Offering a broad and vivid survey of the culture of collecting from the French Revolution to the Belle Époque, The Purchase of the Past explores how material things became a central means of accessing and imagining the past in nineteenth-century France. By subverting the monarchical establishment, the French Revolution not only heralded the dawn of the museum age, it also threw an unprecedented quantity of artworks into commercial circulation, allowing private individuals to pose as custodians and saviours of the endangered cultural inheritance. Through their common itineraries, erudition and sociability, an early generation of scavengers established their own form of 'private patrimony', independent from state control. Over a century of Parisian history, Tom Stammers explores collectors' investments – not just financial but also emotional and imaginative – in historical artefacts, as well as their uncomfortable relationship with public institutions. In so doing, he argues that private collections were a critical site for salvaging and interpreting the past in a post-revolutionary society, accelerating but also complicating the development of a shared national heritage.
Leora Auslander - University of Chicago
Colin Heywood - Emeritus Professor of Modern French History, University of Nottingham
Stephen Bann CBE FBA - Emeritus Professor of History of Art, University of Bristol
Colin Jones CBE FBA - Queen Mary University of London
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