Bought with Love – BBC profiles Thomas Holloway paintings

Posted on 29/07/2013

The Princes in the Tower by Millais

This week’s episode of the BBC 4 series Bought with Love - The secret History of British Art Collections, highlights the pioneering achievements of Thomas Holloway as one of the nation’s great art collectors (screening Wednesday 31 July). The programme features Dr Jane Hamlett, Senior Lecturer in Modern British History in the Department of History talking about Thomas Holloway and the significance of his collection.

The Holloway collection of 77 paintings was bought at auction from 1881 to 1883 at a total cost of £83,304. Holloway was no great art connoisseur but he mirrored Vassar College in New York State, probably the largest women's college in the world in the 1870's, by providing a collection of art to benefit the college and its students. The importance he placed on the paintings illustrates a typically Victorian belief in art as the ultimate civilising influence. Holloway believed that a picture collection of the highest quality would add the ultimate refinement to a programme of education for young ladies. He studied the Victorian sale catalogues to make his selections, and arranged bids on his behalf under a pseudonym to avoid being recognised and inflate prices. In the time between purchase and the College opening in 1886 they were hung at Holloway Sanitorium in Virginia Water, before the impressive Picture Gallery was unveiled.

For the Bought with Love series, art historian Helen Rosslyn traces the stories of the men and women whose enthusiasm for art, sense of adventure, and powerful wealth built Britain’s national collection and shaped the history of art of our nation. It would be hard to imagine a world where there were no public galleries full of paintings, where the names of Leonardo and Michelangelo were hardly known, where art was considered purely decorative and artists merely craftsman – but this was Britain 400 years ago. Since then, art has flooded to our shores and our appreciation of art and artists has been transformed.

Meanwhile, the Public catalogue Foundation, who digitised the nation’s oil paintings, has selected the painting The Princes in the Tower (by John Everett Millais, 1878) to be part of a slideshow looking at the characters in the BBC’s adaption of Philippa Gregory’s novel The White Queen.

The slideshow can be viewed online here:

It has been quite a year for the Princes as they appeared many times in the media coverage of the finding of Richard III’s body, and they are currently on tour in Japan in an exhibition exploring the early twentieth century Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki’s interest in British Art. They are also one of the four paintings chosen to be used on new postcards advertising the Royal Holloway art collection. These are free and you can pick one up by popping into the archive and art collection office on the third floor of the Founder’s Library. The Princes will be returning to the Picture Gallery in September.

Royal Holloway, University of London logo