All the Colours of the Sun (3): Staycations with JMW Turner

On and around the beginning of the 19th century, Britain was ‘in lockdown’ and travel to continental Europe – including Italy, that destination for any serious artist or collector – impossible due to the Napoleonic Wars. Yet, if Turner couldn’t go to visit the land of Claude, then he would bring the spirit of Claude to the British landscape.

In turn he would raise the appreciation of landscape – deemed low on Joshua Reynolds’ hierarchy of art, indeed Henry Fuseli called it mere ‘mapwork’ – to radical new heights. Art historian Kathleen Nicolson says that Turner’s adherence to Claude was in fact due to his desire to “raise the affective power of landscape painting [and] to give the portrayal of nature the same power to move the heart and mind expected of the depiction of significant human actions in History Painting.”

Turner 1

Dolbadern Castle [1798; National Library of Wales]

(There are a number of preparatory sketches held at the Tate too)

“Dolbadern Castle” is perhaps one of the most outstanding early examples of giving historical power to landscape painting, turning a ‘simple view’ into a picture resonant with allusion and potential meaning. And we have to look – as always – at the detail in Turner’s paint for, small in the foreground, is a group of three men. Tiny as they are, there is a sense of violence: the man in the middle (wearing red) seems to be being forced to his knees, his arms tied behind his back; the other two are in armour, one seemingly pointing up towards the castle. And as we, the viewers, look upwards past the dark looming rocks we too see the castle – full of majesty and power, silhouetted against the infusion of sunlight coming through the rolling clouds.

Turner’s reference here is to Owain Goch who was imprisoned in the castle from 1254-1277 by his brother Llewellyn and only released after Edward I had defeated Llewellyn and enforced English rule over Wales. This of course contains a great irony: Owain gains his freedom as Wales loses it.

The landscape then has become resonant with history and drama; the light through the clouds has become significant – but whether this is the dawn of hope or the sunset of liberty, we don’t know.

Turner 2

Scarborough Town and Castle. Morning. Boys Catching Crabs. [1811; watercolour; private collection]

A quite different painting. The morning sun rises over the waking town in a glorious glow of light that shimmers from white out into ever stronger colouring. The composition is essentially Claudian (that shimmer of water down to the frame) and again this is more than ‘just a scene’, for Turner introduces the element of time: from the ruins of an historical castle up on the hill in the background to the modern town in the bay; in the foreground boys catch crabs and women lay out washing to dry on the rocks – as they have, perhaps, for centuries; and on the water’s edge, cargo is being transferred from boats onto carts whilst further along a bathing-machine is pulled into the water – the ancient work of the fishermen paralleled with the new tourist industry.

Past and present are combined in this picture of Scarborough as they are – in a different way – here:

Crossing the Brook exhibited 1815 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Crossing the Brook exhibited 1815 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00497

Here the British countryside morphs with the Claudian ideal – an ‘elevated pastoral’ – for as idyllic and Roman-esque as this may seem, it is actually Devon. Although not quite geographically accurate (Turner has combined different viewpoints), we see the river Tamar and Gunnislake Bridge. The foreground though, the woman and the dog, is romantically ‘fictional’.

It would seem, in itself, a slight painting – there’s none of the drama of Dolbadern Castle, nor indeed the intertwining of past and present as on Scarborough sands. Yet this painting is full of meaning and symbolic importance – only it comes not ‘within’ the picture, but in the timing of its exhibition and the way it is seen by the viewer. As Tate notes:

This painting was exhibited in the year of the battle of Waterloo.

It would have been hard to avoid the patriotic subtext of such a grandly ambitious depiction of the national landscape.

This shows the growing importance of the landscape as a symbol of Britain; no longer ‘mere mapwork’, landscape painting has become entwined with the national – political, military – discourses of society.

“We” – the common viewers of the day – looked at and saw the landscape quite differently to, say, twenty years earlier. At least some of us did. Sir George Beaumont described Turner’s painting as “all peagreen insipidy” (Tate). And, more generally, we can never forget that William Blake thought landscape nothing but a “vegetable curtain” put up by the Devil.

