Up until the pandemic, many school leavers embarked on what has become known as a Gap Year, prior to going on to university, during which they travelled to broaden the mind, experience other cultures and generally have a good time.
I’m in favour of this idea. When it works well, the 19-year-old who returns tends to be a bit more mature, understanding and appreciative of home, parents and the world around them than the 18-year-old who departed. That can only be a good thing when they are expected to knuckle down to academia once more. Pity those who have to go straight from school to uni on that score.
A rather magnificent pair of pietra dura columns in our January 28 sale reminded me that the Gap Year is no new phenomenon. From around 1660 to the 1840s, we knew it then as the Grand Tour.
A rather more exclusive arrangement available only to the offspring of the truly wealthy, usually when they came of age at 21, could last several years.
This rite of passage tended to take as its theme the rounding off a gentleman’s education by steeping him the classical, neo-classical and Renaissance wonders of Europe, especially in Greece and Italy. I’m quite sure that when these young bucks managed to slip away from their attendant chaperones, they also indulged in more lively activities, but the mementoes they brought home with them in the form of statues, architectural pieces, paintings and objects went on to form some of our nation’s best-known collections. Without them, our tradition of collecting art and antiques would not be what it is today.