Museums and Modernity: Art Galleries and the Making of Modern Culture

By Nick Prior | Go to book overview

Notes
1
On the habitus see Chapter 2, note 20. Some core features are worth re-emphasising, however. 1) Schemes of perception, the ability to classify, decode or understand practices and texts are acquired or learnt. Cumulative exposure to particular social conditions, formal/ informal education, for instance, instils in the individual a matrix of dispositions and strategies which generate behaviours and reactions to familiar ‘events’. 2) These competences are so bound up with the conditions in which they are acquired that they lay outside the apprehension of the actor. Behaviour appears to take the form of objectively guided ends – ‘agents to some extent fall into the practice that agents0 agents1’ (Bourdieu, 1990a: 90). 3) Habitus is essentially a corporeal quality in that it exists in and through the bodily practices of individuals – ways of talking, dressing, holding oneself, moving, looking.
2
Including some rather pungent smells! Just before the gallery opened in 1859 complaints were made of ‘unwelcome exhalations … in the elevated district at the head of the Mound, where of all places, one might least expect to suffer from defective drainage’ (Edinburgh Evening Courant, Tuesday 1 March 1859, my emphasis).
3
From the 1810s to the 1830s private feuars had keys to the nurseries in Prince's Street Gardens and railway proposals were met with strong opposition from proprietors (including Lord Meadowbank of the Board of Trustees). By 1844, however, rail interests had gained sway and agreement was reached to extend the railway to Waverley.
4
The position of the Gallery, sandwiched between Playfair's other buildings, gives an added sense of seclusion. To an extent, the Royal Institution building, which directly faced the busy Prince's Street, cushioned the vagaries of commerce from the National Gallery. As the former was the home of the Board of Trustees, itself a semi-commercial body, this would not have posed such a problem.
5
By virtue of its simplicity and stringency classical also suited the strong current of Calvinism which ran through Edinburgh society, particularly in its middle-class philanthropic guise. Without espousing programmatic doctrines, committees, trustees and civic sponsors naturally endorsed classical at a time when superabundance was dealt with caution. As Nenadic (1994) has argued, the evangelical backlash against luxury and conspicuous consumption in the wake of the Napoleonic wars and economic downturn had all sorts of ramifications for Scottish material culture. The anxieties wrought by increased bankruptcies and unemployment, coupled with the Protestant distrust of fancy and sensuous culture in the 1820s and 1830s, tempered the acceptability of luxurious furnishings and clothes. The ensuing approval of a ‘new restraint’ in cultural display – a form of ‘conspicuous parsimony’ – marked itself in the pastoral and paternal novels of the time. The new restraint also chiselled itself into the Edinburgh skyline in the form of puritanically stringent classical buildings with very little in the way of ornamentation for relief.
6
Unless one considers a Foucauldian reversal where it was the art works rather than the public that were confined and surveyed.
7
Next door in the Royal Scottish Academy suite of rooms, things appeared even more crowded. At times, eight hundred and fifty pictures hung in virtually the same available space as the National Gallery, although temporary exhibitions such as the Royal Scottish Academy's attracted smaller pictures (the walls of middle-class town houses, where many of the pictures ended up, could probably not have taken large canvases).
8
The room's relative isolation also made it less visible to the curators. In the Board's view, the room was therefore at greater risk from the ‘careless or mischievous visitor’ and it was logical to dispose less valuable works here (NG 6/7/28).

-207-

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