The primary aim of this thesis is to focus attention on the bourgeois, 'un-named' collector. The driving force behind most museum and art gallery collections of the Victorian and Edwardian period. British museum and art gallery records of gifted collections, bequests and loans usually note their donors. However, with a few notable exceptions, little is known about the collectors, their activities and motivation in making such presentations.
Using the interests and activities of the Quaker miller and collector Ernest Marsh (1843-1945) as a case study, this thesis explores how in the period 1890-1945 a collector came to be a key agent in the construction and manifestation of taste in British Applied Arts and to a lesser degree in the Fine Arts. Through primary visual and documentary evidence of the Marsh home, and reference to contemporary and later commentaries it considers the relative influences of husband and wife on decorating and furnishing the domestic interior, the evolution of taste, and, for Ernest Marsh, its impact upon his artistic interests within the public arena.
By examination of private papers, metropolitan and provincial art gallery and museum archives it also considers evidence of the inter-relationships between donors and curators, and the mutual advantages and disadvantages accruing to both, particularly focussing on the processes in bringing about changes in individual and institutional collecting policy. Further, by review of records of, in particular, the Contemporary Art Society and the Greenslade archive, it examines the degree to which private benefactors and those in public or semi-public office, acting as fund-raisers and spenders exercise influence through patronage of particular practitioners, choice of works and initiating new designs.