Chapter 4: Sensational virtuosi of the brush
Chapter 4 Sensational virtuosi of the brush
The nineteenth century was marked by a dramatic expansion in the number of art producers and consumers. The third quarter of the century, in particular, proved to be a “golden age” for artists, many of whom became members of a “wealthy, high-living […] and highly visible group”1. Their rise in wealth and status was consequent on the shift from the aristocratic system of patronage to an artistic marketplace dominated by affluent bourgeois customers, who were anxious to imitate the nobility and give public display of their power. As Bourdieu observes, in describing the new condition of artists in the second half of the century:
The relationship between cultural producers and the dominant class no longer retains what might have characterized it in previous centuries, whether that means direct dependence on a financial backer (more common among painters, but also occurring in the case of writers), or even allegiance to a patron or an official protector of the arts2.
The emergence of entrepreneurs and nouveaux riches among customers created large demands for artistic products. Paintings, for example, were increasingly viewed as commodity fetishes which were purchased to display the prosperity and social prominence of their buyers.
The influence of plutocracy was stronger in England than in countries like France where, “despite the increasing privatization of the market, paintings were still regularly commissioned by church and state”3. As a result, English painters were more ambiguously enmeshed...
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