A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXIII INSTITUTIONS AFFECTING THE SPREAD
OF ART

IN tracing the progress of the arts, we have noted the formation of various societies for their promotion; both by the King, by the artists themselves, and by amateurs and patrons of art. Two other institutions connected with the spread of art yet demand notice at our hands.

When the long period of almost universal war had ended, and a general peace had restored the finances of our country and increased the wealth of individuals, our countrymen, always the most prone to travel, resorted in great numbers to the Continent. In all the great cities of Europe they found, not only museums of works of art, but picture galleries containing the easel pictures of the great masters, freely opened for the instruction of their artists, and the use and pleasure of the public. Returning, they noted that our artists, our public, had no such advantages, and they the less wondered that our country enjoyed no reputation on the Continent for the talent of its artists, or the taste of its manufactures. The public taste wanted cultivating to appreciate works of higher art and nobler aim, and to create a desire for manufactures decorated with less pretence and more refinement. This feeling, which arose among the more travelled and educated, rapidly spread through all classes. Public opinion, gradually awakened, influenced the Government of that day, and when, on the death of John Julius Angerstein, his collection was for sale, the opportunity was taken, by its purchase in 1824, to begin a National Gallery of Pictures.

The Angerstein collection contained many very choice works, and since it became the property of the nation, it has been gradually added to by gift and by purchase; it has been of great benefit to art, a source of great instruction to the public, and the pictures, especially by masters of the Italian school, have been increased to form a collection of which the nation may be justly proud. For many years British art found no real place in the collection. Mr. Wornum tells us in his catalogue that 'up to the year 1847, nearly a quarter of a century after its foundation, the National Gallery contained only forty-one pictures of the British school,' mostly the irregular gifts of individuals.

-451-

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