Private systems of art dealership have changed dramatically since their inception in Babylonian times (Shubik, Martin 2003). This essay will discuss one of the major changes that occurred during the industrial revolution in Europe in the 1800’s. I will be discussing what the role of an art dealer is, how the modern art dealership system arose and how the industrial revolution influenced the role of private art dealership systems in two ways. Firstly, it created a new middle class that had more expendable income which to spend on art. Secondly it generated pro-industrial revolution and anti-industrial revolution art movements. These changes increased the demand for art dealers, resulting in their specialisation, and shaped the system of modern art dealership as it is today.
In order to discuss the effects of the industrial revolution on the private dealer systems of art it is important to understand what the role of an art dealer is. According to Cowley (2009) an art dealer is someone who is the ‘middleman’ between artists and collectors or museums. That is, the art dealer matches the interests of their client with the styles of the artists he/she represents and negotiates the handover of the art piece for a pre-determined fee. An art dealer also frequents auctions and exhibitions looking for exciting new art works representing new talent and thus potential new clients. Moreover, an art dealer is usually a ‘connoisseur’ of art with a good understanding of the aesthetics and philosophical principles embedded in an artwork (Lippincott, Louise 1983). Thus, an art dealer is in some ways similar to an art critic. Furthermore, an art dealer is able to both inform collectors and artists about what is saleable – thus both parties profit from the knowledge an art dealer has (Hauser, Arnold 1999).
Art dealers, as they are known in modern times, came into existence in the 15th and 16th centuries when apprentice painters, who were earning little, made money by practising “arbitrage” which is when one buys works and resells them for a higher price to gain profit. The apprentice painters would sell their own works and also buy other upcoming artists’ works and sell them too (Hauser, Arnold, 1999). The 18th century brought about a more scientific approach to art dealership. For example, Jonathan Richardson, owner of one of the finest drawing collections in London, developed the idea of the connoisseurship of art (Lippincott, Louise 1983).
That is, he created a scoring system, from 0-20, to judge the saleability of an art piece based on its aesthetic properties and philosophical ideas. This made it easier for the general public who had little knowledge about art to understand whether a piece of art was considered “high art” and thus valuable. This encouraged traffic in the art market and art began to be seen as a means of capital investment (Lippincott, Louise 1983). In 1721 an act of parliament made the art market cheaper and easier for art dealers and the public alike. This transformed art dealership from the sideline of a poor apprentice into a lucrative trade and by the end of the 18th century the more unscrupulous art dealers often made close to 100% profit (Lippincott, Louise 1983).
When the industrial revolution hit Europe in the 1800s it influenced private dealer systems of art in two main ways. The first is that it created a permanent “middle class” as the demand for labour increased which meant that previously lower class citizens were earning more money (Lane, Jim, 2009). This meant that people had more expendable income. Therefore, because art was seen as investment, a sign of wealth, many people in the middle class could buy art pieces to show their newfound wealth just as the higher classes did. This created a high demand for art dealers as trafficking of art increased and there was more art being produced.
Second, as there was proliferation of art, many new art movements came out of the industrial revolution which resulted in art dealers specialising in a particular form of art. The industrial revolution did this in two opposing ways. Some artist rebelled against the idea of the industrial revolution; they became more individual, emotional and freedom painters and the movement Romanticism came about. Romanticism focused on emotion over reason, and on spontaneous expression.
Examples of artists of the romantic period include Edmund Burque, William Blake and Lord Byron (Swine, Imogen 2009). Another art movement, which reflected dislike of the industrial revolution ideals, is Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which is a group of English painters formed in 1848 (Stavrakis, Modestos 2009). These artists attempted to recapture the style of painting preceding Raphael. They rejected industrialized England and focused on painting from nature, producing detailed, colourful works (Stavrakis, Modestos 2009). This impacted on art dealers because they began to specialise in a particular art movement.
In addition, during the period between 1815 and 1870 art was mainly controlled by the Academie des Beaus Arts which managed visual culture, art schools and who was allowed to exhibit at The Salon, the most highly respected art gallery in Paris (Clark, TJ 2009). People began to become increasingly frustrated about their work being rejected by the Salon and started to exhibit independently. Artists began to branch out more, to be more creative instead of the normal practice of copying the masters.
These innovators were known as the Avant-garde (Clark, TJ 2009). Because of this the government of Napoleon the Third organised an exhibition in a room adjacent to The Salon, which was dubbed the `Salon-Des-Refuses’. This also increased the number of different movements during the industrial revolution and thus influenced the specialisation of art dealers as the artists began diversifying and as art dealers started to organise solo and group exhibitions of their own clients’ work.
In conclusion, the industrial revolution has shaped modern private art dealership systems by increasing the amount of art that is on the market because of the greater demand for art as the new middle class was created. Thus increasing the need for art dealers. In addition, the industrial revolution diversified art movements in response to pro- or anti-industrial ideals, which resulted in the specialisation of art dealers. As a consequence, there are approximately 29,200 art dealing institutions in the US (Shubik, Martin 2003). Moreover, there are now 5 different types of modern art dealers: souvenir merchants, artist dealers, collector-conneisseur dealers, amateur dealers and businessmen dealers utilising their own expertise (Shubik, Martin 2003). Thus the industrial revolution has influenced and helped to form the system of private art dealership as it is today.
Cowley, Stacy. “Amid art boom, dealers brace for a bust”. http://money.cnn.com/2008/04/15/smbusiness/singing_in_rain_art.fsb/index.htm?section=magazines_fsb. Fortune Small Business. Retrieved on 03/05/2009.
Clark, TJ. “Art life in France: 1815 – 1869.” http://www.harrisantiques.com/french_art_life_1815-1869.php. Retrieved on the 05/04/2009.
Hauser, Arnold. “The Social History of Art: Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, London: Rouledge, 1999.
Lane, Jim. “The industrial revolution’s affect on art.” http://www.humanitiesweb.org/human.php?s=g&p=a&a=i&ID=92. Retrieved on the 04/04/2009.
Lippincott, Louise. “Selling art in Georgian London, 1953” Dealing and collecting 95-125. London: Butler and Taylor limited 1983.
Shubik, Martin. “Dealers in Art, 2003”. Handbook of Cultural Economics 1993-2002, edited by Ruth Towse, 194-200. Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar Publishing limited, 2003.
Stavrakis, Modestos. “Art movements.” http://xylem.aegean.gr/~modestos/pages/art+science/art_movements/art_movements.htm. Retrieved on the 04/04/2009.
Swine, Imogen. “Art and the industrial revolution.” http://www.industrialrevolution.sea.ca/impact.html. Retrieved on the 04/04/2009.
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