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Victorian paintings

Gelert by Charles Burton Barber, 1884. Oil on canvas

Gelert by Charles Burton Barber, 1884. Oil on canvas

The art collection of Reading Museum was founded in 1892 with the bequest of paintings from William Isaac Palmer of Huntley & Palmer biscuits. While the collection now spans periods from the Elizabethan to the present day, and incorporates many different media, the nucleus of the collection remains the art William Palmer collected and enjoyed. These works, mainly paintings, reflect the period in which William lived and collected.

Victorian paintings were overlooked for much of the 20th century as being overly sentimental and lacking in artistic innovation when compared to the rest of Europe. However in recent years they have been subject to reappraisal by many art historians and today these works are considered to give us an excellent insight into the Victorian period.

The paintings deal with naturalistic representations but their subjects are usually heavily imbued with meaning. Themes commonly addressed included moral tales, illustrating the dangers of vice and the plight of the poor, especially in industrial areas. Subjects linked to promotion of Britain as a nation and as an Empire, these works dealt with issues such as the Boer War, celebrating famous ‘Empire Builders’ and depictions of exotic foreign scenes. The diversity of the subjects illustrates the changes that dominated the 19th century and give us a sense of how modernity swept through and took hold in Britain. The paintings also allow us to see how the country we live in today has been shaped and formed by the past.

A small selection of the Museum’s Victorian paintings are displayed in the Victorian Gallery on the second floor. These are displayed as ‘open storage’ in this gallery rather than as a conventional exhibition.

Date updated: 09 Jan 2013


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