A STUDY OF BRITISH HISTORY PAINTING IN THE 18TH CENTURY. ALTHOUGH NOT AS WELL KNOWN AS HISTORY PAINTING OF THE FRENCH ACADEMY OF CHARLES LE BRUN HISTORY PAINTING IN BRITAIN WAS AN IMPORTANT FEATURE OF ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT IN BRITAIN: AN APPRECIATION OF THE 4 OUTSTANDING BRITISH HISTORY PAINTERS . BENJAMIN WEST (1738-1820) JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY (1738- 1815) BENJAMIN HAYDON (1786- 1846) AND JAMES BARRY ( 1741-1806). PART 2

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In my concluding discussion of History painters I will be considering the work of Benjamin Haydon and James Barry as well as West and Copley.

Ann Lee Morgan in her discussion of west considers his painting of Agrippina the wife of the Great roman General Germanicus.

” The painting (Agrippina landing at Brundisum with the ashes of Germanicus) also attracted the King’s admiration .this enhancing its prestige and imitating West’s friendly personal relationship with George 111″ .[1].

” While completing more than 50 Royal commissions for more than 3 decades he received from the Crown a generous annual salary and in 1773 he assumed the office of Historical Painter to the Monarch”. [2].

Morgan points out that the most important Painting that West completed was the death of General Wolfe.

” West provided the first important example of the modern veristic History painting that became widely popular internationally in subsequent decades”. [3].

” The composition echoes the format of the traditional pieta and poses of major figures reflect grand manner convention”. [4].

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The Temptation of Adam 1776-circa 1790 by James Barry 1741-1806

Ann Lee Morgan continues her commentary on West later commenting on John Singleton Copley another expatriate American Living in London.

” Within a few years West signalled the advent of Romanticism by turning from themes of restraint and personal rectitude to emotionally charged subjects”. [5].

” In 1774 he (John Singleton Copley) left for London where a second career unfolded- he quickly mastered a more sophisticated technique which equipped him to compete successfully in the competitive British portrait Market”. [6].

Morgan continues to point out the importance of Copley’s work.

” He also embarked on British narrative works that brought fresh energy to contemporary History Painting”. [7].

” Copley’s driving aim in Britain inspiring him to measure his success against the lofty standards of European Painting technique and theory”.[8].

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William Vaughn in British Painting the Golden age considers the very short career of James Barry.

” The main challenge to Reynolds came from the Irish artist James Barry. No one took the public role of the History painter more seriously than he”. [9].

” He became vociferous in his criticism of the academy gaining the unique distinction of being the only artist in the whole of the Institutions History to have been expelled from its ranks”. [10].

Julian Treuherz considers how difficult History Painting was and how it never developed a proper following like Portraiture and Genre Painting.

” History painting never really caught on in Britain however. The situation was not helped by the personalities of the two principal exponents of History painting Haydon in England and the much younger David Scott. Both were doggedly convinced of the important mission of High Art”. [11].

” Scott and Haydon painted large figure compositions on ambitious subjects from antiquity History and recent times , From Orestes and Philocetes to Mary Queen of Scots Napoleon and Wellington. Both artists were admirers of the great fresco cycles of the past”. [12].

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The Thames, or the Triumph of Navigation first published 1792 by James Barry 1741-1806

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Matthew Craske in the Oxford History of art series into Art in Europe from 1700-1830 explains how many artists from Hogarth onwards fought to establish a School of History painting in Britain.

” From the time of Hogarth onwards the great majority of English artists and art commentators campaigning to establish a school of British History Painting that would raise the tenor of Public life looked to great British private benefactors court or public institutions as the ideal source of funding”. [13].

” Reynolds’s self portrait closely reflects his stance in the Academic debate between the ancients and the moderns by then a traditional debate which had begun in the French academy in the late 17th Century”. [14].

Craske continues to show the artistic development of artists like Benjamin Haydon.

” Like the majority of British artists interested in generating a school of History painting Haydon was convinced that the future of British art was dependent on the arrival of a generation of great benevolent patrons”. [15].

” He was indeed so convinced of the grandeur of his mission and the superiority of his genius that he was regularly patronising in his attitudes to his patrons”. [16].

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Craske considers Haydon’s extreme views with his extreme opposition to Thomas Lawrence and Benjamin West who in his opinion had prostituted their Art.

” Haydon reserved the greatest possible derision for artists who in his opinion had prostituted themselves to the taste of the day. Particular disgust was reserved for Sir Thomas Lawrence whom he considered to have pandered to the vanities of the rich and powerful and also for Benjamin West (called by Haydon a veneral Pungency)”. [17].

” Haydon combined democratic views in politics with staunch opposition to the incursion of the Public into the Art market”. [18].

This concludes my discussion of British History painting in the 18th Century.

FOOTNOTES

  1. THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS : ANN LEE MORGAN.PG.516
  2. DITTO.PG.516
  3. DITTO.PG.516
  4. DITTO.PG.516
  5. DITTO.PG.516
  6. DITTO.PG.97
  7. DITTO.PG.97
  8. DITTO.PG.97
  9. BRITISH PAINTING THE GOLDEN AGE : WILLIAM VAUGHN.PG.121
  10. DITTO.PG.122
  11. VICTORIAN PAINTING : JULIAN TRUHERZ.PG.11
  12. DITTO.PG.11
  13. OXFORD HISTORY OF ART. ART IN EUROPE 1700-1830: MATTHEW CRASKE.PG.18
  14. DITTO.PG.51
  15. DITTO.PG.58
  16. DITTO.PG.58
  17. DITTO.PG.58
  18. DITTO.PG.58
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4 thoughts on “A STUDY OF BRITISH HISTORY PAINTING IN THE 18TH CENTURY. ALTHOUGH NOT AS WELL KNOWN AS HISTORY PAINTING OF THE FRENCH ACADEMY OF CHARLES LE BRUN HISTORY PAINTING IN BRITAIN WAS AN IMPORTANT FEATURE OF ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT IN BRITAIN: AN APPRECIATION OF THE 4 OUTSTANDING BRITISH HISTORY PAINTERS . BENJAMIN WEST (1738-1820) JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY (1738- 1815) BENJAMIN HAYDON (1786- 1846) AND JAMES BARRY ( 1741-1806). PART 2”

  1. I love your articles, Laurence. Did I spell that right? 🙂

    I find this genre of art so dark and kind of depressing. I respect it’s critically important place in our history, however.

    Another great write up, you. ♥︎

    Like

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