Victorian London : Mapping the Emergence of the Modern Art Gallery


Project Description

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the commercial gallery became the central venue for the exhibition and sale of modern art, as old systems of aristocratic patronage and Academic prestige faded in the face of a growing middle-class demand for art. The recognizably modern gallery system - with its professional dealers and regularized exhibition spaces - took shape during these years, creating new roles for artists, dealers, objects and audiences. This new gallery system was the ground on which new forms of modern art were created, experienced and judged, and London was one of the leading international art markets of the era.

This project aims to document the rise and spread of the commercial gallery across London between 1850 and 1914. In order to isolate the development and rise of this new institutional form, we have defined the commercial art gallery, as a private and for-profit institution devoted to the exhibition and sale of fine art in a dedicated retail space. We have thus generally omitted dealers who worked from private homes or offices, shops that sold paintings among other forms of home decoration or painting materials, and shops that functioned primarily as print or frame shops (see Data).

Our interactive map charts the movement of these gallery spaces over time and in relation to other spaces, such as artists' residences, stores, and museums. Our aim is both to provide basic information about individual galleries and the gallery system in its formative years, and to generate and begin to answer new research questions: How did viewers' experiences of moving through these cultural spaces affect their reception of individual works and artists? Did galleries with similar specializations and/or clientele gather in certain areas? How did galleries engage (or compete) with one another, in their exhibition schedules and advertising?

Mapping with GIS

Karen Fossum, '07
Written February 2007

Fletcher-FossumGeographic Information Systems (GIS) software is a tool for displaying and manipulating spatial data. Data are plotted against a base map and are represented as a collection of points, lines, or polygons with accompanying attributes. For example, a collection of art galleries would be plotted as a collection of points, and each point would be attached to attributes such as “name” and “start year.” The software allows for multiple layers of data to be referenced against the same map, while allowing each layer to be made visible or invisible, independent of the other layers. These capabilities allow for a dynamic display of data, storage of supplementary information, and complex spatial calculations.

The mapping of the historical data proved to be a challenge in and of itself. Although the GIS software has the capability to automatically plot data points for a set of given addresses in the United States, there is no such functionality for locations in London. Thus, each data point (gallery, artist residence, retail location, exhibition society) had to be mapped by hand. This was accomplished by locating each address using Mapquest software and then hand plotting the corresponding location on the historic London map.
Although seemingly straightforward, this process was not without challenges. In many cases the Mapquest output did not indicate the precise location of a point. For example, it was often unclear on which side of a road the address was located. Fortunately, in many of these cases it was possible to gain further refinement in the position of the address by consulting modern sources, such as maps locating present-day retail establishments at addresses of interest. In some cases the layout of the streets on the historical map differed from the layout of the present-day map. Similarly, the street names in London are repetitious and at times it was impossible for the modern-day scholar to be certain at which ‘King-Street’ or ‘Market-Street’ a historical source was placing a particular gallery. In both of these cases, unfortunately, the point had to be excluded from the map.

Despite these challenges in mapping the data, the final product represents a very close approximation of the locations of historical galleries and other establishments in London.

How to cite:
Pamela Fletcher and David Israel, London Gallery Project, 2007; Revised September 2012.

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