New lamps for old : the activities of Sir Rex De Charembac Nan Kivell as a collector and dealer of fine art
Sir Rex Nan Kivell (1898-1977) was a New Zealand-born art dealer and collector, who was managing director of the Redfern Gallery in London's Mayfair from 1931 to 1965. His birth was illegitimate and the father is not known. His name was registered as Reginald Nankivell. He was brought up by his grandparents, a fisherman and a domestic servant of New Brighton. He was educated at New Brighton School and subsequently worked as a trainee bookbinder at AC. Andrews Ltd in Christchurch. In 1916 he joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, arriving in England in 1917. He was invalided out of the trenches in France with influenza and listed as 'sick' for the remainder of the war. Around 1918 he affected the name Rex de Charembac Nan Kivell. Following his discharge he formed a friendship with a spinster in Wiltshire, Fanny Hulbert, who made him her 'adopted son' and heir. In 1925 he joined the staff of the Redfern Gallery, an art gallery specialising in works by staff and students of the major London art schools. He also worked as a servant to the Assize Court Circuit. He began to collect historical material relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. In 1930 he gifted a collection of Bronze Age artefacts to the Devizes Museum. Nan Kivell steered the Redfern Gallery successfully through the aftermath of the stock market crash. His personal wealth increased through the 1930s due to an inheritance from Hulbert and his efforts as a dealer. Between 1938 and 1946 he became the leading private collector of Australian and Pacific historical material in London, investing the profits from his contemporary art dealing into his 'Australasian' collection. In 1946 he began negotiating the transfer of this collection to the Commonwealth National Library in Canberra. Following protracted negotiations the Australian Commonwealth purchased the collection in 1959 for £70,000. He gifted a second collection to the National Library of Australia, and was awarded a CBE, in 1966. During the Second World War Nan Kivell cemented the Redfern Gallery's position by continuing to trade through the Blitz, making the gallery a focal point for British patriotism in the visual arts. After the war Nan Kivell was recognised as one of London's leading dealers. As prices soared for modem paintings the gallery's profits increased. Nan Kivell retired around 1965, passing the managing role to Harry Tatlock Miller. He spent the last twelve years of his life at his house 'El Farah' in Tangier, Morocco, working on his grandiose book Portraits of the Famous and Infamous (London, 1970). He died in June 1977, leaving a substantial personal estate. The estate sold an important collection of twentieth-century British printmaking in October 1977. Nan Kivell's obsession with honours may have derived from his illegitimate birth and anxiety about social status. In the 1960s he affected the Danish Order of Dannebrog, almost certainly spuriously. He was knighted for services to the arts in 1977, on the recommendation of the Australian Government, ending a long personal quest for this honour.
Advisor: Stupples, Peter; Collins, Roger
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Art history
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis