Francis Haskell (1928–2000) was one of the most highly regarded art historians of the second half of the 20th century. A student of Pevsner, he was professor of art history at Oxford from 1967 until his retirement in 1995, during which time he pioneered an approach to art through social history that led him to the study of patronage and collecting, and therefore, almost inevitably, to the story of the creation, dispersal and restoration of King Charles I’s art collection. In 1994 he was invited to give the inaugural Paul Mellon Lectures, delivering six talks on the subject of Charles’s collection, which he regarded as ‘one of the most important movements in the history of European taste and collecting as a whole’. For scholars, like myself, who have also written about the collection, Haskell’s lectures attained mythic status, and have only now been published posthumously as The King’s Pictures, a lavishly illustrated book with a foreword by Nicholas Penny, one of Haskell’s collaborators and the current director of the National Gallery.
The story of what happened to the collection is truly remarkable and represents one of the great historical collisions of art and politics. From the early 1620s the young Charles, first as a prince and then as king, acquired one of the finest art collections England has ever seen. Dispatching