Past Events

State of the Art: Collecting art and national formation c.1800-2000


  • 18 to 20 July 2007
  • 9:45 – 7:30 pm
  • National Maritime Museum

A three-day international conference at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

Large exhibition hall, visitors, and rows of art on walls

L.H. Michael, View of the Naval Gallery in the Painted Hall,

Digital image courtesy of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

Since the development of the public art gallery and museum in the early 19th century, art and the collecting of art in Britain have been closely linked to the articulation of national identity and the construction of n a - tionhood. They have thus in- terleaved with debates on national morality, class, race and gender, and the social and civic functions of culture. In recent years ‘cultures of collecting’ have been subjects of considerable study in art history, museology and other forms of cul- tural studies. This international con- ference will build on this research, drawing together a range of academ- ics and curators from national and international institutions, to con- sider the issues surrounding art collecting and nationhood across a variety of locations and cultures.

It will also develop these issues away from a purely Eurocentric focus upon the history of nation formation and the role of art and collecting in the evolution of European nationalism, to explore the significance of art collecting within the history of empire, and for emergent nation-states outside the European arena. It will also confront the complex and contentious issues within those larger histories, of the role of war and looting, and of art and its collecting as both victim and accomplice of international conflict and conquest.

The conference will complement ‘Art for the Nation’, the recently opened display in the Queen’s House of the various oil paintings collec- tions that make up the Na- tional Maritime Museum’s total holding. One of the principal aims of the exhibition is to consider the h i s - tory of these collections and how they relate to the historical definitions of Britain’s maritime and imperial identity.