High culture and tall chimneys

Art institutions and urban society in Lancashire, 1780–1914

Author: James Moore

During the nineteenth century industrial Lancashire became a leading national and international art centre. In 1857 Manchester hosted the international Art Treasures Exhibition at Old Trafford, arguably the single most important art exhibition every held. By the end of the century almost every major Lancashire town possessed an art gallery, while Lancashire art schools and artists were recognised nationally and internationally. This book examines the reasons for the remarkable rise of visual art in Lancashire and its relationship to the rise of the commercial and professional classes who supported it. Lancashire is rarely seen by outsiders as a major cultural centre but the creation of a network of art institutions facilitated a vibrant cultural life and shaped the civic identity of its people. The modern industrial towns of Lancashire often looked to the cultural history of other great civilisations to understand the rapidly changing world around them. Roscoe’s Liverpool of the late eighteenth century emulated Medici’s Florence, Fairbairn’s Manchester looked to Rome, while a century later Preston built an art gallery as a tribute to Periclean Athens. Yet the art institutions and movements of the county were also distinctively modern. Many embraced the British fashions of the time, while some looked to new art movements abroad. Art institutions also became a cultural battleground for alternative visions of the future, from those that embraced modern mass production technologies and ‘commercial art’ to those that feared technology and capitalism would destroy artistic creativity and corrode standards of excellence.

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