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Country houses have been defined by their contents as much as by their architecture, landscapes and the families who occupied them. They have boasted assemblies ranging from antiquities, paintings, decorative arts, books and manuscripts, to antiquarian, ethnographic and scientific collections. Outdoors their gardens were often adorned with collections of other sorts, monuments, sculpture and horticultural specimens. Rarely have such collections survived intact – sales, destruction, fire and theft have been repeated occurrences. Country house collecting has been about dispersal as well as acquisition.

The essays in this volume look at a range of country house collections in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Continental Europe. They consider how and why collections were amassed and examine their break-ups, and the reasons for such dispersals, whether elective or enforced; they question how the identity of a house changes if its contents have been removed; they consider the afterlives of objects as they moved into the art market, the museum world or elsewhere; and they deliberate on what happens to a collection once it has begun to be dismembered, and how objects are viewed and understood in new locations by different audiences.

Among the other topics considered are the impact of exhibitions, auctions and tax systems, private versus institutional collectors, the range of audiences who appreciate art and how collections are made to tell national stories.

Country House Collections : Their Lives and Afterlives


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