Tom Stammers, The Purchase of the Past: Collecting Culture in Post-Revolutionary Paris c.1790–1890, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2020, 370 pages.
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.
Tom Stammers is Associate Professor in Modern European Cultural History at the University of Durham. He is a historian of modern France, specialising in visual and material culture; he works frequently with museums and heritage organisations, including collaborating on exhibitions, and is a regular contributor to arts reviews like Apollo.
C O N T E N T S
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Collection, Recollection, Revolution
1 Amateurs and the Art Market in Transition, c.1780–1830
2 Archiving and Envisioning the French Revolution, c.1780–1830
3 Book Hunting, Bibliophilia, and a Textual Restoration, c.1790–1840
4 Salvaging the Gothic in Private and Public Spaces, c.1820–1870
5 Royalists versus Vandals, and the Cult of the Old Regime, c.1860–1880
6 Allies of the Republic? Inside the Sale of the Century, c.1870–1895
Conclusion: The Resilience and Eclipse of Curiosité