Room 19: Art, Invention & Thought: Making the Modern World

See the portraits currently on display in Room 19 here

Room 19

© The National Portrait Gallery, London

The defeat of France in 1815 confirmed Britain's status as a superpower and the world's richest nation. Economic strength began at home where men like Brunel and Stephenson harnessed steam and invented the machinery that boosted the manufacture of cotton, iron and other goods. They also improved Britain's infrastructure with innovative technologies for building roads, docks and bridges. The transport revolution, which enabled the efficient movement of materials, culminated in the birth of the railways.

Booming industry, trade and commerce generated wealth and encouraged spending on luxury and entertainment. Theatre, the most popular recreation, was dominated by London's two licensed venues - Drury Lane and Covent Garden. In the decorative arts, entrepreneurs like Rundell and Ackermann promoted the consumption of luxury objects, commissioning designs from leading Royal Academicians.

Some artists, frustrated by commercial dependence, advocated state support and patronage. Their pleas were partly answered in 1805 when a group of aristocratic collectors founded the British Institution to promote history painting. The arts were further promoted when Parliament, inspired by the Louvre, purchased the founding collection of old master paintings for the National Gallery.