I travelled to Bath this week for the first visit to the museum, with Catrin and Louise, who walked us around and introduced the collection. We were shown into the stores and had time to sketch and photograph.
The collection resembled the hoarded belongings of eccentric elderly aunt, and the museum reflected that in some ways by the small scale of some of the rooms, with hidden drawers and cupboards to discover. It was interesting to think about the concept of a museum created around such a random collection of one person (added to since the collection was made into a museum), which is almost a time capsule. The items themselves span in date but the actual collecting of them and the popularity of the objects help construct a story of a strata of society at a particular time and place.
The concept of the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th centuries, was seen as an important entry to the high level of polite society for an educated young man, which William Holburne would have aspired to be when he planned his Grand Tour. He inherited his money and barony when his elder brother died, which enabled him to leave the Navy (which he joined at age 11). He then travelled between 1824 and 1825 throughout Europe collecting his objects as well as cultural capital which would be his entry to Bath’s upper level of society. He set up home with his 3 sisters, who would not have been on the Grand Tour with him, where they lived together unmarried, which ensured the collection stayed intact.
The museum made me think about cultural capital, and the concept of creating a mass of objects in order to communicate to your peer group your superior knowledge, wealth and taste.
It also made me think about the taking of the objects from their ‘place’. Many of the objects in the Glasgow Kelvingrove Museum, collected in a similar era to this collection, have been returned to their ‘place’ and people. Important cultural objects, wrongly taken have been returned – known as repatriation and has links to colonisation. Some of the items repatriated belong to Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians.