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In What Ways Did Art Become More Widely Accessible in England in the Eighteenth Century?

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In What Ways Did Art Become More Widely Accessible in England in the Eighteenth Century? In this day and age we take public art displays for granted; every town has its own small gallery and each city has at least one building for the presentation of art works. However, there were no real public art exhibitions until more modern times, with the exception, perhaps, of in Ancient times when the Greeks and Romans would display artefacts and paintings looted from other countries, and decorated the exterior of their buildings with statues. In Europe they were more forthcoming in presenting exhibitions. From the sixteenth century an annual public exhibition of art was held in the Pantheon and in other churches in Italy, although this was designed more to honour the saints than to display art. "In France, Napoleon's plunder of works of art was parade through the streets of Paris in a revival of ancient roman triumph"1. Also in France the French Academy2, exhibited artists' work in order to familiarise French people with French art as a way of allowing the state to manipulate public taste. In Britain however public art display is a more recent idea. In the Medieval period art tended to be commissioned and therefore was rarely displayed, it was also only the wealthy who could afford to buy paintings. ...read more.


Several contemporary English artists decorated the walls of the hospital with their works, including Sir Joshua Reynolds12, Thomas Gainsborough13 and Francis Hayman14. The paintings by Hogarth and others for the Foundling Hospital after 1740 had by 1760 begun to draw a crowd of spectators on a daily basis. "The Foundling had shown artists that it was possible to construct a public sphere united by the bonds of sympathy and benevolence."15 However due to the hospital's charitable quality, exposure of the art was limited; unlike the Vauxhall Gardens, which was first and foremost a centre for public entertainment. Vauxhall Gardens (formerly New Spring Gardens) were "the largest and most spectacular of the capital's commercial pleasure grounds"16, which became a key element of London evening social life. The gardens were immortalised by several artists in prints or paintings, for example Vauxhall Gardens, the Grand Walk by Antonio Canaletto17, Vauxhall Gardens by Samuel Wale18 and Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson19. The gardens also inspired further artworks; the clientele were satirized in the work of Thomas Rowlandson. Admittance to the gardens was charged at one shilling20 thus this garden and the treasures within were restricted to those who could afford it. William Hogarth provided artistic guidance for a Ridotto al' fresco when Tyers updated and relaunched the gardens in June 173221. ...read more.


Furthermore, the popularity of the RA's exhibitions promoted a more widespread opening of private collections in the provinces. By 1770 the commercial exhibition had become an important element of modern artistic life. Those who hadn't the means to buy a painting could still appreciate the oeuvre that was on display, and perhaps purchase an engraving of a favourite piece. In England, prior to the establishment of the Royal Academy in 1768, exhibitions were largely commercial, staged by dealers and auctioneers32. The eighteenth century was a key transitional period bringing art closer to the public with the introduction of public exhibitions of art. One of the main issues was charging to get into some of the exhibitions which made it less accessible to the lower classes. By the end of the eighteenth century the exhibitions moved away from being so commercially based with a view to sell the art to all. Additionally artists began to experiment with subject matter; art which was more related to the lower classes began to emerge notably in Hogarth's conversation pieces. Through the increased number of public exhibitions, availability of cheaper engravings of paintings and new choices of subject which made it easier for the lower classes to relate to, art became more physically and emotionally accessible to the general public. ...read more.

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