British painting in the 17-18th centuries (Британская живопись 17-18 вв.)
1) Some Famous Illuminated Manuscripts.
It is usual to regard English painting as beginning with the Tudor
period and for this are several reasons. Yet the fact remains that
painting was practised in England for many hundred years before the first
Tudors came to the throne.
The development of the linear design in which English artists have
always excelled can be traced back to the earliest illuminations
brilliantly evolved in irish monastic centres and brought to Northumbria in
the seventh century. Its principal feature is that wonderful elaboration
of interlaced ornament derived from the patterns of metal-work in the
Celtic Iron Age, which is to be found in the Book of Kells and Lindesfarne
Gospel, its Northumbrian equivalent.
The greatest achievement in Irish manuscript illumination, the Book
of Kells is now generally assigned to the late eighth or early ninth
century. The Book of Kells is a manuscrept of the gospes of rather large
size(33*24 cm)written on thick glazed vellum. Its pages were originally
still larger; but a binder, a century or so ago, clipped away their
margins, cutting even into edges of the illuminations. Otherwise the
manuscript is in relatively good condition, in spite of another earlier
misadventure. The great gospel, on account of its wrought shrine, was
wickedly stolen in the night from the sacresty of the church and was found
a few months later stripped of its gold, under a sod. Finally the
manuscript passed to trinity college, where it is today.
No manuscript approaches the book of kells for elaborate
ornamentation. A continuous chain of ornamentation runs through the text.
The capitals at the beginning of each paragraph--two, three, cour to a page-
-are made of brightly coloured entwinements of birds, snakes, destorted men
and quadrupeds, fighting or performing all sorts of acrebatic feats. Other
animals wander about the pages between the lines or on top of them.
The thirteenth century had been the century of the great cathedrals,
in which nearly all branches of art had their share. Work on these immense
enterprises contunued into the fourteenth century and even beyond, but they
were no longer the main focus of art. We must remember that the world had
changed a great deal during that peiod. In the middle of the twelfth
century Europe was still a thinly populated continent of peasants with
moasteries and baron's castles as the main centres of power and learning.
But a hundred and fifty years later towns had grown into centres of trade
whose burghers felt increasingly independent of the poweof the Church and
the fuedal lords. Even the nobles no longer lived a life of grim seclusion
in their fortified manors, but moved to the cities with their comfort and
fashionable luxury there to display their wealth at the courts of the
mighty. We can get a very vivid idea of what life in the fourteenth
century was like if we remember the works of Chaucer, with his knights and
squires, friars and artisans.
The love of fourteenth-century painters for graceful and delicate
details is seen in such famous illustrated manuscripts as the English
Psalter known as Queen Mary's Psalter(about 1310). One of the pages shows
Christ in the temple, conversing with the learned scribes. They have put
him on a high chair, and he is seen explaining some point of doctrine with
the characteristic gesture used by medieval artists when they wanted to
draw a teacher. The scribes raise their hands in attitude of awe and
astonishment, and so do Christ's parents, who are just coming on to the
scene, looking at each other wonderingly. The method of telling the story
is still rather unreal. The artist has evidently not yet heard of Giotto's
discovery of the way in which to stage a scene so as to give it life.
Christ is minute in comparison with the grown-ups, and there is no attempt
on the part of the artist to give us any idea of the space between the
fugures. Moreover we can see that all the faces are more of less drawn
according to one simple formula, with the curved eyebrows, the mouth drawn
downwards and the curly hair and beard. It is all the more surprising to
look down the same page and to see that another scene has been added, which
has nothing to do with the sacred text. It is a theme from the daily life
of the time, the hunting of ducks with a hawk. Much to the delight of the
man and woman on horseback, and of the boy in front of them, the hawk has
just got hold of a duck, while tow others are flying away. The artist may
not have looked at real boys when he painted the scene above, but he had
undoubtedly looked at real hawks and ducks when he painted the scene below.
Perhaps he had too much reverence for the biblical narrative to bring his
observationn of actual life into it. He preferred to keep the two things
apart: the clear symbolic way of telling a story with easily readable
gestures and no distracting details, and on the margin of the page, the
piece from real life, which reminds us once more that this is Chaucer's
century. It was only in the cours of the fourteenth century that the two
elements of this art, the graceful narrative and the faithful observation,
were gradually fused. Perhaps this would not have happened so soon without
the influence of Italian art.
2) 16th and 17th Centuries.
When Henry VII abolished Papal authority in England in 1534 and
ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 he automatically brought
to an end the tradition of religious art as it had been practised in the
middle ages and in monastic centres. The break was so complete that
painting before and after seem entirely different thing, in subject, style
and medium. The local centres of culture having vanished, the tendency of
painting to be centralized in London and in the service of the court was
affirmed. Secular patronage now insisted on portraiture, and the habit
grew up of useng foreign painters--an artificial replacement of the old,
international interchange of artists and craftsmen. Yet the sixteenth
century was the age of Humanism which had created a new interest in the
3) Painting In The 16th --17th Centuries.
In the sixteenth century Holbein came to England, bringing with him a
much more highly developed pictorial tradition with a much fuller sense of
plastic relief. Holbein himself was a supreme master of linear design; he
could draw patterns for embroidery and jewellery as no one else, but he
never entirely sacrificed the plastic feeling for form to that, and in his
early work he modelled in full light and shade. Still, it was not
difficult for him to adapt himself somewhat to the English fondness for
flat linear pattern. Particularly in hes royal portraits, e.g. the
portrait of Henry VIII, we find and insistence on the details of the
embroidered patterns of the clothes and the jewellery, which is out of key
with the careful modelling of hands and face.
Finally, by Elizabeth's reign almost all trace of Holbein's plastic
feeling was swept away and the English instinct for linear description had
But the English were not left long in peace with their linear style.
Charles I, who had travelled abroad was bound to see that Rubens
represented a much higher conception of art than anything England
possessed, and invited him over. He was followed by Van Dyck, who came to
stay. And although he too could not help feeling the influence of the bias
of English taste and learned to make his images more flatly decorative and
less powerfully modelled, than had been his wont, none the less, he set a
new standard of plastic design, and this was carried on by Lely. Lely was
not a great artist, but he was thoroughly imbued with the principles of
three demensional plastic design. Though his portraits lack psychological
subtlety, and fail to reveal clearly the sitter's individuality, they are
firmly and consistently constructed.
Kneller of the next generation caried on the same tradition.
What of native English talent? The approach of the Civil war stripped
away the polish and brought out a sterner strain of character no less in
the aristocratic opponents. In the realism with which he depicted the
militant Cavalier, William Dobson(1610-46) marks a breakaway from Van
Dyckian elegance. Born in London, Dobson comes suddenly into prominence in
royalist Oxford after the Civil War had broken out.
The painting of Endymion Porter, thefriend and agent of Charles I in
the purchase of works of art, is generally accounted Dobson's masterpiece.
The most striking aspect of the work is its realism. Though Endymion
Porter is portrayed as a sportsman who has just shot a hare, there is a
stern look about his features which seems to convey that this is wartime.
The solemnity of the times is also reflected in the portraiture
produced during the Commonwealth period and one would naturally expect an
even greater refection of elegance than that of Dobson during the Puritan
dominance. Indeed a prospect of unsparing realism is set out in Cromwell's
admonition--to "remark all these ruffness, pimples, warts" and paint "
everything as you see in me".
The corresponding painter to Dobson on the Parliamentary side,
however, Robert Walker, was a much less original artist and still closely
imitated Van Dyck's graceful style.
A number of other portrait painters are of interest by reason of
their subjects. John Greenhill (c. 1644--76) is of some note as one of the
first artists to depict English actors in costume. John Riley (1646--91)
was an artist whose work is distinguished by a grave reticence. In
succession to Lely he painted many eminent people, including Dryden, and
some minor folk, as for example the aged housemaid Bridget Holmes. He was
described by Horace Walpole as "one of the best native painters who have
flourished in England".
4) Painting In The 18th Century.
The eighteenth century was the great age of British painting. It was
in this period that British art attained a distinct national character.
In the seventeenth century, art in Britain had been dominated largely by
the Flemish artist, Anthony van Dyck. In the early eighteenth century,
although influenced by Continental movements, particularly by French
rococo, British art began to develop nindependently. William Hogarth, born
just before the turn of the century, was the first major aritst to reject
foreign influence and establish a kind of art whose themes and subjects
were thoroughly British. His penetrating, witty portrayal of the
contemporary scene, his protest against social injustice and his attack on
the vulgtarities of fashianable society make him one of the most original
and significant of British artists.
Hogarth was followed by a row of illustrious painters: Thomas
Cainsborough, with his lyrical landscapes, "fancy pictures" and portraits;
the intellectual Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted charming society
portraits and became the first president of the Royal Academy; and George
Stubbs, who is only now being recognized as an artist of the greatest
visual perception and sensitivity. There are many others, including Wright
of Derby, Wilson, Lawrence, Ramsay, Raeburn, Romney, Wheatley, and the
5) Satirical Genre Painting
5.1) William Hogarth(1697--1764)
William Hogarth was unquestionably one of the greatest of English
artists and a man of remarkably individual character and thought. It was
his achievement to give a comprehensive view of social life within the
framework of moralistic and dramatic narrative. He produced portraits
which brought a fresh vitality and truth into the jaded profession of what
he called "phizmongering". He observed both high life and low with a keen
and critical eye and his range of observation was accompanied by an
exceptional capacity for dramatic composition, and in painting by a
technical quality which adds beauty to pictures containing an element of
satire of caricature.
A small stocky man with blunt pugnacious features and alert blue
eyes, he had all the sharp-wittedness of the born Cockney and an insular
pride which led to his vigorous attacks on the exaggerated respect for
fereign artists and the taste of would-be connoisseurs who brought over (as
he said) "shiploads of dead Christs, Madonnas and Holy Families" by
inferior hands. Thereis no reason to suppose he had anything but respect
for the great Italian masters, though he deliberately took a provocative
attitude. What he objected to as much as anything was the absurd
veneration of the darkness produced by time and varnish as well as the
assumption that English painters were necessarily inferior to others. A
forthrightness of statement may perhaps be related to hes North-country
inheritance, for his father came to London from West-morland, but was in
any case the expression of a democratic outlook and unswervingly honest
The fact that he was apprenticed as a boy to a silver-plate engraver
has a considerable bearing on Hogarth's development. It instilled a
decorative sense which is never absent from his most realistic productions.
It introduced him to the world of prints, after famous masters or by the
satirical commentators of an earlier day. It is the engraver's sense of
line coupled with a regard for the value of Rococo curvature which governs
his essay on aesthetics, The Analysis of Beauty.
As a painter Hogarth may be assumed to have learned the craft in
Thornhill's "academy", though his freshness of colour and feeling for the
creamy substance of oil paint suggest more acquaintance than he admitted to
with the technique of his French contemporaries. His first success as a
painter was in the "conversation pieces" in which his bent as an artist
found a logical beginning. These informal groups of family and friends
surrounded by the customary necessariesof their day-to-day life were
congenial in permitting him to treat a pictureas astage. He was not the
inventor of the genre, which can be traced back to Dutch and Flemish art of
the seventeenth century and in which he had contemporary rivals. Many were
produced when he was about thirty and soon after he made his clandestine
match with Thornhill's daughter in 1729, when extraefforts to gain a
livelihood became necessary. With many felicities of detail and
arrangement they show Hogarth still in a restrained and decorous mood. A
step nearer to the comprehensive view of life was the picture of an actual
stage, the scene from The Beggar's Opera with which he scored a great
success about 1730, making sveral versions of the painting. Two prospects
must have been revealed to him as a result, the idea of constructing his
own pictorial drama comprising various scenes of social life, and that of
reaching a wider public through the means of engraving. The first
successful siries: "The Harlot's Progress, " of which only the engraving
now exist, was immediately followed by the tremendous verve and riot of
"The Rake's Progress", c. 1732; the masterpiece of the story series the
"Marriage а la Mode" followed after an interval of twelve years.
As a painter of social life, Hogarth shows the benefit of the system
of memory training which he made a self-discipine. London was his universe
and he displayed his mastery in painting every aspect of its people and
architecture, from the mansion in Arlington Street, the interior of which
provided the setting for the disillusioned couple in the second scene of
the "Marriage а la Mode", to the dreadful aspect of Bedlam. Yet he was not
content with one line of development only and the work of his mature years
takes a varied course. He could not resist the temptation to attempt a
revalry with the history painters, though with little successs. The
Biblical compositions for St. Bartholomew's Hospital on which he embarked
after "The Rake's Progress" were not of a kind to convey his real genius.
He is sometimes satirical as in "The March of the Guards towards Scotland",
and the "Oh the Roast Beef of Old England!(Calais Gate)", which was a
product of his single expeditionabroad with its John Bull comment on the
condition of France, and also the "Election"series of 1755 with its
richness of comedy. In portraiture he displays a great variety. The charm
of childhood, the ability to compose a vivid group, a delightful delicacy
of colour appear in the "Graham Children" of 1742. The portrait heads of
his servants are penetrating studies of character. The painting of Captain
Coram, the philanthropic sea captain who took a leading part in the
foundation of the Foundling Hospital, adapts the formality of the
ceremonial portrait to a democratic level with a singularlyengaging
effects. The quality of Hogarth as an artist is seen to advantage in his
sketches and one sketch in particular, the famous "Shrimp Girl" quickly
executed with a limited range of colour, stands alone in his work, taking
its place among the masterpieces of the world in its harmonyof form and
content, its freshness and vitality.
The genius of Hogarth is such that he is often regarded as a solitary
rebel against a decaying artificiality, and yet though he had no pupils, he
had contemporaries who, while of lesser stature in one way and another,
tended in the same direction.
William Hogarth expressed in his art the new mood of national
elation, the critical spirit of the self-confident bourgeoisie and the
liberal humanitarianism of his age. He was the first native-born English
painter to become a hero of the Enlightenment. One reason for his
popularity was that the genius of the age found its highest expression in
wit. From Moliиre to Votaire, from Congreve through Swift and Pope to
Fielding, the literature of wit was enriched on a scale unprecedent since
antiquity. The great comic writers of the century exposed folly, scarified
pretension and lashed hypocrisy and cruelty.
