BRITISH GENRE PAINTING IN THE 18TH CENTURY. GENRE PAINTING , PARTICULARLY PORTRAITURE AND LANDSCAPE WAS TO DOMINATE BRITISH ART IN THIS PERIOD: AN APPRECIATION OF THE THREE GREAT ARTISTS OF GENRE , PORTRAITURE AND LANDSCAPE PAINTING ,JOSHUA REYNOLDS ( 1723-88) THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH ( 1727-88) AND WILLIAM HOGARTH 1697- 1764). PART 5

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This is the concluding article of my exploration into  18th Century Genre painting. William Vaughn in his British Painting The Golden age comments on the role of the Bourgeois and class conflicts that emerged and were reflected in artistic Practices.

” Such conflicts can also be seen in terms of class. Essentially the Patrician nobles wished to promote a British Art that would be international in style based on the high art of the Old Masters”. [1].

” The Bourgeois had mixed feelings towards the Aristocrats. On the one hand they despised them for their arrogance and supposed idleness , on the other they wished to emulate their style and Status”. [2]

Vaughn points out the problems for ambitious artists and their balancing acts between these two problems how to increase their status as artists and how to represent the challenge of the Bourgeois to the existing and prevailing order.

” The problem for the ambitious artist was how to balance these two sets of interests. They on the one hand pay obeisance to the traditional artistic hierarchy that placed Old Master painting and History Painting at its head”. [3].

” Hogarth is a phenomenon whose importance reaches far beyond his own time. He was of course deeply engaged in the World he lived in”. [4].

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Vaughn continues his commentary on the importance of Hogarth.

” His central achievement was the invention of the Modern Moral subject , The series of pictures that tells a story of contemporary life”. [5].

” Hogarth’s reputation as a modern moralist is secure not just because he invented a new type of picture but also because of the skill he brought to the realisation of his cycles , his mastery of pictorial narrative , his wit , his courage in tackling difficult and unpleasant subjects”. [6].

Vaughn comments further on Hogarth’s attempt to break into the Portraiture market competing with Gainsborough and Reynolds.

” Meanwhile  Hogarth’s skill as a painter improved. His recent attempts to establish a practice as a society portraitist had accustomed him to introducing a greater level of finesse into his painting manner”. [7].

” There appears to be no clear reason why the British should have favoured portraiture more than others , perhaps the problems od status connected to the extremely commercial nature of British society had something to do with it”. [8].

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Vaughn shows how portraiture can be used to improve the status of an artist.

” The practice of Portraiture could also be used to elevate an artists own intellectual and social status”. [9].

” The conversation was not a new kind of picture .what was new was the use of it for this particular kind of social portrait”. [10].

Vaughn considers the role of Thomas Gainsborough as an artist completely different from Hogarth more akin to Reynolds’s art but in many ways a better painter than Reynolds with his touches and very fine finesse.

” Gainsborough’s records of rural pride are enlivened by his own light and touch and sensibility throughout this period in Suffolk. He explored themes in which groups are engaged in some activity”. [11].

” Joshua Reynolds was the central character in British portraiture- and indeed Artistic life of the Mid 19th Century was Joshua Reynolds. For 30 years he was the unchallengeable authority”. [12].

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Thomas Gainsborough - Mr_ and Mrs_ Andrews - 1750

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Vaughn explains the importance of Reynolds particularly in his art but mostly through his theoretical writings.

” Reynolds made his reputation mainly through demonstration. None was more important than that offered by his portrait of his friend and patron Commodore Keppel”. [13].

” This brings us to the second great gifts of Reynolds. he had a great feel for theatrical presentation, one of the paradoxes of Reynolds is that while he vaunted the virtues of classicism and simple nature his own style was heavily influenced by Rembrandt and the Venetians”. [14].

Vaughn is another academic who sings the praises of Thomas Gainsborough particularly in his light touches and the way he represented nature. some of his Landscapes are beautiful different from Constable who was to follow but painted with deft touches.

” Thomas Gainsborough finally emerged on the London scene in 1774 .By this time he was a fully formed artist at the height of his powers”. [15].

” Yet if Gainsborough could not rival Historicised portraiture he could offer much more. Gainsborough played the role of ‘Reynolds’ other in the portrait business in London in 1770’s and 1780’s”. [16].

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William Vaughn concludes with a comparison of Reynolds and Gainsborough.

” Reynolds was a highly literary figure and his approach to Painting by quotation seemed to mirror that scholarly interest as did his general sense of gravitas. Gainsborough was firmly anti- intellectual. He was not interested in the world of rational thought or argument”. [17].

” Gainsborough’s style is full of melody and nuance. His art is very much an art of performance and the way in he leaves the brushstrokes so clearly to be seen is a mark of his interest in pure pictorial motif. Reynolds who had little sense of music once compared the use of colour in History painting to martial music”. [18].

This concludes my discussion of 18th Century genre painting of Joshua Reynolds , Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth.

FOOTNOTES

  1. BRITISH PAINTING THE GOLDEN AGE : WILLIAM VAUGHN. PG. 11
  2. DITTO.PG.12
  3. DITTO.PG.12
  4. DITTO.PG.25
  5. DITTO.PG.35
  6. DITTO.PG.25
  7. DITTO.PG.32
  8. DITTO.PG.38
  9. DITTO.PG.41
  10. DITTO.PG.51
  11. DITTO.PG.61
  12. DITTO.PG.61
  13. DITTO.PG.78
  14. DITTO.PG.80
  15. DITTO.PG.84
  16. DITTO.PG.84
  17. DITTO.PG.87
  18. DITTO.PG.90
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