Let us look at one more of Turner’s lockdown ‘British’ landscapes:

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps exhibited 1812 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps exhibited 1812 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00490

British? Well, yes. For this ‘historical’, indeed ‘military’ painting actually started off as a sketch of a thunderstorm in Yorkshire!

And in contrast to any Claudian framing of space and distance, Turner has deployed a vortex, a great roller wave of cloud ploughing across and making the sky hugely dramatic as sunlight and thunder contrast and clash with each other. This sky is no backdrop, it is part and parcel of the picture’s drama and meaning. Reduced to the lower right of the picture we have the Carthaginian army struggling through the Alps with this furious snowstorm approaching whilst to the left Swiss tribesmen are attacking the soldiers – all of which is miniscule in comparison with Nature. Not that we should miss these details – indeed when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, Turner insisted it be hung ‘below the line’ so that it was at the level of the viewer – adding indeed to the theatricality of the painting as the viewer feels close, almost part of, the scene.

And it is only by looking at the detail that we even hope to see Hannibal:

Turner 5

In his biography of Turner, James Hamilton notes how important this painting is – as Turner parallels the ancient war of Hannibal and Carthage against Rome in the Punic Wars with contemporary events, that is the long war between the British and the French. The moment depicted in the painting is when Hannibal rallies his troops, urging them to follow him out of the storm and on to military victory. When the picture was exhibited, Wellington’s army is regaining land and beginning to push Napoleon out of Spain.

The elements of landscape painting in “Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” – in particular sky, clouds and sunlight – are combined with history and literature as well as Britain’s contemporary socio-political situation. It’s an extraordinary painting. Turner has taken all Claude’s ideas and pushed them as far as he can: twisting the geometry and the sunlight, and collapsing the historical allusion of Hannibal on his elephant with a storm over Yorkshire to create one of his most intense and dramatic pictures.

Next week we will pick up the theme of the sun in Turner’s paintings.

In the meantime, note his most peculiar depiction of the sun in the “Hannibal…” painting:

Turner 6

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All The Colours of the Sun

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All the Colours of the Sun (2): Turner & ‘Aerial Claude’

There is a small room in the National Gallery dedicated to a request made by Turner in his will – that two of his paintings be hung in perpetuity alongside two paintings by Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), a French painter who worked mostly in Italy. Now Turner often ‘took on’ the great masters in a sort of competitive spirit (see Michael Glover’s review “Turner and the Masters: competitive spirit”, the Independent) – to both learn from them, and to take their ideas further. Claude though was a lifelong love and obsession for Turner, who was awed by the 17th-century painter. Indeed, there is a story that Turner, as a young man, cried when he first saw a Claude painting – for its beauty, and for thinking that he, Turner, would never be able to paint like that.

Of course Turner would paint like Claude: he would absorb the master’s methods and drive them yet further. and what fascinated him above all else was Claude’s painting of light.

Turner 1

Claude The Mill 1648 Oil on canvas, 152.3 x 200.6 cm Bought, 1824 NG12 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG12

“The Mill” aka “The Marriage of Isaak and Rebekah” (1648) takes a story from the Book of Genesis, transporting it to an idyllic Italian scene: the marriage revelry plays out in the foreground as the serpentine river leads the eye beyond town and mountain into the far distance of the horizon.

The freshness of the sky is extraordinary, one can sense the bright airiness.

One 19th-century art historian, Michael Bryan, wrote that “Claude soars above the servile representation of ordinary nature and transports his spectators into the regions of poetry and enchantment.” Others noted Claude’s brilliancy in depicting an almost visible atmosphere. Turner himself called the artist “aerial Claude”.

And what is so strange about the painting is that if one catches it just out of the corner of one’s eye, what stands out is not the ‘story’ of the marriage scene, but the sky itself: it seems to hang like a pocket of light – something I can only suggest here by means of draining out the colour…Turner 2It’s due to the way in which Claude constructs the picture: the trees don’t frame the sky as such, but force us to distinguish foreground and background, squashing the middle space so that the light is primarily in the distance. This catches the eye: we explore sky, horizon and the river, only then coming to the foreground and that patch of light immediately in front of us.

