A History of Art in England (19): Creating a Public Visual Culture

The cultural and economic landscape of Britain began to change dramatically as we enter the Georgian 18th century (and if you catch it quick, Lucy Worsley’s 2014 tv series “The First Georgians” is on BBC i-player at the moment) and, as we saw last time (Rambling 18), Hogarth is the perfect example of an artist asserting an independent vision and creating art beyond the circles of royalty and aristocracy.

Another artist of note might be Jonathan Richardson the Elder (1667-1745)

Richardson the elder, Jonathan, c.1664-1667-1745; Portrait of the Artist with His Palette and Manuscripts

Portrait of the Artist with His Palette and Manuscripts
Jonathan Richardson the elder (1667–1745) [c.1700; Fairfax House; artuk.org]

Really of the generation before Hogarth and essentially a portrait painter, he was perhaps more famous for writing about art (hence the manuscripts in this self-portrait). In “An Introduction to English Painting”, Rothenstein notes for example Richardson’s “An Essay on the Theory of Painting” (published in 1715) in which: he displays faith in the power of English artists to do great work which is said to have inspired both Hogarth and, later in the century, Reynolds.

[The] book is credited with being “the first significant work of artistic theory in English.”

Richardson the elder, Jonathan, c.1664-1667-1745; George Vertue (1684-1756)

George Vertue (1684–1756) by Jonathan Richardson the elder [no date; National Trust, Wimpole Hall; artuk.org]

Another important figure in this context is George Vertue (1684-1756) who

From 1713 on, Vertue was a keen researcher on details of the history of British art, accumulating about forty volumes of notebooks. He was a member of the Rose and Crown Club, with William Hogarth, Peter Tillemans and other artists and connoisseurs, and kept some records of it

these records would be written up by Horace Walpole in “Anecdotes of English Painting” which, in turn, led to the founding of the Walpole Society in 1911 which is now an excellent resource for us common viewers.

And, just to pick up also that mention of the Rose and Crown Club, as it suggests – along with the crowd that would gather at Old Slaughter’s Coffee House – what artistic society in London was like. Formed in 1704 for “for Eminent Artificers of this Nation”, the club was –  though initially” a bawdy assembly of younger artists and cognoscenti, which met weekly” –  among the more important of clubs for artists and connoisseurs, all known as the ‘Rosacoronians’.

Aside from the ‘romantic’ bawdiness this conjures up (and the all-male culture) these clubs and venues suggest the expansion and exposure of artists and painting into the Georgian public sphere, as does the increased writing on art and artists in England. That painting was being discussed further afield than previously in turn helped create an interest and a trade in contemporary works.

Rambling 3

William Hogarth: Conversation Piece (Portrait of Sir Andrew Fountaine with other men and women) [1735; Philadelphia Museum of Art]

The aristocracy had been primarily interested in the ‘old masters’ they’d bought on their grand tours; now a new class – “the middling sort” – were the audience, and the buyers. And it’s within the context of this new demand that Hogarth had both set up the St Martin’s Lane Academy and valued the Foundling Hospital as an exhibition space:

Artists associated with St Martin’s Lane were also, under the leadership of Hogarth, prominently active in providing the decorations for the charitable Foundling Hospital set up by Sir Thomas Coram. The opening of this scheme in 1746 constituted what was in effect the first public exhibition of contemporary British art, helping to establish the political and cultural relevance of artists as a professional group.

(Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

It was all about networks, connections and promotion.

left: Francis Hayman and Grosvenor Bedford
by Francis Hayman [c.1750; National Portrait Gallery; artuk.org]

right: Portrait of the Artist at His Easel
by Francis Hayman [c.1750; Royal Albert Memorial Museum; artuk.org]

An artist closely associated with Hogarth and the Academy was Francis Hayman (1708-1776) – and aren’t these two self-portraits great? In one he is well-dressed, bewigged, standing extemporising skilfully and respectfully with his client; in the second he’s in relaxed ‘bohemian’ mood!

There are more than 70 paintings by him at artuk.org including portraits and conversation pieces – often of actors and theatrical scenes. Hayman began his career as a scene painter (and had apparently taken minor roles on stage) which is no doubt why he was invited to paint (with Hogarth and the Academy) “decorative scenes” to display at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens – and how better to promote contemporary art?

Eminent 18th-century scholar John Barrell, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, brings out Vauxhall’s significance. “Vauxhall pleasure gardens, on the south bank of the Thames, entertained Londoners and visitors to London for 200 years. From 1729, under the management of Jonathan Tyers, property developer, impresario, patron of the arts, the gardens grew into an extraordinary business, a cradle of modern painting…

…the interiors of the supper boxes were painted by members of Hogarth’s St. Martin’s Lane Academy, prominent among them Francis Hayman. Hayman provided most of the subjects, which were rapidly executed by students and assistants.

The style was determinedly rococo – light, sensuous and intensely decorative; playful, such as:

Hayman, Francis, 1708-1776; The Milkmaid's Garland (Humours of May Day)

The Milkmaid’s Garland (Humours of May Day) (decorative painting for a supper-box at Vauxhall Gardens, London) [c.1741; Victoria and Albert Museum]

This painting was one of 50 supper box pictures at Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. They each formed the back of one ‘arbour’ or supper box, an ornate wooden shelter formed of two side walls and a roof, framing picturesque views through the Gardens, where guests could take supper. At a certain moment in the evening’s entertainment, the paintings were `let fall’ to enclose the diners at the back. The front was left permanently open for the fashionable occupants to view and be viewed [V&A]

 The V&A also have “The Wapping Landlady”, again for Vauxhall Gardens

Hayman, Francis, 1708-1776; The Wapping Landlady

and subtly exalting the pleasures available there (I’m sure that chap has a look of Hayman himself!)

There was, then, the increasing public presentation and a widening appreciation of painting through the 18th century; and there were also new subjects.

Again, Hayman is at the forefront:

Rambling 8

A Cricket Match at Mary-le-bone Fields [1740; Lord’s MCC Collection]

Along with the theatrical conversation pieces, the scenes of London street life and the entertaining decorative scenes made for Vauxhall Gardens, popular genres such as sporting and animal paintings were a dramatic change from the extraordinary art of the Baroque that had dominated just a few decades earlier.

But whilst Hogarth and his circle concentrated on London life, Joseph Wright of Derby was painting a very different aspect of society: the industrial culture emerging in the Midlands and the North, as we’ll see in Rambling (20).

Happy viewing!



Portrait of Sir John Rothenstein C.B.E. 1938 by Sir William Rothenstein 1872-1945

A History of Art in England (19)

If you are enjoying this little series and are able to ‘donate’ – please do! Many thanks and all best wishes.


About TheCommonViewer

Independent Researcher: gently exploring the art and artists of early 20th century Britain (with forays elsewhere, in particular Russian Art History); the Art, Books & History Group meets monthly in Southend-on-Sea Twitter: @TheCommonViewer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: