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Some Famous Illuminated Manuscripts


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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

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

international interchange of artists and
craftsmen. Yet the sixteenth century was the age of Humanism which had
created a new interest in the human personality.

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 triumphed completely.

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

ce 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 young Turner.

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 intelligence.

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

ng 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 bottom.

Hogarth was actually sensitive to the categorical deprecation of comic
art, and with his friend Henry Fielding set about a campaign to raise
its standing.

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 the latter.

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

res, the biggest
portrait Hogarth ever painted.

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

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


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

oes 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

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

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 student.

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

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

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 variety.
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 artist.

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-racking place.

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

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.

Joshua Reynolds

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

ainting, 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 sea-battles.

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,

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.

English painter has ever done.

Wilson and Gainsborough form the two main peaks in eighteenth century
landscape painting.

Gainsborough's Landscapes

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

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

ate 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



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

ation. 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.

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