Though comparatively small, the museum’s collection of predominantly French and Italian eighteenth-century paintings and sculptures traces major political and artistic trends in that century.

In Italy, the Baroque style persisted in large-scale works celebrating absolute monarchy and the Catholic Church. In France, a center of the Enlightenment, a greater interest in exploring human social relations underpinned the emergence of the Rococo style in the early eighteenth century.

A more austere Neoclassical style became predominant later in the century, becoming associated in particular with the ideals of the French Revolution. And underlying all of the eighteenth-century’s styles was an intense interest in the classical world, which was nurtured through the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in southern Italy, the popularity of the Grand Tour (with Rome as its highlight), and the emergence of archaeology and art history as scholarly pursuits.