Artists, patrons and the power of association : the emergence of a bourgeois artistic field in Edinburgh, c.1775-c.1840
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The period 1775 - 1840 witnessed a dramatic transformation in the size and complexity of the Edinburgh art world, with the rituals associated with fine art consumption emerging from the closed circles of the elite connoisseur and taking on new meanings in the more open and contested spaces of the urban public sphere. Expanding regimes of artistic exchange and consumption accelerated rapidly during the course of the 1820s, as the city's fine arts became more deeply embedded in British and Continental markets. For a growing audience of wealthy professional bourgeoisie and lesser gentry, the ownership of painting became the requisite component of refined urban living. However, this expansion -- dominated by the resale exchange of 'old' masters -- was not automatically a boon to contemporary artists. In a highly stratified artistic sphere many found the struggle for subsistence unequal. An early protective association, the Society of Artists, foundered on the rocks of its members' competing interests, and the formation of the Scottish Academy in 1826 was also riven by debilitating disputes between different groups of artists and their patrons. During a period of acute political turmoil, the press exploited these divisions for political gain, and disagreements over modes of patronage were easily represented in terms of the passions of party feeling. It was only in the wake of the Reform Act, and the remodelling of Edinburgh's body politic, that the 'problem' of the public emerged as a central concern of elite patronage. Members of the stumbling Scottish Academy joined with leading civic figures to found the first Edinburgh art union. Its successful harnessing of a largely middle-class public not only secured the financial prospects of the city's leading artists, but also offered civic elites a clearly defined pathway to social power and recognition. The cultural authority accruing to the fine arts allowed its managers to develop a self-interested 'governmental' agenda. However, the art union's dominance of the urban arts did not pass uncontested, and a counter organisation was formed to challenge its patrician management style. These disputes, combined with earlier confrontations, expose the complex array of competing interests that structured Edinburgh's emergent artistic field during the early decades of the nineteenth century.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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