for the entire collection. 

I  decided to plan an exhibition which would tell the story of the collection, and I approached Sarah MacDougall , the Eva Frankfurther Research and Curatorial Fellow for the Study of Émigré Artists and Head of Collections  at Ben Uri. Sarah is a Reading graduate  and well known for her work on Mark Gertler and other British Modernists. Sarah came to see the collection with David Glasser, the Director of the Gallery. David was a great fan of Weber, who is very well known in America where his work is in all the major museum collections.

Weber's the Dancers

Max Weber, The Dancers (1912). Pastel and chalk. University of Reading Art Collection

We decided to make the exhibition in three sections: 1) the formative years Weber spent in Paris, where he persuaded Matisse to set up a teaching studio and got to know Henri Rousseau and Picasso; 2) Weber’s friendship with Coburn; 3) Fry’s 1913 First Grafton Group Show. To do this we needed to borrow pictures from America for the first section, and also comparative works by  British artists that had been shown alongside the 11 Webers in Fry’s show. The last task was problematic because  while Fry identified the exhibits by Weber and Kandinsky, he chose not to indicate which picture was by which British artist, all of whom were nameless in the catalogue. It was only by reading reviews of Fry’s show that I identified some of the British works. We borrowed them from the Ashmolean, the Courtauld Galleries, the Government Art Collection, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum and several private collectors. The exhibition and accompanying book also include photographs taken by Alvin Langdon Coburn of Weber, his contemporaries and his art from the University of Reading Special Collections.

The book that accompanies the exhibition  makes a lasting contribution to Weber scholarship. My essay explains the exhibition history of  the University of Reading Webers, but with so many stories to tell we decided to bring in a team of international art experts including Weber scholar Dr Percy North, Dr Nancy Ireson, who researched Weber and Paris, Coburn expert Pamela Roberts and Lionel Kelly, who the professor responsible for the paintings coming to the University.

Max Weber's Cubist Poems (1914) (Elkin Matthew Collection)

Max Weber’s Cubist Poems (1914) (Elkin Matthews Collection)

The day finally came when we stood in Ben Uri watching large crates of pictures from as far away as New York being unpacked and hung by a technical team trained to place pictures safely on the wall. Sarah and I had worked out where we wanted to place the pictures and the accompanying explanatory texts  beforehand. Everyone was delighted with the installation. The exhibition looks superb, and the 250 people who attended the private view seemed to agree. I urge you to go and see it.

Max Weber: An American Cubist in Paris and London 1905–1915
Ben Uri Gallery
108a Boundary Road , off Abbey Road, NW8 ORH
Tuesday–Friday 10am–5.30pm; Sunday 12 noon–4pm

The accompanying book, Max Weber: An American Cubist in Paris and London 1905–1915, is available for sale in the gallery, and is distributed by Lund Humphries.