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Hogarth My Mum. 1700-2000

The Tate receives support from the British Government and relies on the patronage of plcs, of foundations, and of rich and poor individuals to fund the full range of its activities. Support may be given towards scholarship, conservation, education or exhibitions. In its early years, the elite's bull-baiting pit was occupied by Tate, the ascendant 'sugar boiler', and by the static old boys of the Royal Academy of Arts. Whilst the determined bulldog grip of the Academy was strong, it eventually proved too slow to bite for the modern economic bull terrier's ascendancy to acceptance. Eventually distancing itself from The National Gallery, this rebellion by the new economic elite was content initially to appropriate the culture of the established social hierarchy, buying its art, its culture and its history. Subsequent generations took it upon themselves to invent their own.

Emerging social elites seem to find it necessary to justify their 'natural' right to wealth and privilege. This is done in many ways. The one that interests us here is the use of aesthetics to negotiate the social positions of new economic forces. Henry Tate himself directly convinced Harcourt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to help with funds to build the Tate in order to circumvent the established aesthetic orthodoxy of the time. From its beginning, the Tate has supported the taste values of whichever social elite was contemporarily emerging.


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