The Grand Tour

Maxwell Library, 3rd. floor
August 23 - December 12, 2018
Selections from the Donald Stoltenberg Collection


As the cold dark months of January set in, our thoughts today often turn to travel to foreign places. For the well-to-do of England and America, this was true in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in the form of “The Grand Tour” – an opportunity for youth to broaden their horizons and experience other cultures.

Beginning in the late sixteenth century, it became fashionable for young aristocrats to visit Paris, Venice, Florence, and above all Rome, as the culmination of their classical education. In the 18th century the so-called Grand Tour became a rite of passage for aristocratic young men and for a few American men as well.

Several colonial artists were not content to remain in America, traveling abroad to gain exposure to European art and to pursue an art education. Benjamin West began his career as a portrait painter in Philadelphia. In 1760 he left to make the Grand Tour of Europe, permanently settling in London three years later. There, West met with remarkable success: in 1772 he was named Historical Painter to King George III and in 1792 he succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as President of the Royal Academy. Understandably, West’s story became mythic in the Colonies and his London studio became a mecca of sorts for Colonial American artists.

The Americans fully adopted the program of The Grand Tour in the 1820s, endowing it with the character of a high-minded literary expedition. Prominent authors, among them Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, were followed to Europe by a procession of their faithful readers in search of all things venerable and exalted.


Grand Tour