If we look at the second painting by Claude that hangs in the Bequest, we’ll see this even more clearly.

Turner 3

Claude Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba 1648 Oil on canvas, 149.1 x 196.7 cm Bought, 1824 NG14 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG14

 (It’s worth noting the short introductory film on the National Gallery website: here)

The painting depicts the Queen of Sheba as she sets off to visit King Solomon of Jerusalem; the vessels are loaded with luggage and gifts as the early morning sun lights up the city of Carthage. The Queen is on the steps to the right.

Turner 4

 And if we again take out the colour, we can see that ‘pocket’ of light. As with the trees previously, here the buildings hold up the sky and note how the reflection of the light on the water leads the eye in a line down the centre of the picture to the foreground.

Most important though is that, in this painting, Claude has put – right at its very centre – the sun itself. It’s something Turner would also do from very early in his career. It means the rest of the painting – the colours and the shadows – is driven by luminosity.

Turner 5

Joseph Mallord William Turner Dido building Carthage 1815 Oil on canvas, 155.5 x 230 cm Turner Bequest, 1856 NG498 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG498

In parallel to Claude, Turner positions the sun right at the centre of “Dido building Carthage” (1815); the sun rises in the sky as the city rises from the earth. And, again in parallel to Claude, Turner creates a pocket of luminous atmosphere and the sun reflects a pathway on the water down towards us at the foreground.

The story itself is taken from Virgil’s “Aeneid”: the struggle for power between the two cities of Carthage and Rome during the Punic Wars (indeed this history subject might screen the contemporary struggle of Britain and Napoleonic France). The figure in blue and white on the bank to the left is Dido as she directs the architects and builders. The figure in armour might be her lover Aeneus. The children playing with a toy boat could symbolise the fragile but growing naval power of Carthage. Meanwhile, on the opposite bank stands the tomb of Dido’s murdered husband – foreshadowing future events.

But here, the rising sun marks this as the image of the dawning of a new empire.

Not that the painting didn’t have its critics, due in particular to Turner’s use of colour, the contrasting yellow and blue of the sky was deemed excessive and “far from nature”. The critics never did ‘get’ Turner’s love of colour (to which we’ll return).

The sun is also at the heart of the second Turner painting that hangs alongside the Claudes:

Turner 6

Joseph Mallord William Turner Sun Rising through Vapour before 1807 Oil on canvas, 134 x 179.5 cm Turner Bequest, 1856 NG479 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG479

 It’s a very different painting; inspired, one feels, more by Dutch art than Claude. Yet, again, Turner takes the Claudian construction even to this scene of boats on a river and the fishermen on the sands: the sun is central and its light sweeps across the water down to the foreground.

The classic ‘old master’ has been made modern in this mundane everyday scene not of nymphs dancing or queens overseeing, but fishermen at rest.

And it is perhaps to show himself as ‘the modern Claude’ that Turner decided this picture would hang as part of the Bequest instead of the one he’d originally suggested, and which is now at the Tate:

Turner 7 This is “The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire” (1817; Tate)

and it has the most remarkable subtitle:

The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire-Rome being determined on the Overthrow of her Hated Rival, demanded from her such Terms as might either force her into War, or ruin her by Compliance: the Enervated Carthaginians, in their Anxiety for Peace, consented to give up even their Arms and their Children

It’s a brighter painting than Dido building Carthage, and much more dramatic: there is a chaos of armaments in the foreground, a woman weeps on the steps, and a snake is hidden coiled in the flowers on the left.

But note the construction, the light…

the sun.

    Turner 8

   Turner 9

Turner 10

The sun here is absolutely solid – like a milk bottle top stuck on.

Turner 11 The Tate notes that in the exhibition catalogue, Turner penned a poem which included the lines:

o’er the western wave th’esanguin’d sun,
In gathering haze a stormy signal spread,
And set portentous.

*

To investigate the sun in Turner’s work is the investigation of light, colour and texture; and it’s full of meaning.