It was the great and single-handed achievement of Hogarth to
establish comedy as a category in art to be rated as highly as comedy in
literature. According to the hierarchy of artistic categories that was
inherited from the Renaissance, istoria, --the narrative description of
elevated themes, especially from the Bible and antiquity --was the highest
branch of art measured by a scale which placed low-life genre at the
Hogarth was actually sensitive to the categorical deprecation of
comic art, and with his friend Henry Fielding set about a campaign to raise
In a number of works and statements Hogarth identified his cause with
comic literature. In his self -portrait of 1745 the oval canvas rests on
the works of Shakespeare, Milton and Swift. Because his reasons for
invoking literature were misunderstood, Hogarth exposed himself to the
charge of being a "literary" artist. The legend of the literary painter
can be traced back to his own age. "Other pictures we look at, "wrote
Charles Lamb, "his prints we read." Some of the blame for aesthetic
deprecation must be placed on the shoulders of Hogarth himself. He seems
to have even encouraged an image which mystified his critics. He remarked
of the connoisseurs "Because I hate them, they think I hate Titian and let
them!" He outraged Horace Walpole by saying that he could paint a portrait
as well as Van Dyck. He compared nature with art, to the desadvantage of
If his statements are examined carefully, it becomes apparent that he
did not attack foreign art as such, that he passionately admired the Old
What manner of man was he who executed thse portraits--so various, so
faithful, and so admirable? In the London National Gallery most of us have
seen the best and most carefully finished series of his comic paintings,
and the portrait of his own honest face, of which the bright blue eyes
shine out from the canvas and give you an idea of that keen and brave look
with which William Hogarth regarded the world. No man was ever less of a
hero; you see him before you, and can fancy what he was --a jovial, honest
London citizen, stout and sturdy; a hearly, plain-spoken man, loving his
laugh, his friend, his glass, his roast-beef of Old England, and having a
proper bourgeois scorn for foreign fiddlers, foregn singers, and, above
all, for foreign painters, whom he held in the most amusing contempt.
Hogarth's "Portraits of Captain Coram"
Hogarth painted his portrait of Capitain Coram in 1740, and donated
it the same year to the Foundling Hospital.
It was painted on Hogarth's own initiative, without having been
commissioned, and was presented to a charitable institution in the making,
one of whose founder members Hogarth was, and it depicts a friend of his,
the prime mover of the whole undertaking. The very format of the picture
shows that Hogarth was exerting all his powers to produce a masterpiece.
It measures about 2.4 by 1.5 metres, the biggest portrait Hogarth ever
In producing a work like this, of monumental proportions, where there
was no purchaser to sistort the artist's intentions, Hogarth mst have had a
definite aim or aims, and it is probable that he desired his work to
express something of significance to him at this period of time.
The portrait is conceived in the great style, with foreground plus
repoussoir, middle-ground, background, classical column and drapery. Coram
is depicted sitting on a chair, which is placed on a platform with two
steps leading up to it.
Hogarth makes use of the conventional scheme, traditional in
portraits of rulers and noblemen, with its column, drapery and platform as
laudatory symbols to stress the subject's dignity, a composition, which in
the England of that time, was usually associated with Van Dyck's much
admired but old-fashioned protraits of kings and noblemen. Hogarth's
painting, with its attributes and symbols is not far removed form history
painting. But the subject is a sea-captain, whose social position did not,
by the fixed conventions for this category of picture, entitle him to this
kind of portrayal. His relatively modest position in society is emphasized
by his simple dress, a broad-coat of cloth, by the absence of the wig
obligatory for every parson of standing, and by the intimace and realism
with which the artist has depicted this figure with his broad, stocky body,
shose short, bent legs do not reach the floor.
The mode of depiction refers back to , and creates in the beholder an
expectation of a somewhat schematized and idealized manner of human
portrayal. But by depicting Coram in an intimate and realistic fashion
Hogarth breaks the mould. In one and the same work he has made use of the
means of expression of both the great and the low style. By making
apparent the low social status of his subject, Hogarth seems also to wish
to breach the classic doctrine, whose scale of values provided the
foundation of the theories about the division of painting into distinct
categories, where the nature of the theme determined a picture's place on
the scale "high" to "low".
5.2) Sir Joshua Reynolds(1723-1792)
To feel to the full the contrast between Reynolds and Hodarth, there
is no better way than to look at their self-portraits. Hogarth's of 1745
in the Tate Gallery, Reynolds's of 1773 in the Royal Academy. Hogarth had
a round face, with sensuous lips, and in his pictures looks you straight in
face. He is accompanied by a pug-dog licking his lip and looking very much
like his master. The dog sits in front of the painted oval frame in which
the portrait appears--that is the Baroque trick of a picture within a
picture. Reynolds scorns suck tricks. His official self-portrait shows
him in an elegant pose with his glove in his hand, the body fitting nicely
into the noble triangular outline which Raphael and Titian had favoured,
and behind him on the right appears a bust of Michelangelo.
This portrait is clearly as programmatic as Hogarth's. Reynolds's
promramme is known to us in the greatest detail. He gave altogether
fifteen discourses to the students of the Academy, and they were all
printed. And whereas Hogarth's Analysis of Beaty was admired by few and
neglected by most--Reynolds's Discourses were international reading.
What did Reynolds plead for? His is on the whole a con sistent
theory. "Study the great masters...who have stood the test of ages, " and
especially "study the works to notice"; for "it is by being conversant with
the invention of others that we learn to invent". Don't be "a mere copier
of nature", don't "amuse mankind with the minute neatness of your
imitations, endeavour to impress them by the grandeur of [...] ideas".
