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Russia and the South Kensington Museum: A case study in collecting and cult...

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Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

London

WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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Fellows Lunch by Dr Louise Hardiman (Art Historian and Postdoctoral Fellow at Paul Mellon Centre)

The Victoria and Albert Museum holds a sizeable collection of Russian art, the beginnings of which can be traced back to a new interest in Russia that emerged in the decades after its foundation as the South Kensington Museum in 1857. This period in the Museum’s history was shaped by the vision of its first director, Henry Cole, who aspired to create an institution for ‘art education’ that would serve both artistic communities and the wider public. Founded after the Great Exhibition of 1851, an immense international showcase of art and industry which Cole had directed, the Museum was outward looking from the outset. The Russian court in 1851 was one of the most talked-about displays, yet it received little attention from Cole. But soon he and his successor, Philip Cunliffe-Owen, would become much more interested in Russian art, at a time when the subject was barely understood in Britain. An important turning point was the inclusion of Russia in their ambitious programme for the creation of plaster casts and electrotype copies of European art, to be used not only for teaching but also for commercial gain.

Concentrating on this formative period, this lecture will consider Russia as a case study illustrative of the Museum’s initial international strategy. It will also explore the Museum’s engagement with Russian art, its efforts to build a collection and promote better understanding of the subject; in this regard, it will discuss Alfred Maskell, who led a six-month expedition to Russia in 1881, taking in Moscow, St Petersburg and other important sites, and wrote the first British history of Russian art: Russian Art and Art Objects in Russia: A Handbook to the Reproductions of Goldsmiths’ Work and Other Art Treasures from that Country in the South Kensington Museum (1884).

The Fellows Lunch Series is a series of free lunchtime research talks given by recipients of Paul Mellon Centre Fellowships. All are welcome but please book a ticket in advance.

Image credit: Henry Pidgeon Clarke, Part of the Russian Court, 1851. Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund, the Friends of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

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Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

London

WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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