Its Own Natural Qualities
'I AM SURE that the people of England are likely to be better patrons of art than the English aristocracy ever were, and that the aristocracy have been tried and didn't patronize it.' So the novelist Thackeray observed. In Victorian times, aristocrats were not the friends of genius, as once they had been. Where one citizen had read a century before, now a hundred read and thought. 'The poet and artist is called upon to appeal to the few no longer. His profit and fame are with the many.'
Thackeray was being optimistic. Although the appreciation of art was slowly becoming more widespread, a national Education Act was not passed until 1870. Britain lagged behind the rest of Europe in teaching its children. But the Great Exhibition did set an example, which was taken up in the shires. The pioneer was the Bath and West of England Society. In its show at Barnstaple in 1853, an Arts and Manufactures Department was included. The Department of Science and Art in South Kensington sent down pieces of porcelain and pottery, majolica and faïence, which the rural audience had never seen. The show also displayed a collection of drawings by Turner; some of his relatives still lived in Barnstaple and were artisans rather than artists. In later years, the Bath and West Show presented exhibitions of Holman Hunt and William Frith and Joshua Reynolds. Crowds of country people, the Show's journal reported, 'witnessed perhaps for the first time in their lives those grand works of English art of which this country is so justly proud'.
The Bath and West Show also mounted exhibitions of 'industrial art'. The objects were carefully selected; the functional was held to