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A collector of the fine arts in eighteenth-century Britain: Dr William Hunter (1718-1783)

McCormack, Helen (2010) A collector of the fine arts in eighteenth-century Britain: Dr William Hunter (1718-1783). PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Fine art, in the form of oil paintings, prints and drawings, accounts for a considerable proportion of the collection formed by the Scottish anatomist, Dr William Hunter. This thesis examines the contexts for the various works of art that were either bought or commissioned by him or were the result of donations and gifts. It covers the period from the 1740s, when Hunter arrived in London until his death in 1783 and follows his collecting activities from their origins in the specialist, anatomical-antiquarian interests of his predecessors in the 1750s to the more elaborate works that were increasingly available to him through his contacts with artists and dealers by the 1770s. This involves placing Hunter within a chronology of collecting during the eighteenth century, a period characterised by an expansion of cultural activity within all the arts. Such a commodification of culture brought with it various implications for the production and reception of the arts that had been predominantly the reserve of the aristocracy. William Hunter was a professional, a new type of Gentleman Connoisseur, whose motivations to collect were inspired by an innate empirical curiosity that dominated the era. Therefore, curiosity as a type of investigative phenomenon is considered in the thesis as the driving force behind the accumulation and calculation of of collectible objects. Hunter's incorporation of a fine art collection within a museum dominated by anatomy and natural history calls for a re-considertation of the place of art derived from the close study of nature during the period. His influence as a teacher and patron of the arts is also re-considered here by a closer examination of the part he played in the community of artists that emerged in London during the 1760s. The thesis employs a methodology that combines the techniques of micro-history, a close cultural-anthropological analysis viewed through a framework of more general, theoretical themes, classicism, antiquarianism and consumerism that seek to impose an understanding on the sheer diversity and range of interrelated ideas that constitute the practice of collecting during the eighteenth century. It reveals that, rather than standing on the periphery, William Hunter played a crucial, if not central, role in the promotion and dissemination of the fine arts in Britain.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: The electronic version of this thesis has been edited and some or all third party copyright material removed.
Keywords: History of Art, Medicine, Science, Anatomy, Curiosity, Natural History, Antiquarians, Collecting, Consumerism, The Grand Tour, Material Culture, Visual Arts, Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Society, Royal Society of Arts
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Yarrington, Prof. Alison
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: Dr Helen McCormack
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-1890
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2010
Last Modified: 10 Jun 2013 15:23
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/1890

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