Architectural Patronage: A Review of Published Sources
Keywords: architectural patronage, published sources, Frank Jenkins Architect and Patron, Jules Lubbock, The Tyranny of Taste, J. Mordaunt Crook, The Rise of the Nouveaux Riches, architecture, J.J. Stevenson, on the recent reaction of taste
The literature on architectural patronage is not substantial, but there are a number of key texts which can be used as a starting point for research. Frank Jenkins’s Architect and Patron (1961) laid the groundwork, but this early study has not been subjected to any comprehensive revaluation in the intervening years. The majority of architectural histories and monographs give some consideration of the patron, but there are relatively few studies in which patronage is used as the primary means of approaching architecture. The sociology of taste is more extensive. Bourdieu’s investigation of taste in relation to social background is highly relevant in this regard. Before Victorian architecture was re-evaluated by scholars such as Pevsner and Muthesius, a number of books portrayed Victorian patrons as nouveaux riches philistines who emulated their aristocratic forebears. This literature was coloured by the intellectual preoccupations and cultural prejudices of its time. More recent studies such as Jules Lubbock’s The Tyranny of Taste (1995) and J. Mordaunt Crook’s The Rise of the Nouveaux Riches (1999) have employed a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of how architecture can be used to communicate specific codes. Treating patronage as an indicator of social status, these writers argue that the middle classes used their consumption of architecture to formulate a distinct cultural identity for themselves.
In dealing with taste it is vital to study debates circulating within Victorian and Edwardian culture by drawing on contemporary accounts. An important commentator was John J. Stevenson (1831-1908), who was a practising architect as well as a cogent thinker on matters of taste. Stevenson’s family was based in South Shields and he maintained a friendship with the Newcastle architect R.J. Johnson, collaborating with him on the Tyne Improvement Commissioners’ building. In 1880 Stevenson published House Architecture, a book with a wider remit than the title suggests; it illuminates debates about style, patronage and public taste in architecture. His essay ‘On the Recent Re-action of Taste in English Architecture’ (1874) was published in The Builder. These are valuable discussions of taste in the late nineteenth century and it is highly beneficial to have written accounts by a nationally-renowned figure with ties to the North East. The architectural press became increasingly important as an arbiter of taste. These and other voices can be used to represent the discourses of late Victorian and Edwardian architecture.