The Finbergs

Alexander Joseph Finberg

A. J. Finberg was the son of Alexander Abraham Finberg, compositor, and his wife, Susanna Wanstall. Educated at the City of London College and at King's College, London, he went on to study painting in Paris. He worked as an illustrator for The Graphic and the Illustrated London News, and became an art critic for several papers, including the Manchester Guardian and the Saturday Review. In 1905, he was commissioned by the trustees of The National Gallery to complete the arrangement of the sketches and watercolours in the Turner Bequest begun by John Ruskin in the 1850s. He rediscovered many Turner canvases and after four years of work published a Complete Inventory of the Drawings of the Turner Bequest in two volumes in 1909. Finberg and others founded the Walpole Society in 1911 ‘to provide for the publication of materials for the study of the history of British art’ in an annual volume. Views of England and Wales contains Finberg’s painting of Margate in Kent from c. 1900 and a view near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London painted in 1896.[1]

Joscelyne Finberg and Herbert Patrick Reginald Finberg

A. J. Finberg was the father of Herbert Patrick Reginald Finberg (1900–1974), a publisher and historian. A career in publishing, during which time he set up his own press, the Alcuin, in a barn in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, was followed by appointment as Head of the Department for English Local History, first as Reader, and then as Professor, in 1952 until his retirement in 1965. Herbert was married to Joscelyne Finberg (née Payne) in 1933. Unfortunately, there is not much information on Jocelyne, but Maurice Warwick Beresford’s chapter called ‘Herbert Finberg: An Appreciation’ contains some useful material that sheds a small amount of light on her three pencil drawings.[2]

Joscelyne and Herbert developed an interest in the genealogy of her family and Herbert’s paper on the Gostwicks of Willington (Bedfordshire), written in 1940, was published in 1956.[3] Research took Herbert to the Record Office of the Bedford estate where he encountered the documents of the dukes’ Tavistock Abbey properties. Holidays were taken in Devon and Tavistock Abbey was published in 1951.[4]

Joscelyne’s three sketches in Views of England and Wales are of the sixteenth century Willington Dovecote in Bedfordshire, the Fitz monument in the church of St Eustachius in Devon and the Tavistock Canal Tunnel in Devon, both of the latter drawn in 1945. According to Beresford, Jocelyne drove Herbert around on their explorations and the subjects of the sketches mirror the places they visited. Therefore, it is likely that Joscelyne made these three drawings on some of hers and her husband’s research trips to Bedfordshire and Devon.

[1] Herrmann, L., 'Finberg, Alexander Joseph', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography <> [accessed 10 March 2023].

[2] Beresford, M. W., ‘Herbert Finberg: An Appreciation’, in Thirsk, J. (ed.), Land, Church, and People: Essays presented to Professor H. P. R. Finberg (Reading: Museum of English Rural Life, for the British Agricultural History Society, 1970), pp. vii-xii.

[3] Finberg, H. P. R., ‘The Gostwicks of Willington’, The Publications of the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society XXXVI (1956), pp. 46-138.

[4] Finberg, H. P. R., Tavistock Abbey: A Study in the Social and Economic History of Devon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951).