Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Where’s the British Art?

August 29, 2009 · 3 Comments

While going through the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Tate Modern I noticed the lack of British art and artifacts represented throughout these museums. I learned in my Museum Studies class that even major museums in America there are this lack of American artwork in them. Of course this is mainly because America is such a young country and we are beginning to establish our place in the art world just like other older countries have done. Even so, why is Great Britain still under represented, even within their own country?

I began to observe in every major museum in London that I’ve visited to so far this lack of British art. At the National Gallery there were only a few rooms (about 3) dedicated to the country’s artists. For being the “National Gallery” it seemed to be dominated quite a lot by Italian and French artwork. By viewing the layout of the gallery, it is easy to notice the complete lack of British art. It is also noticeable that it is not even the focal point of the museum, but the rooms displaying the artwork are pushed off to the side.

The British Museum also did not live up to its name. Great Britain only had about 4 parts of the entire “British” Museum showing British artifacts, mostly from the Medieval and Roman time periods. The majority of the museum displayed their  stolen “acquisitions” from other parts of the world. And still even in this museum Great Britain was not the focal point in the least, for what is one of the first places you see when you walk in but the stolen Egyptian artifacts.

The Tate Modern also did not display many British artists. The gallery seemed to be dominated by American, French and all other countries other than Great Britain. Even America had a much larger place in this museum because of their prominence and prestige amongst the modern and post-modern art world. If you do a quick browse of this museum’s layout, it is easy to see hardly any British artists.

Why I believe there is a general lack of British art and artifacts is because most museums in a large city are meant to show off the prominence and power of that country. In the British Museum, Britain is still shown as a world power and it proudly displays the “booty” they have collected from their conquests of these other countries. Even in the new modern and post-modern art museum, the Tate, these same ideas still play through, just less pronounced than the other two. Museums are still viewed, even in the 21st century, as places of national pride and places to show off your conquests and the “treasures” to the rest of the world.

Categories: Alli · Museums
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3 responses so far ↓

  •   becca136 // Aug 30th 2009 at 12:35

    Go to the Victoria and Albert and you will see much more British art and artifacts as well as some stuff from other places in the world.

  •   Karl // Aug 30th 2009 at 13:06

    But what do we learn from the British sections of the BM? Note how it is the only section of the museum that seeks to present a chronological narrative.

  •   allisonmschell5 // Aug 30th 2009 at 16:53

    Becca- I did that today and I thought to myself, I should have waited to do this blog post because the V&A had an excellent selection of British art and artifacts.

    Karl- That is very true and I have should have noted that.

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