Going east

Lasic, Barbara
July 2014
Journal of the History of Collections;Jul2014, Vol. 26 Issue 2, p249
Academic Journal
The nineteenth century witnessed a dramatic expansion of the exhibitionary field, during which private art collections became increasingly removed from their socially exclusive exhibitionary settings to be made available for public scrutiny. The South Kensington Museum was a key agent in the promotion of temporary displays of patrician collections and, between 1852 and 1880, the institution staged twenty-two exhibitions of privately owned works of art. Avidly acquired by British collectors, eighteenth-century French decorative arts occupied a prominent place in those exhibitions, prompting a French writer to comment that ‘les Anglais . . . depuis soixante ans viennent chez nous faire des rafles [et les expositions] de Kensington [en] contiennent les incroyables resultats’. The display of French decorative arts at South Kensington culminated in 1872 when Sir Richard Wallace, heir to the 4th Marquess of Hertford’s collection and fortune, agreed to lend his collection to the museum’s outstation in Bethnal Green for three years. This article will locate the public display of the Hertford–Wallace collection within the context of the contemporary discourse on the didactic mission of art and the perceived supremacy of French goods. It will examine the taxonomies and display strategies prevalent at Bethnal Green, and problematize the contemporary responses to Richard Wallace’s loan.


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