The Observer in London has an interesting review of James Hamilton’s A Strange Business: Making Art and Money in Nineteenth Century Britain pointing out the usurping nature of Contemporary art even two centuries ago:
When, in 1803, the 28-year-old Turner asked 300 guineas for one of his early prentice works, he was charging the same rates as that “venerable painter of horses”, the 77-year-old George Stubbs – and only a fraction less than an amateur art-lover had just paid for Titian’s Noli me Tangere at auction.
Titian’s painting is now in the National Gallery, of course, and one of Hamilton’s themes is how the private collections of the Georgian and Victorian ages became the public collections of the 20th century. At the same time, that now unavoidable figure, the dealer in contemporary art, was beginning to appear. With his “Garrick-cut” wig and rosette-decked tricorn hat, Caleb Whitefoord, an Arthur Daley type “for whom buying art for others was just one of many activities”, was, says Hamilton, the prototype for many a later foppish administrator.
At the same time, the technology of art was changing. At the Royal Institution, William Brande perfected the production of a pigment known as Prussian blue by heating potassium carbonate with dried blood or horn shavings. Meanwhile, over in France, another chemist, Nicolas Vauquelin, was isolating the pigment chrome yellow from the mineral crocoite – without which, noted the painter James Ward, his great rival Turner wouldn’t have been able to paint all those “intolerable” sunsets.