Memories are made of this

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The Collection of paintings was to provide an essential element for the fulfilment of Holloway's ideal of a first-rate educational establishment. The importance he placed on the Collection illustrates a typically Victorian belief in art as the ultimate civilizing influence. Like literature, art could teach; not only in the obvious sense of portraying a moral lesson, or illustrating an edifying text; but, in its own unique and inimitable way, through the medium of visual beauty. A picture collection of the first quality would add the ultimate refinement to a programme of education for young ladies.

Heedless of cost, and using the only criterion he understood — his own judgement — Holloway made his selection, with the aid of his brother-in-law George Martin, almost exclusively from Christie's sales' catalogues. All but five of the pictures were acquired in this way, and only once is Holloway known to have been outbid. A considerable furore arose in the press in protest against the artificially high prices which his methods stimulated, and against the fact that it was the dealer rather than the artist who benefited. But like other self-made Victorian collectors of little education, Holloway was wary when purchasing pictures. A sound provenance was crucial to him; and he felt that this was more likely to be provided by the major dealers and auctioneers than by private vendors.

The collection

Among the scenes of contemporary Victorian life, Holloway was fortunate enough to acquire several of the most important ever produced. Frith's Railway Station (1862), a fitting successor to his Derby Day, now in the Tate, is the most potent and revealing image ever painted of mid-Victorian urban life. Like Holloway a self-made man, Frith proudly included himself in the centre of the picture as the typical Victorian paterfamilias, surrounded by his family and other varied groups, representing every class of society from the criminal to the aristocratic young bride. This entertaining panorama provides a stark contrast with two of the most significant works by a group of artists known as `Social Realists'.

Luke Fildes' Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (1874) remains the most savage indictment of poverty and homelessness produced by any Victorian artist; and Frank Holl's Newgate: Committed for Trial (1878) demonstrates the tenuous hold of the poor on respectability and the means of survival, both instantly under threat when the breadwinner takes to crime.

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