The Art of the Empire: Three Centuries of British Art

The Art of the Empire celebrates the evolution and vitality of three hundred years of British art, from the eighteenth century to the present. The exhibition consists of paintings, sculpture, works on paper and illustrated books organized thematically: portraiture, landscape, religious painting and the Pre-Raphaelite vision, delving into the work of two of its followers, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

After two centuries of exploration and trade, in the nineteenth century the British Empire ruled over a quarter of the world’s population and stretched from North America to India and Australia. However, for its artists this was a period of identity crisis and self-exploration: the country that had given the world William Shakespeare and Adam Smith, then immersed in the industrial revolution, had yet to leave a mark in the fields of painting and sculpture. This exhibition shows how, already in the eighteenth century, British artists negotiated the tensions between finding a voice of their own that was coherent with their roots and paying homage to the best art from different times and places. The works of contemporary art from Puerto Rican private collections offer a vision of the reflections that have nourished British art since the second half of the twentieth century: How artists of all genres and media have reshaped their practice to face a radically changing social and cultural scene, both locally and internationally. These works widen the artistic and historical spectrum of the exhibition, bringing to the present some of the key genres represented here.

The Art of the Empire commemorates the gift to Puerto Rico of an internationally renowned collection of British art, gathered by Luis A. Ferré around the decade of 1960. Its more than sixty-eight pieces are here shown together for the first time, accompanied by an important loan of nineteenth-century graphic art from La Casa del Libro in San Juan. Together, the works reveal the robustness of a tradition that is open to innovation.