Don't strive for "dazzling elegancies" of brushwork either, form is
superior to colour, as idea is to ornament. The history painter is the
painter of the highest order; for a subject ought to be "generally
interesting". It is his right and duty to "deviate from vulgar and strict
historical truth". So Reynolds would not have been tempted by the
reporter's attitude to the painting of important con-temporary events. With
such views on vulgar truth and general ideas, the portrait painter is ipso
facto inferior to the history painter. Genre, and landscape and still life
rank even lower. The student ought to keep his "principal attention fixed
upon the higher excellencies. If you compass them, and compass nothing
more, you are still first, class... You may be very imperfect, but still
you are an imperfect artist of the highest order".
This is clearly a consistent theory, and it is that of the Italian
and even more of the French seventeenth century. There is nothing
specifically English in it. But what is eminently English about Reynolds
and his Discourses is the contrast between what he preached and what he
did. History painting and the Grand Manner, he told the stu-dents, is what
they ought to aim at, but he was a portrait painter most exclusively, and
an extremely successful one.
Reynold's "Mrs Siddons as the Tragic
Muse": the Grand Manner Taken
For anyone coming to the painting with a fresh eye the first
impression must surely be one of dignity and solem-nity. It is an
impression created not only by the pose and bearing of the central figure
herself, and her costume, but also by the attitude of her two shadowy
attendants, by the arrangement of the figures, and by the colour. The
colour must appear as one of the most remarkable features of the painting.
To the casual glance the picture seems monochromatic. The dominant tone is
a rich golden brown, interrupted only by the creamy areas of the face and
arms and by the deep velvety shadows of the background. On closer
examination a much greater variety in the colour is appar-ent, but the
first impression remains valid for the painting as a unit.
The central figure sits on a thronelike chair. She does not look at
the spectator but appearsan deep contemplation; her expression is one of
melancholy musing. Her gestures aptly reinforce the meditative air of the
head and also contribute to the regal quality of the whole figure. A great
pendent cluster of pearls adorns the front of her dress. In the heavy,
sweeping draperies that envelop the figure there are no frivolous elements
of feminine costume to conflict with the initial effect of solemn grandeur.
In the background, dimly seen on either side of the throne, are two
attendant figures. One, with lowered head and melancholy expression, holds
a bloody dagger; the other, his features contorted into an expression of
horror, grasps a cup. Surely these figures speak of violent events. Their
presence adds a sinister impression to a picture already eavily charged
with grave qualities.
At the time the portrait was painted, Sarah Siddons was in her late
twenties, but she already.had a soli.d decade of acting experience behind
her. She was born in 1755, the daughter of Roger Kemble, manager of an
itinerant com-pany of actors. Most of her early acting experience was with
her father's company touring through English provincial centres. Her
reputation rose so quickly that in 1775, when she was only twenty, she was
engaged by Garrick to perform at Drury Lane. But this early London
adventure proved premature; she was unsuccessful and retired again to the
provincial circuits, acting principally at Bath. She threw her full
energies into building her repertory and perfecting her acting technique,
with the result that her return to London as a tragic actress in the autumn
of 1782, was one of the great sensations of theatre history. Almost
overnight she found herself the unquestioned first lady of the British
stage, a position she retained for thirty years. The leading intellectuals
and statesmen of the day were among her most fervent admirers and were in
constant attendance at her performance.
Among the intelligentsia who flocked to see the great actress and
returned again and again was Sir Joshua Reynolds, the august president of
the Royal Academy. He was at the time the most respected painter in
England, and he also enjoyed a wide reputation as a theorist on art.
Reynolds moved with ease among the great men of his day. Mrs Siddons
remarks in her memoirs: "...At his house were assembled all the good, the
wise, the talented, the rank and fashion of the age."
The painting is in fact a brilliantly successful synthe-sis of images
and ideas from a wide variety of sources.
The basic notion of representing Mrs Siddons in the guise of the
Tragic Muse may well have been suggested to Reynolds by a poem honouring
the actress and published early in 1783. The verses themselves are not
distinguished, but the title and the poet's initial image of Mrs Siddons
enthroned as Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, may have lodged in Reynolds's
memory and given the initial direction to his thinking about the portrait.
It has long been recognized that in the basic organiza-tion of the
picture Reynolds had Michelangelo's prophets and sybils of the Sistine
ceiling in mind. Mrs Siddons's pose'recalls that of Isaiah, and of the
two attendant figures the one on the left is very closely modelled on the
simi-larly placed companion of the prophet Jeremiah.
Reynolds's attitude toward this sort of borrowing from the works of
other artists may seem a little strange to us today. He thought that great
works of art should serve as a school to the students at the Royal
Academy: "He, who borrows an idea from an ancient, or even from a modern
artist not his contemporary, and so accommodates his own work, that it
makes a part of it, with no seam or joining appearing, can hardly be
charged with plagiarism: poets practise this kind of borrowing, without
reserve. But an artist should not be content with this only; he should
enter into a competition with his original, and endeavour to improve what
he is appropriating to his own work. Such imitation is ... a perpetual
exercise of the mind, a continual invention." From this point of view "The
Tragia Muse" is a perfect illustration of Reynolds;s advice to the
If the arrangement of the figures in the portrait of Mrs Siddons
suggests Michelangelo, other aspects of the painting, particularly the
colour, the heavy shadow effects, and the actual application of the paint,
are totally unlike the work of Michelangelo and suggest instead the
paintings of Rembrandt.
