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Against All Risks: Insuring Art in the Nineteenth Century

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The Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

London

WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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A Fellows Lunch talk given by Avigail Moss titled 'Against All Risks: Insuring Art in the Nineteenth Century'.

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In the late nineteenth century, art institutions, collectors, and artists deployed new financial service technologies—art insurance—to offset risks to traveling artworks and loan exhibitions. Actors dispensed with the faith in Providence that so marked earlier approaches to risk. But in what ways did artworks and artifacts test underwriters’ capacities in the nineteenth century? How did insurance industries create and mobilize interpretive methods for the enumeration and valuation of artworks?

To answer these questions, this presentation traces the advent and activities of The Fine Art & General Insurance Company, Ltd., the earliest self-styled art insurer. Established in London in 1890 by art dealer, William Agnew, The Fine Art’s directors were arts professionals as well as underwriters, and they insured major collections like the Chantrey Bequest, art museums like the South Kensington Museum, and international exhibitions like the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition (1893). With branches in Alexandria, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris, and with agents stationed everywhere from Scandinavia to South America, the company was a truly international proxy on the art world’s stage. As I will show, this company’s early efforts helped inaugurate what would become a robust cultural risk-management sector, as evinced by international companies like AXA Art Insurance, and indemnity schemes run by the UK Arts Council.

The Fellows Lunch talks are given by recipients of Paul Mellon Centre Fellowships. Lunch is provided and all are welcome but please book a ticket in advance.

Speaker Bio

Avigail Moss is a Ph.D. Candidate in art history at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Her dissertation, "Actuarial Imaginaries of Art and Empire, 1800–1914" explores how risk, speculation, and insurance impacted art’s production and reception over the nineteenth century. Alongside her doctoral research, she is convening a related international conference with Matthew Hunter, “Art and the Actuarial Imagination,” at the Huntington Library in spring 2020.

Previous work includes a conference and co-edited volume on painting after Conceptual Art, Painting – The Implicit Horizon (with Kerstin Stakemeier, Jan van Eyck Academie, 2012). She has also produced essays and presentations for contemporary art institutions in Europe and North America, and has published exhibition reviews in CAA.online and Texte zur Kunst. Her work has been supported by Yale University, the Dedalus Foundation, the Zentrum Paul Klee, the Jan van Eyck Academie, the USC Visual Studies Research Institute, and the USC Graduate School.

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The Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

London

WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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