Sektion 4: Space – Museum – Gender. Materielle und immaterielle Manifestationen von (Kunst-)Sammlerinnen (1750–2024)
Arlene Leis, Fiesole

Past, Present, Future: Sarah Sophia Banks (1744–1818) and Spaces of Collecting

This paper will focus on various aspects of the collection and collecting practices of Sarah Sophia Banks (1744–1818). During her life, she accumulated over 20.000 articles of print culture including trade cards, visiting tickets, newspaper clippings, fashion plates, ballads, satirical prints, admission tickets, and other ephemeral items related to ephemeral events. In addition to paper culture, she was a numismatic collector with over 8.000 coins and medals. Today her paper, coins and medals are divided between London’s British Museum, British Library and Royal mint, with the bulk of the collection stored at the British Museum. The fascinating archive she constructed over her life, provides valuable insight into a specific era.

Sarah Sophia’s and her brother’s lives were intertwined, and their collecting interests often overlapped. Born eighteen months after her brother, Sir Joseph Banks – man of science, botanist on the first Cook voyage, collector of natural history, and President of the Royal Society – Sarah Sophia later moved in with her brother and his wife Dorothea shortly after the two married in the 1780s. The three lived together for the rest of their lives at their home and scientific hub, 32 Soho Square. Following Sarah Sophia's death, her brother donated part of her coin collection to the Royal Mint, and Dorothea donated the paper collections and the rest of the bulk of her coins to the British Museum. The collection Sarah Sophia assembled at 32 Soho Square reveals the inseparable relationship between art and science in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Often considered as working in her brother's shadow, scholars are beginning to challenge this idea. This paper discusses Sarah Sophia Banks as a collector, how her collection was organized and the social spaces and contexts that facilitated her collecting practices. Beginning with its arrangement at 32 Soho Square, it will follow the collection’s path to its transfer to the museum following Sarah Sophia’s death. It will consider some of the more recent challenges the museum faces when integrating such a massive collection into its archives. The paper will also examine the museum’s online catalogue and consider how the collection might be reorganized in digital spaces.

Kurzbiografie Arlene Leis
2009–2013PhD at the University of York (“Sarah Sophia Banks: Femininity, Sociability and the Practice of Collecting in Late Georgian England”)
2015–2018Visiting Lecturer at Richmond the University in London
PresentVisiting Scholar at the European University Institute (2023–2024 Franklin Grant: American Philosophical Society)
Forschungs- bzw. Arbeitsschwerpunkte Women and collecting; art and science; transcultural exchanges; fashion & dress
  • Displaying Art and Fashion: Ladies’ Pocket-Book Imagery in the Paper Collections of Sarah Sophia Banks, in: Konsthistorisk tidskrift / Journal of Art History 22 (2013), p. 252–271.
  • Cutting, Arranging, and Pasting: Sarah Sophia Banks as Collector, in: Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9/1 (2014), p. 127–140.
  • (Ed. with K. Wills) Women and the Art and Science of Collecting in Eighteenth-Century Europe, New York/London 2020.
  • Women, Collecting, and Cultures Beyond Europe, New York/London 2022.