But the amazing thing is that the finished product is in no sense a
pastiche. The disparate elements have all been transformed through
Reynolds's own visual imagination and have emerged as a unit in which the
relationship of all the parts to one another seems not only correct but
inevitable. This in itself is an achievement commanding our admiration.
In "The Tragic Muse" Reynolds achieved an air of grandeur and dignity
which he and his contemporaries regarded as a prime objective of art and
which no other portrait of the day embodied so successfully.
5.3) George Romney (1734-1802)
Romney is best known to the general public by facile portraits of
women and children and by his many studies of Lady Hamilton, whom he
delighted to portray in various historical roles, these are not however his
best works. His visit to Italy at a time when New Classical movement was
gaming ground made a lasting impression on him and some of his portrait
groups, e. g. "The Gower Children", 1776, are composed with classical
statuary in mind, particularly in the treatment of the draperies. He
painted a number of impressive male portraits., and some fashionable groups
of great elegance, e. g. "Sir Cristopher and Lady Sykes", 1786. His output
was large,,but he never exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Romney was of an imaginative, introspective, and nervous temperament.
He was attracted to literary circles and William Hayley and William Cowper
were among his friends. He had aspirations to literary subjects in the
Grand Manner, and, painted for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery. His sepia
drawings, mostly designs for literary and historical subjects which he
never carried put, were highly prized; there is a large collection of them
in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
5.4) Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)
When Gainsborough made his often-quoted remark about Reynolds, "Damn
him, how various he is", he was glancing, we may suppose, at the peculiar
skill by which his great rival ran the whole gamut of portrait-painting,
from "mere heads" to the most elaborate poetic and allegorical fantasies.
Gainsborough himself had no such variety, but painted his sitters,
commonly, in their habit as they lived. Yet, in a larger sense, he was far
more va-rious than Reynolds. He excelled in two distinct branches of the
art, portraiture and landscape, and revealed an un-equalled success in
combining the two -- that is, in adjusting the human figure to a background
of natural scenery. Moreover, he excelled in conversation pieces, animal
painting, seascapes, genre and even still life. Such was his peculiar
Gainsborough's personality was also more vivid and various than that of Sir
Joshua. He was excitable, easily moved to wrath and as readily appeased,
generous and friendly with all who loved music and animals and the open
air. He had not Reynolds's gift of suffering fools gladly. Although he
painted at court, he was not a courtly person, but preferred to associate
with musicians, simple folk, and, on occasion, with cottagers. His most
engaging pictures are those of persons with whom he was intimate or at
ease. His grand sitters seem a little glacial, for all the perfection of
the painter's technique, as though a pane of glass were between them and
The methods of the two painters are sufficiently indicated by their
respective treatment of Mrs Siddons. Reynolds, when the portrait was
finished, signed his name along the edge of her robe, in order to send his
name "down to posterity on the hem of her garment". Gainsborough made no
attempt, as he had no wish, to record the art of "Queen Sarah"; but he was
interested in the woman as she rustled into his studio in her blue and
white silk dress. Her hat, muff and fur delighted him, and he proceeded to
paint her as though she were paying him a call. As an actress, she was one
of those sitters with whom he could be informal; and while drawing her
striking profile, he is said to have remarked, "Damn it, madam, there is no
end to your nose." The man who made such a remark was, clearly, no
courtier, but a brusque and friendly being, concerned to rid his sitter of
all sense of restraint. For a painter's studio is to the sitter a nerve-
Gainsborough had from the first shown peculiar skill in representing
his sitters as out-of-doors, and thus uniting portraiture with landscape.
In his youth he had painted a portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews sitting in a
wheat-fieM - a lovely picture, fresh as the dew of morning, in which
Gainsborough's two major interests seem almost equally balanced; and at the
close of his career his love of scenery sometimes prevailed over his
interest in human beings, and resulted not so much in a portrait as in a
picture of a garden or a park, animated by gallant men and gracious women.
The tendency to prefer the scenery to the persons animating it reaches a
climax in the famous canvas "Ladies Walking in the Mall". It is a view of
the central avenue of the Mall, near Gainsborough's residence, behind
Carlton House. The identity of the fashionable ladies taking an afternoon
stroll in the park is happily ignored. The rustling of the foliage is
echoed, as it were, in the shimmer of the ladies' gowns, so that Horace
Walpole wrote of the picture that it was "all-a-flutter, like a lady's
fan". It has the delicate grace of Lancret or Pater, and betrays the
painter's ingenious escape from his studio to the greenest retreat.
on the Art of Thomas Gainsborough
"Whether he most excelled in portraits, landscapes or fancy-pictures,
it is difficult to determine [...] This excel-lence was his own, the
result of his particular observation and taste; for this he was certainly
not indebted [...] to any School; for his grace was not academical, or
antique, but selected by himself from the great school of nature [...]
