This week we studied on our course English art in the eighteenth century and I watched a Sky Arts programme on Collectors.
Our tutor is always proficient in putting art in context.
In studying English 18th century art she put it in its historical context of the voyages of discovery of Captain Cook.
As these were financed by the slave trader Joseph Banks they would nowadays attract widespread disapproval of colonialism but at the time generated huge interest one could only liken in our times to lunar exploration.
We also studied the inception of the Royal Academy in 1768 and its first President Joshua Reynolds.
France already had an Academy.
The Royal Academy charged a shilling to view though the French equivalent was free.
The Royal Academy came to exercise a massive albeit traditional grip on English art which still exists today.
Reynolds born in Plymouth the son of a clergyman though undoubtedly a talented artist was also a commercial one realising the quickest route to fame and fortune was portraiture.
Starting with the Grand Tour and up to Captain Cook’s three voyages of discovery there was a lively curiosity in cultural life beyond our shores.
Nowadays this is viewed differently but at the time bringing objets d’art from overseas stimulated a massive interest and appeal.
Artists Sydney Parkinson and William Hodges accompanied Cook on these voyages
London was the global epicentre of art.
The second President of the Royal Academy was an American artist Benjamin West.
For ambitious American artists the trajectory was first Rome to study classic antiquity then London. Historical depictions of battles like General Wolfe storming Quebec’s Heights were also of appeal.
There were no art galleries as such and a shilling was judged expensive so opportunities for the general viewing public were rare.
Collections were the thing.
The collector features in a new series on Sky Arts.
It began with David Khalili a rich Syrian collector of Islamic texts and art.
I have to say these were only of marginal interest to me but the mind set of the Collector does fascinate me.
Khalili was at great pains to point out that he does not collect as an investment.
It’s true most collectors I know are reluctant to sell.
A well-known auction house was often engaged to dispose of a collection when the Collector passed on or if the family wanted to sell a piece but increasingly international art dealing houses have assumed this role.