The Grand Tour was a rite of passage, a tour round Europe taken traditionally by aristocratic young men as a means of rounding off their education and sowing their wild oats before settling down to the more serious business of life. Its heyday was the eighteenth century and its goal was Italy, where many travellers acquired Old Master paintings and classical sculpture to adorn their town or country houses. During the nineteenth century Americans such as J.P. Morgan and Henry Clay Frick went on Grand Tours, purchasing their first works of art, and an increasing number of women travelled to Europe, keeping diaries, writing letters or assembling photograph albums. These provide fascinating eye-witness accounts through which we can follow in their footsteps, combining these with the visual records of artists such as Canaletto, Turner, Sargent and Whistler.
The present “Grand Tour Diaries” focus on Venice and the descriptions of visitors and residents over a period of three hundred years. In the eighteenth century travellers were attracted by its music, pageantry, art and reputation for pleasure. Despite its political decline after the Napoleonic invasions, Venice continued to be a magnet for artists, writers and composers throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, becoming a playground for the rich and famous and a happening place for contemporary artists and film-makers. You can follow in their footsteps and explore the places they visited and sights they saw by clicking on the icons below or, for more information, visiting the Research Library.