[...] The peculiarity of his manner or style, or we may call it - his
language in which he expressed his ideas, has been considered by many, as
his greatest defect. But... whether this peculiarity was a defect or not,
intermixed, as it was, with great beauties, of some of which it was
probably the cause, it becomes a proper subject of criticism and enquiry to
a painter. [...]
[...] It is certain, that all those odd scratches and marks which, on
a close examination, are so observable in Gainsborough's pictures; ... this
chaos, this uncouth and shape-less appearance, by a kind of magic, at a
certain distance assumes form, and all the parts seem to drop into their
proper places; so that we can hardly refuse acknowledging the full effect
of diligence, under the appearance of chance and hasty negligence. [...]
[...] It must be allowed, that the hatching manner of Gainsborough
did very much contribute to the lightness of effect which is so eminent a
beauty in his pictures." [...]
6) Eighteenth Century Lanscape
By the time of Hogarth's death in 1764, a new genera-tion had already
established itself in London, with a new kind of art and a new attitude to
art. By 1750, a number of native-born artists were making very fair
.livings in branches other than the "safe" one of portrait-painting. There
were distinguished painters in landscape, sea-painting, and animal
painting, quite apart from Hogarth's innovation of satirical comic
painting. For Englishmen it may be true that landscape and animal painting,
and to an extent sea-painting, have always been best loved when they retain
something of portraiture - are portraits, in fact, recognizable likenesses
of their own parks, houses, or towns, of their cities, of their ships or
The best landscapes painted in England at the closje of the
seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centu-ries were
topographical in nature. In marine painting the leading figure was Samuel
Scott (1702-1772), a contemporary of Hogarth, who began by painting in the
manner of Van de Veldes, but who later switched to townscape almost
certainly in answer to a demand that had been created by Canaletto. His
(Canaletto's) paintings were widely known here, brought back by young
Englishmen^as perfect souvenirs, before he himself came in 1746.
Scott, following close in Canaletto's footsteps in
his views of London, caught perhaps more of the veil of moisture that is
almost always in English skies. But Scott lacked the Venetian's
spaciousness and the logic of picture-making.
Richard Wilson (1714-1782) developed a stronger, more severe style, in
which the classic inspiration of the two French masters of the Italian
landscape, Claude and GaspardPoussin, is very clear; as also, rather later,
is that'of "the broad shimmering golden visions of the Dutchman, Cuyp.
Wilson's English work of the sixties and seventies, more various than
is often thought, is at its best of a calm, sunbasking, poetic distinction;
to the English landscape he transferred something of the miraculously lucid
Roman light, in which objects in the countryside can seem to group
themselves consciously into picture. On other occasions Wilson found in the
Welsh and in the English scene a ra-diant yet brooding tenderness, the
placid mystery of wide stretches of water, over which the eye is drawn deep
into the picture to the far Haze on the horizon where sight seems to melt.
Sometimes he also made a bid to align his compositions with the classic
example of Claude by peopling them with classic or mythological figures.
The most remarkable of Gainsborough's landscapes have, in fact, only
found a full appreciation this century. These are very early landscapes,
painted in Suffolk about 1750; strictly they are not pure landscapes as
they include portraits, but the synthesis of the two genres is so perfect
that the pictures become portraits of more than a person - of a whole way
of life, of a country gentry blooming modestly and naturally among their
woods and fields, their parks and lakes. The directness of
characterization is so
traightforward as to seem almost naive. The light on land and tree and
water has a rainwashed brilliance, and a strange tension of stillness -
sometimes it is almost a thunderlight.
In his later pure landscapes, the woodenness melts under the brush
of a painter who loved the radiant shimmering fluency of his medium as
perhaps no other English painter has ever done.
Wilson and Gainsborough form the two main peaks in eighteenth century
As a landscape painter Gainsborough was influenced in his early years
by Dutch seventeenth century pictures seen in East Anglia; and the
landscape backgrounds in his Ipswich period portraits are all in that
tradition. But during his Bath period he saw paintings by Rubens and
thereafter that influence is apparent in his landscape compositions. The
landscapes of Gainsborough's maturity have spontaneity deriving from the
light rapid movement of his brush;- but they are not rapid sketches from
nature, he never painted out-of-doors; he painted his landscapes in his
studio from his drawings, and from the scenes which , he constructed in a
kind of model theatre, where he took bits of cork and vegetables and so on
and moved them about, and moved the light about, till he had arranged a
composi-tion. It is possible that some of his preliminary black and white
chalk landscape drawings were done out-of-doors; but the majority were
done in the studio from memory when he returned from his walk or ride; and
some of the finest of the drawings, the "Horses by a Shed", for example,
resulted perhaps from a combination of the two procedures - a rough pencil
note made on the spot and reconsidered in terms of composition with the
aid of his candle and the model theatre after dinner. At his highest level
he went far beyond the current formulae and achieved a degree of
integrated three-dimensional arrangement.
