George Powell of Nanteos, near Aberystwyth, spent most of his adult life in London and France. He had sufficient means to pursue a life of travelling, writing poetry and indulging his passion for both music and collecting books, music manuscripts, autograph letters, fine and decorative art, coins and curiosities. Powell began giving his collections to the University in 1879 and bequeathed the rest on his death in 1882.
Photograph of George Powell
In addition to the objets d'art the bequest included 150 oil paintings, watercolours, prints and drawings and 1,700 books. Powell collected a number of works by the Pre-Raphaelites and their circle-Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Poynter, Frederick Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones, Simeon and Rebecca Solomon. Powell also bought paintings which were more of the academic or 'old master' variety, some of them genuine, some copies; by J. M. W. Turner, John Crome, John Constable and three large watercolours by Richard Westall.
The paintings and objets d'art reveal a special interest in the male nude, particularly in the collection of small bronzes. Homoeroticism is undeniably one of the prime organising principles of Powell's collection of fine and decorative art. His collection was not formed in any systematic fashion, nor is there any evidence to suggest that while it was in his possession it was arranged or displayed in any ordered manner. Most of the objects which Powell gave and bequeathed to the University were part of the decor of his house at 41 Mornington Crescent in north London; little came from Nanteos.
Nevertheless, en masse, his collections do constitute Powell's personal Theatre of Memory, they are representative of his personal enthusiasms. The objects had strong significance as precious souvenirs of friends and relics of heroes, as illustrations of his status as man of letters, a scholar, a benefactor, a patron to young genius and an equal among the great and the good. In his own words his collections were 'the reality of my dreams'. This nostalgic aspect of his collection-artefacts amassed to authenticate Powell's experiences, to summon them but never to recoup them-now colours our picture of Powell. Together the artefacts and associated literature are an invaluable resource for the reconstruction of the world view of a 19th-century collector, and the examination of our relationship with material goods in collections, through time.