BRITISH GENRE PAINTING IN THE 18TH CENTURY. GENRE PAINTING PARTICULARLY PORTRAITURE AND LANDSCAPE WAS TO DOMINATE BRITISH ART IN THIS PERIOD. AN APPRECIATION OFTHE THREE GREAT ARTISTS OF GENRE , PORTRAITURE AND LANDSCAPE PAINTING: JOSHUA REYNOLDS ( 1723-92) THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH ( 1727-88) AND WILLIAM HOGARTH ( 1697- 1764): PART 4 .

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In the fourth Instalment of my articles on Genre Painting I will be concentrating on Joshua Reynolds First President of the Royal Academy and Art theorist and educator. Andrew Wilton continues his commentary on Reynolds in his 5 Centuries of British Painting from Holbein to Hodgkin.

” Reynolds would take a figure from Correggio or Raphael and present it with a clever twist as the portrait of a contemporary”. [1].

” Mythology and History provided a wonderful dressing-up box with which they could be disguised as goddesses , nymphs or Vestal virgins”. [2].

Reynolds was always full of technical experiment as Wilton points out.

” True to his time and his exploratory cast of mind he was given to technical experiment. His enthusiastic use of bitumen and other untested substances has resulted in the wreck of many fine works”. [3].

” The draperies he devised as appropriate clothing for his exalted sitters are generalised too. neither classical or modern they seem specifically to serve the purpose of Painting”. [4].

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Wilton explains Reynolds’s importance for training  up and coming artists especially those artists specialising in Portraiture .

” Reynolds had a profound influence on all the succeeding generation of Portraitists most notably on William Beechey and George Romney”. [5].

” By the time Gainsborough moved from East Anglia to Bath in 1750 his style had matured to deal with larger projects than the little groups and Dutch inspired Landscapes of his Suffolk years”. [6]

Wilton shows how like Reynolds Gainsborough experimented with his art but in many ways Gainsborough was a more talented and Flamboyant artist than Reynolds.

” Like Reynolds from whom as a creative personality he could hardly be more different Gainsborough was a born experimenter.  He evolved a virtuoso way with the brush , effortlessly evoking soft flesh satins and background landscape”.[7].

” Reynolds admired his manner of forming all the parts of his picture together. Gainsborough’s great patrons relished the early elegance that he conferred on them”. [8].

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Wilton continues his commentary on  Gainsborough pointing out his ‘Fancy Pictures’.

” Gainsborough also enjoyed inventing Fancy pictures .The figures might be mythological but these were not serious subjects. they might equally be rustic characters or Street Urchins”. [9].

” Gainsborough imitated the Beggars and peasants of Murillo (French or Spanish artist) in scenes showing Country children doing ordinary things-carrying pitchers of water or tending pigs”. [10].

Reynolds took a critical attitude to Gainsborough believing that he did not truly represent nature in a lyrical way.

” Reynolds oddly thought that Gainsborough did not look at nature with a Poets eye , but he added it must be acknowledged that he saw her with the eye of a painter”. [11].

” Gainsborough sought to reconfigure the natural world according to the logic of the picture space and here too he was a child of his experimental time”. [12].

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Gill Perry an Open University academic considers Hogarth and Reynolds in her Treatise ‘Mere Face painters’.

” Hogarth’s David Garrick raises some important questions about the status and meaning of portraiture. history painting was seen as the highest genre of painting”. [13].

” Sir Joshua Reynolds gave a series of annual Lectures to students and academicians between 1769 and 1790 in which he set out some of his theoretical ambitions for an academic Institution”. [14].

Perry argues that Reynolds wanted to raise Painting from a Craft to something akin to Literature and Poetry part of the Liberal arts.

” Reynolds sought to elaborate a theory of Art which would raise Painting and Sculpture ton the status of a Liberal art comparable with Poetry”. [15].

” In Early 18th century Britain the practice of painting was perceived as a trade rather than a profession “. [16].

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Perry concludes her arguments about Mere face painters with comments relating to Hogarth and how he distanced himself from Reynolds and Gainsborough. His art practice as I have argued previously were a rejection of the High bourgeois art practised by Reynolds and co.

” Hogarth had already dissociated himself from the artistic circles and some of the theoretical ambitions which helped to nurture its foundations”. [17].

” Hogarth was one of many artists to draw attention to the need to provide training , exhibiting space and public access to Art in the early 18th Century and during the first 2 decades there were several-small scale attempts to provide such facilities”. [18].

This concludes my Fourth instalment on 18th Century Genre art including aspects of portraiture and Landscape. In my final instalment I will show how these developments would affect the development of History painting the Genre that most artists aspired to.

FOOTNOTES

  1. FIVE CENTURIES OF BRITISH PAINTING FROM HOLBEIN TO HODGKIN .ANDREW WILTON.PG.78
  2. DITTO.PG.79
  3. DITTO.PG.79
  4. DITTO.PG.81
  5. DITTO.PG.83
  6. DITTO.PG.93-4
  7. DITTO.PG.94
  8. DITTO.PG.94
  9. DITTO.PG.96
  10. DITTO.PG.96
  11. DITTO.PG.96
  12. DITTO.PG.96
  13. ACADEMIES , MUSEUMS AND CANONS OF ART : MERE FACE PAINTERS HOGARTH REYNOLDS AND IDEAS OF ACADEMIC ART IN 18TH CENTURY BRITAIN. GILL PERRY.OPEN UNIVERSITY:PG.126
  14. DITTO.PG.127-8
  15. DITTO.PG.128
  16. DITTO.PG.128
  17. DITTO.PG.130-2
  18. DITTO.PG.141.

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