Monday, December 7, 2009

Viewing the Masters in the Regency Era

At the time Jane Austen had Elizabeth Bennet visiting Pemberley, the Darcy estate, there were no public art museums in Great Britain. Those wishing to view paintings and sculptures of the Masters would visit England's great estates as well as the extensive parkland surrounding their magnificent manor houses. Middle-class travelers could visit Blenheim, the ancestral seat of the Churchills, or Chatsworth, one of several homes of the Dukes of Devonshire, among many others. The first National Gallery in England would not open until 1824, seven years after Austen's death, at 100 Pall Mall, in the former townhouse of John Julius Angerstein, a Russian emigre, banker, and art collector, who had died the previous year. It was small, hot, crowded, and a national embarrassment when compared to the Louvre in Paris, but it was a start.