Representing the Nation: The historic and continuing role of national art institutions

Freya Spoor, Assistant Curator, ‘Celebrating Scotland’s Art’, The Scottish National Gallery Project
Neil Lebeter, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

In late 18th-century Europe, a number of royal art collections were nationalised. The purpose of such institutions was to house significant collections of art that would be representative of the nation and its cultural aspirations. The best way to achieve this aim has been subject to continual debate. Some institutions have prioritised displays of recognised masterpieces in order to elevate local art production and the perceived cultural status of the nation. Others have provided a national forum for art either by resident artists or that depicts subjects of national interest. With large, historic collections, these strategies are rarely distinct and often overlap. Factors that shape the display policy might include the political climate, economic considerations and social necessity. The physical space available and location of the gallery can also determine the presentation made and whether or not it is seen as successful. More recently, the development of new technologies has broadened audiences for national art collections to a global scale. With increased visibility comes greater public scrutiny about the processes by which collections are formed and displayed, as well as how representative they are of contemporary society. Thus, the papers in this session examine the historic and continuing role of a variety of national art institutions, interrogating the relevancy of the collected image of a nation that they purport to represent.


Freya Spoor and Neil Lebeter

Avoiding the ‘Omnium Gatherum’: National identity and collection building
Melanie Polledri (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales)

European National Museums Rhetoric
Sofia Mali (Buckinghamshire New University)

Representing National Heroes as Transnational Actors: Nordic studio museums
Charlotte Ashby (Birkbeck, University of London)

Saorstát Eireann as Museum: Identity, ideology and art in the Official Handbook of the Irish Free State (1932)
Brandi S. Goddard (University of Alberta)

Britain of the South: The role of Britain in New Zealand’s national art institutions
Anya Samarasinghe (University of Auckland)




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