The paintings, mainly portraits, now owned by the College of Optometrists originated as part of the British Optical Association Museum, the oldest specialist optical heritage collection in the world. The museum collection was founded in 1901 but the first painting does not seem to have been acquired before the late 1920s, followed by a series of rapid acquisitions given more impetus as a result of the British Optical Association’s move to new premises in 1934. There have been occasional additions through both purchase and gift in more recent years. Although several of the paintings are historic copies and only a few can be attributed firmly to named artists, this matters little as the museum’s collecting rationale has always been the subject matter: the paintings show people wearing or holding spectacles or other optical devices such as quizzing glasses and telescopes. A few are of important figures in the history of optics including Saint Jerome, patron saint of spectacle makers and Saint Lucy, patron saint of sufferers from eye disease. The emphasis on Dutch/Flemish art reflects the greater propensity of artists from that region to depict optical devices. The collection was completely restored following the College’s move to its current headquarters in 1997.
41–42 Craven Street, London, Greater London WC2N 5NG England
020 7766 4353
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