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In previous centuries the power and wealth of monarchs, emperors and other supreme rulers gave them enormous influence over the employment of artists and changes in artistic taste and style. Understandably their portraits are the largest and grandest, and their palaces are the most richly decorated with expensive paintings. In Britain, Charles I bought Europe’s most talented artists, such as Rubens and Van Dyck, to paint in Britain, transforming the nation’s art with his collection. Queen Victoria, on the other hand, tried to set a more modest example.

The aristocracy and landed gentry generally followed the taste of their social superiors, with large houses and large paintings by fashionable artists who would show them as they wished to be seen.