The movement to supply fine art and other cultural opportunities to the late-Victorian metropolitan poor is a curious and easily misunderstood aspect of the period’s social activism. It is perhaps most visible during the 1880s in middle-class voluntary activism, in the settlement movement and in philanthropic ventures such as the Whitechapel Fine Art Exhibition. Recent scholars take these as a form of ‘missionary aestheticism’, drawing on a fanciful neo-paternalistic Ruskinian ideology.

In this paper, UQ Senior Lecturer in History Geoff Ginn discusses his new book Culture, Philanthropy and the Poor in Late-Victorian London (Routledge 2017) and shows how cultural philanthropy embodied very different impulses in the period’s social work. As well as being much more widespread and durable than we might assume, cultural philanthropy was in fact a liberal-minded response to a long, slow crisis of nineteenth-century urbanism, rather than the urgent anxieties of the ‘Outcast London’ debate.



Forgan Smith Building (#1)