John Rolle Walter 1753 portrait by Pompeo Batoni - courtesy of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.

Historian contributes to Secret History of British Art Collections TV series

University of Exeter historian Professor Jeremy Black has contributed to a new TV series about the stories of people whose enthusiasm for art, sense of adventure, and wealth built Britain’s national collection and shaped the history of the art of the nation.

The BBC Four three-part series ‘Bought With Love: The Secret History of British Art Collections’ is due to be broadcast on 17, 24, 31 July. 

Professor Jeremy Black, a historian from the University of Exeter talks to art historian and presenter of the series, Helen Rosslyn, about the Grand Tour in the 18th Century and its importance to the history of art collecting in this country. The Grand Tour began in the late 17th century, and flourished in the18th century where it became fashionable for young aristocrats to visit Paris, Venice, Florence, and above all Rome, as the culmination of their classical education. The practice of being formally introduced to foreign lands and cultures, with an emphasis on the art and culture of France and Italy became a tradition for the next 300 years. Professor Black’s contribution forms part of the second episode ‘The Golden Age’ (broadcast 9-10pm on Wednesday 24 July) exploring the stories of the aristocratic collectors who caught the art collecting bug – en masse.  

Prominent Devon landowner  John Rolle Walter was an MP for Exeter between 1754 and 1776 and MP for Devon from 1776 to 1779. By the 18th century his family were the dominant landowners in Devon and their extensive holdings included Bicton House, near Exeter.

Professor Black explains that John Rolle Walter wanted to show that he was a sophisticated gentleman through his purchase and exhibition of landscapes and portraits of himself in Rome, illustrating that he had been on the Grand Tour.  An18th-century portrait of Devon dignitary John Rolle Walter was by Pompeo Batoni, who is regarded as one of the greatest portrait painters of the 18th century, making this a major potential acquisition.  The portrait forms part of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s collection in Exeter, a natural home for the art.

The art historian, Helen Rosslyn visits Goodwood House, where successive Dukes of Richmond promoted the works of Canaletto and British born George Stubbs, and Petworth House, where the Earl of Egremont was a formative patron of the young JMW Turner.

Date: 16 July 2013

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