50 years in the making: the fruits of Harold Wright's legacy

By Louise Box, PhD candidate in Art History

Harold Wright (1885–1961) was a collector and print scholar who specialised in Old Master and Modern prints. During his fifty year career with London art dealers P.&.D Colnaghi, Wright played a key role in the development of significant international print collections. He is also remembered for his mentorship of curators and printmakers.

After his death, funds from the sale of Wright's personal print collection, and donations from his widow, Lily Isobel Holmes, supported the establishment of two scholarships at the University of Melbourne: one in his honour, and the other to honour Holmes' parents. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the scholarships.

The Harold Wright and The Sarah and William Holmes Scholarships allow recipients to undertake an intensive study of prints in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. Mrs Holmes intended that the scholarships were not linked to a specific project or field of study. Instead, scholars were encouraged to explore the breadth of one of the world's great print collections. Last year I was honoured to spend six months at the British Museum fulfilling her vision.

The British Museum houses more than three million prints and 50,000 drawings. With the support and encouragement of curatorial staff, I focused on surveying as many styles, periods, techniques, and genres as possible. It was an incredible privilege to have 'open access' to collection objects and to view precious artworks that are rarely loaned or exhibited. The freedom to explore the collection at my own pace meant each day offered exciting new discoveries and research directions.

Another benefit of research in the Prints and Drawings Study Room was the ability to view artworks alongside important archival materials from the Department’s extensive library, to trace the history of print scholarship and print collecting.

Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum

I gained invaluable new knowledge of prints and drawings, but equally valued was the opportunity to be part of a scholarly community. I was able to work alongside the British Museum's leading print curators, and to meet visiting international experts. The wealth of collections, libraries, exhibitions, and events 'on the doorstep' of the British Museum, meant I was able to fully immerse myself in London's cultural life.

The Harold Wright and The Sarah and William Holmes Scholarships have a reputation for being 'life and career changing' for participants, and this was certainly my experience. During my part-time Master of Art Curatorship, print scholar and philanthropist Dr Colin Holden (1951–2016) nurtured my growing interest in prints, and encouraged me to apply for the scholarships.

Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum

Three years ago, I 'followed my dream' and left a successful corporate career to pursue full-time doctoral studies centred on prints. My six inspirational months as The Harold Wright and The Sarah and Williams Holmes Scholar at the British Museum in 2018 confirmed (and affirmed) my decision to pursue an academic and curatorial career specialising in print-related research, curating and teaching.

Through the legacy of Harold Wright and the vision and generosity of Lily Isobel Holmes, The Harold Wright and The Sarah and William Holmes Scholarships have had a profound impact on print scholars in Australia and New Zealand for fifty years. I am grateful to have experienced this incredible opportunity.

The Harold Wright Scholarship and The Sarah and William Holmes Scholarship are made possible by the generous bequest of the late Lily Isobel Wright in 1965. Now worth approximately $20,000 per year, the scholarships give recipients the opportunity to carry out intensive print studies at the British Museum for a period of 3–12 months.

Application for 2019 are now open for graduates of Australian and New Zealand universities.

For more information please visit the Harold Wright Scholarship and Sarah & William Holmes Scholarship web page.

Harold Wright Scholarship and Sarah & William Holmes Scholarship