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A Plan, Preceded By A Short Review Of The Fine Arts, To Preserve Among Us, And Transmit To Posterity, The Portraits Of The Most Distinguished Characters Of England, Scotland, And Ireland, Since His Majesty's Accession To The Throne. Also, To give Encouragement to British Artists, and to enrich and adorn London with some Galleries of Pictures, Statues, Antiques, Medals, and other valuable Curiosities, Without any Expence to Government. By Noel Desenfans, Esq.

Noel Joseph Desenfans

RA Collection: Book

Record number




London:: Printed By And For Sampson Low, Berwick Street, Soho; And Sold By C. Law, Ave-Maria Lane; And E. Booker, New Bond Street., 1799.

Physical Description

[4], 54 p.


[T.p., dedic.] - A Plan, &c. &c. - A Plan.

Responsibility Note

The work is dedicated by the author to the Trustees of the British Museum.


H. Hoock, 'Old Masters and the English School: the Royal Academy of Arts and the notion of a national gallery at the turn of the nineteenth century', in Journal of the history of collections, 16: 1 (2004), p. 1-18; F. Herrmann, The English as collectors (1999), p.172-9; G. Wright, ed., The formation of national collections of art and archaeology (1996); T. Bennett, The birth of the museum (1995); Palaces of art: art galleries in Britain, 1790-1800 [exhibition catalog], ed. G. Waterfield (London: Dulwich Picture Gallery, 1991-2); G. Waterfield, Collection for a King (1985); P. Murray, The Dulwich Picture Gallery: a catalogue (1980); W.T. Whitley, Art in England 1800-1820 (1928); J. Taylor, Memoir of Noel Desenfans (London, 1810).
ESTC, T42435

Summary Note

Desenfans had already published in France a comedy and an essay on education before coming to Britain in 1769, where he married and set up as a picture-dealer. In 1795 a collection of paintings which he had formed for the King of Poland was left on his hands, and after his death his wish that this should be publicly exhibited led to much of it passing to Dulwich College, London.

In the first part of this Plan Desenfans praises the Royal Academy for raising standards of taste, stresses the commercial value of a thriving artist community, and advocates the patronage of contemporary artists. In the second part (pages 31-54) he argues the need for not only a gallery of national portraits, but also galleries of historical painting and old masters - probably to be housed at Montague House, already the home of the British Museum. To pay for the portrait gallery 'the free admittance to Montague House must be suppressed, and it shall be opened to the Public by paying entrance money as at the Royal Academy ... The Manager or Director to be entitled to no salary for the first year'. And since in Britain 'an immense number of pictures are spread in different country-houses' the third gallery may be expected to be filled by 'the gifts and legacies of individuals' - whether of whole collections or of 'two or three favourite pictures, which some will deposit there even in their life-time'.


Presented by the author in 1799 (see RA General Assembly Minutes, II, 44).

Binding Note

20th-century half morocco, brown cloth-covered boards; gilt-decorated spine lettered 'Tracts' and 'R.A.' Bound with seven others.

Name as Subject


Portraits - Collections - Art galleries - Patronage - Government policy - Art and state - Great Britain - London - History - 18th century


Charles Law, bookseller
E. Booker, bookseller
Sampson Low, printer, publisher
British Museum