The William Keighley Collection

William KeighleyWhen the Metropolitan Museum of Art decided in 2013 that it would rationalize its image library, amongst the collections to be de-accessioned was The William Keighley Collection. This collection of approximately 40,000 color slides of art and architecture had been given to the museum at various stages beginning in 1955 when Mr. Keighley first met George Forsyth (then curator in the Department of Medieval Art in the museum). The collection stopped being added to in 1977 when ill health ended Mr. Keighley's photographic campaigns.

William Keighley (1889-1984) is best known as a Hollywood film director who was responsible for such well known films as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) (co-director), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) and The Street with No Name (1948) see William Keighley.

It was his retirement to Paris in 1953 that allowed him to develop his interest in art. He visited many French sites ranging from chateaus to castles to museums and churches where he recorded in minute detail as many features as was possible using 35mm color slides. These were used initially to support his lectures on art which were first given in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Throughout his life he lead various photographic campaigns throughout France and then into other countries extending from Asia Minor (Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Rhodes, Cyprus) to Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, England and the US. His main love was clearly France which he covered in minute detail starting in 1954 and ending in 1974 (see list of his campaigns and dates at the end of this introduction). He used various themes such as The Pilgrimage Roads of Santiago de Compostela or Towards the Holy Land or English Cathedrals and Castles to structure his campaigns and also his lectures. His visit to New York documented the architecture of the city as well as extensive campaigns in the city’s museums including the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art etc. This produced his series “French Art in New York”.

William Keighley wk.009282.jpgNot only were the slides given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art but also all of Mr. Keighley’s extensive notes and bibliographic holdings. The slides were beautifully documented and it is this data that is given in the Index database. The four specially designed slide cabinets were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Mr. Keighley upon his move back to New York in 1978. The lectures (in paper and on tape) and notes accompanying these slides are all available for researchers in the Index of Christian Art in Princeton University.

The slides provide an unrivalled coverage of art of all periods and styles ranging from the prehistoric monuments in Brittany to a significant coverage of the Toulouse Lautrec Museum in Albi-to select just two sites. He had a particular weakness for the Neo-Classical and the architecture of that period fascinated him. There are countless details of doorways and windows of the seventeen and eighteenth centuries. There is also a significant coverage of the medieval period which he clearly was interested in and they cover every medium from ivories to architecture to manuscripts. Not only was he able to cover public works but he also had access into museums and private collections and these record many works that are now inaccessible.

His eye as a film director certainly assisted him in structuring photographic campaigns and one has simply to look at the coverage of Mont St. Michel for example to see how extensive his work was. For this site he had aerial shots taken, all of which are beautifully framed.

William Keighley wk.000085.jpgThe copyright and ownership of the slides was transferred to the Index in 2013. For an archive that is over fifty years old the slides are in remarkably good condition and are currently being scanned for conservation purposes.

As part of its campaign to make these works available to general scholarship the Index is cataloguing them using a short format record consisting of a limited number of fields-including Country, Site, Date, Set Number, Subject matter and Notes. Nearly all of the data is taken from Mr. Keighley’s notes. Low resolution files are available on the website but larger format, publishable files are available to interested scholars upon request.

The collection is currently being catalogued and this database is being added to on a nightly basis. It is hoped that the collection will be finished before December 2014.

The Index would like to acknowledge the assistance of Ken Scoehner, Cristina Del Valle and James Moske, Metropolitan Museum of Art for donating the Keighley Collection to the Index. The software for this database was written by Jon Niola and our thanks go to him.

Colum Hourihane
Director, Index of Christian Art
March 2014

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