British art museums developed along substantially different lines than those in Continental Europe. Rather than create a centrally supported or designed system of cultural provision, the British Parliament passed permissive legislation in the middle of the nineteenth century that allowed localities to choose to establish public libraries and museums. Cities thus founded art museums independently, at the instigation of committed local reformers and benefactors, while most national institutions proceeded by Parliamentary acts rather than through the nationalization of royal collections. A generation later, inspired by the works of John Ruskin and the new aesthetic of Pre-Raphaelitism, many men (and some women) pushed their cities to create art museums not primarily as a means to educate the public about art history, but to counteract the toxic effects of the moral and physical ugliness of industrial capitalism, and of industrial cities in particular. The resulting institutions formed a new kind of domesticated public space, bringing together ideas about the middle-class home as a refuge and about beauty as a means of “improving” the working classes. However, John Ruskin himself often criticized these efforts as too accommodating of industrial society.
This entry connects the Spanish American independence movements of the 1820s to the emergence of new pathways of trans-Atlantic cultural exchange. It shows that Britain’s political recognition of the new republics opened a two-way channel in which things, commodities, persons, and ideas flowed back and forth, affecting culture and politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Focusing particularly on Britain’s relations with Mexico, this entry examines key moments in the immediate British response to Spanish American independence.
The revolutionary year of 1848 has been seen as producing little effect on art in Britain. However, the turn to visual culture, which considers a broad spectrum of material including prints, illustrated periodicals, advertisements and other popular and ephemeral forms of visual production, allows this assumption to be rethought. By decentralizing the notion of an originary moment of formal innovation among a select group of avant-garde painters, as has been emphasized with regard to Paris, and turning to British visual culture, the effects of revolution become diffuse and plural. As a result, chronologies need to be rethought, and the revolutions of 1848 and the Great Exhibition of the Work of Industry of All Nations of 1851 reconnected.
The Crystal Palace at Sydenham represents a number of key paradigms in Victorian culture: the emphasis upon visuality as a means of acquiring and conveying knowledge, the use of display as a vehicle of both education and entertainment, the desire to construct unifying historical narratives, and the emphasis upon rational recreation.