In one of the most impressive spending sprees in art history, Thomas Holloway, an 80-year-old English multi-millionaire, purchased 77 of the finest contemporary British paintings available — spending the equivalent of many millions in today’s dollars and breaking several auction records — to furnish an art museum for the London women’s college he founded in 1879.
Sixty paintings from the collection Holloway assembled are now on display at the BYU Museum of Art through Saturday, Oct. 24. “Paintings from the Reign of Victoria: The Royal Holloway Collection, London” illustrates some of the highest achievements in figurative and landscape art of the 19th century. Many of these works were among the most visible and praised “modern canvases” in London in the 1880s.
Admission to the exhibition is free of charge. The Museum of Art is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Sunday. For more information about the museum, visitors can call (801) 422-8287 or visit moa.byu.edu.
The majority of the paintings in this exhibition have never before been exhibited outside of England. The BYU Museum of Art is one of only seven venues on the U.S. exhibition tour.
“All of the works in this exhibition are painted in the meticulously realistic style popular in late 19th-century Britain,” said Museum of Art curator Paul Anderson. “Their brilliant colors, fine craftsmanship, and, in some cases, very large size give these paintings great presence and emotional power. Visitors to this exhibition will see a remarkable cross-section of British artistic achievements at the apogee of the British Empire’s prosperity and confidence.”
Holloway was a believer in the Victorian ideal of art as the ultimate civilizing influence. He saw art as a teaching tool with visual beauty as its medium, and he sought out only the best examples for his women’s college, regardless of cost. The paintings Holloway selected for the collection depict scenes of contemporary life, as well as historical events, landscapes, animal studies and marine subjects that he hoped would encourage the young women of his college to engage in public service. As a result, this exhibition explores a wide range of the Victorian era’s interests and issues that remain relevant for viewers today: poverty and social justice, societal pressures on lifestyle and landscape, and life in a diverse, multicultural world.
“One of our primary educational goals in this exhibition is to help viewers connect in personal ways to the subject matter of the paintings,” said Rita Wright, an educator at the Museum of Art. “Homelessness, financial difficulties, the environment and changing lifestyles help us identify with the plight of many Victorians.”
To assist visitors in making personal connections with the works in this exhibition, museum educators put together an engaging audio tour that will feature the responses of local and national commentators to some of the relevant issues highlighted in the exhibition, as well as their personal responses to the paintings.
“Paintings from the Reign of Victoria: The Royal Holloway Collection, London” will be on view in the Marian Adelaide Morris Cannon Gallery on the main level of the museum. This exhibition is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, VA. The national tour is supported by The Chisholm Foundation. The catalogue sponsor is Hiscox. His Excellency Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United States of America, is Honorary Patron of the exhibition. The exhibition is supported locally by the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation.
Free docent-led tours of “Paintings from the Reign of Victoria: The Royal Holloway Collection, London” will be conducted during regular museum hours and must be scheduled at least one week in advance. Tours usually last about one hour. Call (801) 422-1140 to schedule a tour.