Wilson's "River Scene with Bathers"
Probably the most lasting impression made on many people by Richard
Wilson's "River Scene with Bathers" is of the golden light that suffuses
the painting. It is a sort of light we associate with a warm summer
evening. Actual sunlight doesn't often have such a mellow tone, but this
colour accords perfectly with the image many of us hold of what evening
light ideally should be. Almost everything about this painting has a
similar elysian quality. None of us has seen a view exactly like this one,
and yet it immediately strikes a sympathetic chord: the cattle lazing in
the late sun while the herders take a swim; the softly rounded hills with
masses of unruffled foliage; the quiet river meandering toward the distant
mountain and the still more distant, unclouded horizon. There is even a
ruined temple, picturesquely placed as a gentle reminder of the transitory
character of man's achievement in the face of nature. Eve-rything about
this painting contributes to this idyllic mood. It is a little too good to
be true; but we wish it might be true.
Richard Wilson himself had never seen this view any more than we
have, because it does not exist. It was for him, as it is for us, an ideal
landscape, sensitively developed in his imagination from his recollections
of things encountered, both in nature and in art. It was an attitude that
was widely accepted in Wilson's day. The artistic climate that produced a
painting such as "River Scene with Bathers" is akin to that which accounts
for "Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse".
Underlying the interest in creating an "ideal" landscape was the
assumption that art should aspire to something more than mere sensuous
gratification; that it should elevate the thoughts of the spectator and
purge his mind of petty considerations. This was to be achieved both by
what was included and (equally important) the way in which it was
represented. The scene, with its ruin, spacious vista, and warm summer
light, is meant to remind us of Italy, or at least the Mediterranean area,
and to arouse by association a train of thought concerned with pastoral
idylls of the classical past. But this effect is strongly supported by the
way in which Wilson has organized the elements in his painting to sustain a
mood of quiet and repose. The picture is carefully balanced around the
centrally placed ruin. The hill to the right finds just the proper counter-
poise in the distant mountain and the broad stretch of valley to the left.
The group of bathers on the left is balanced by the cattle on the right.
The whole view is enframed by trees on either side and set comfortably back
in space by a dark' foreground ledge. The sense of balance involves many
factors, including shape, light, texture and distance. Nothing appears
forced, but every element in the picture has been conceived and placed with
regard to its relation to the
7) SCIENCE AND ANIMAL PAINTING
Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) and George Stubbs (1724-1806)
A most interesting figure was Joseph Wright of Derby, an able enough
painter with a remarkable range of interests. He was conventionally London-
trained in portraiture, and made the, by then, conventionally necessary
trip to Italy but it is to his native Midlands that he returned in the
end. In his work there comes through something of the hard-headed,
practical yet romantic excitement of the dawn'of the Industrial
Revolution. He saw the world in a forced and sharpening light'- sometimes
artificial, the mill-windows brilliant in the night, faces caught in the
circle of the lamp, or the red glow of an iron forge, casting mon-strous
shadows. This was an old trick - deriving from Caravaggio and the Dutch
candlelight painters - but with it Wright brought out a sense of
exploration and exploitation - scientific, intellectual and commercial,
the spirit of the Midlands of his time. His patrons were men like the
industrialist Arkwright of the spinning Jenny, and Dr Priestley, the
poetic seer of the new science (both of whom he painted).
The "Experiment on a Bird in the Air-Pump", painted in 1768, is
perhaps his masterpiece. Air-pumps were in considerable production in the
Midlands at the time, but this is not merely an excellently painted and
composed study of scientific experiment. It is raised to the pitch of a
true and moving drama of life by the tender yet un-sentimental exploration
of a human situation. The bird in the globe will die, as the vacuum is
created in it; the elder girl on the right cannot bear the idea and hides
her face in her hands, while the younger one though half-turned away also,
looks up still to the bird with a marvellous and marvelling expression in
which curiosity is just overcoming fear and pity. The moon, on the edge of
cloud, seen through the window on the right, adds another dimension of
weird-ness and mystery.
This is a picture that exists on many levels but, as it was not
expressed in terms of the classical culture of the age, Wright's subject
pictures were for long not given their due. He himself stood apart from
that (classical) culture; although he early became an associate of the
Royal Academy, he soon quarrelled with it.
George Stubbs presents in some ways a similar case: he never became a
full member of the Royal Academy. He was, for his contemporaries, a mere
horse-painter. In the last few years he has been much studied, and his
reassess-ment has lifted him to the level of the greatest of his'time. His
life has been fairly described as heroic. The son of a Liverpool currier,
he supported himself at the begin-ning of his career" in northern England
by painting por-traits, but at the same time started on his study of
anatomy, animal and human, that was to prove not only vitally im-portant to
his art but also a new contribution to science. Stubbs was one of the
great English empiricists. He took a farm-house in Lincolnshire and in it,
over eighteen months, he grappled with the anatomy of the horse. His models
were the decaying carcasses of horses, which he gradually stripped down,
recording each revelation of anatoT my in precise and scientific drawing.
The result was his book The Anatomy of the Horse, a pioneering work both in
science and art.
All his painting is based on knowledge drawn from ruthless study,
ordered by a most precise observation. In the seventies, his scientific
interests widened from anatomy to chemistry, and helped by Wedgwood, the
enlightened founder of the great pottery firm, he experimented in enam) el
painting. His true and great originality was not on-conventional lines, and
could not be grasped by contemporary taste.