Next time we’ll look at some of Turner’s landscapes and his ‘translation’ of Claude’s Italian idylls to the British scene.

***

But, as a postscript, I just want to glance at another of Turner’s paintings (one of my absolute favourites) in the National Gallery collection:

Turner 12

Joseph Mallord William Turner Ulysses deriding Polyphemus – Homer’s Odyssey 1829 Oil on canvas, 132.5 x 203 cm Turner Bequest, 1856 NG508 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG508

Taken from Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer, this is much more than an illustration to a scene from the Odyssey. This is an essay on light and colour. See the sun – like a lighthouse – on the horizon, it’s rays reaching up into a sky of thickly painted colours whilst the sun itself is white with heat and light.

All of this – and more –  we’ll return to in a couple of weeks.

Polyphemus (2)

But for now, could it be that the disc of the sun there on the horizon forms the wheel of the sun god Apollo’s chariot? If we look up a little and just to the right of it, are they the heads and manes of horses rearing up as they draw the chariot across the sky, thus bringing in the new day?

Here’s Guido Reni’s rather clearer “Aurora” (c.1614) from a fresco in Rome:

Reni

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“All The Colours of the Sun” – Exploring the Art of JMW Turner (1): Introduction

Turner, Joseph Mallord William, 1775-1851; Self-Portrait

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

“Self-Portrait” [1777; Tate]

This self-portrait appears to date from around 1799 when Turner was about twenty-four years old. It was possibly intended to mark an important moment in his career, his election as an Associate of the Royal Academy – Tate.

*

On a little diversion from our “Rambling with Rothenstein” project, I thought we might look – in some depth – at the work of one of the most internationally famous artists, Joseph Mallord William Turner.

One of the great joys of Turner is that he painted so much: from pastorals to history painting to seascapes. Nothing it seems evaded Turner’s eyes or brush – whether it was an old Biblical scene or modern Victorian industrialisation; the landscapes of Britain or the canals of Venice.

And so, to prevent us rambling too far afield, “All the Colours of the Sun” is a 6-week exploration of sunlight and colour:

  1. Introduction
  2. The inspiration of Claude Lorrain
  3. Turner’s landscape project in context (with especial reference to John Constable)
  4. Sunlight and Colour: translating paint into the effects of sunlight and the creation of colour
  5. The texture of modern life: “Rain, Steam and Speed”
  6. Turner’s radiant late watercolours

As an introduction then, I want first to discuss the painting that inspired this research:

Turner - Interior 1

Painted in or around 1830 and now at the Tate, we can see that it is clearly an unfinished painting. Indeed art historians are not even sure of its subject matter or where it was painted. The Tate‘s title for it is “Interior of a Great House: The Drawing Room, East Cowes Castle” (East Cowes Castle being the Isle of Wight home of Turner’s friend, the architect John Nash), but it seems to have been re-worked over the years and may have been the beginnings of a picture to be called “The Sack of a Great House” (hence all the jumble in the foreground).

I find it one of the most beautiful of Turner’s canvases despite – or because of – its unfinished state and unknown story.

Moreover, I think it suggests what made Turner’s vision so unique.

Turner was a genius painter; no one quite compares to his style or fluency. A Cockney Londoner born in the back streets of Covent Garden, he was elected as Royal Academician in 1802 at the age of just 26.

Despite his genius, Turner did have his critics. Indeed by the end of his life he was seen as positively mad – his paintings had gone off the scale of the Academy’s expectations, one critic declaring: “He delights in abstractions that go back to the first chaos of the world” (quoted in James Hamilton) – which is a very apt description when it comes to the “Interior of a Great House”.

And there are some very interesting notes in this painting: the emerald green and the bright red vermilion are astonishing contrasts. The emerald green was only newly available, and much stronger than mixes of blue and yellow.

Then there’s that dazzling light through the window.

Turner 5

If we look in close, we see that it’s created using palette knife, brush, the ‘wrong’ end of the brush and indeed scratches from Turner’s thumb nail, which he kept long especially for such purposes. He revelled in getting his fingers and hands ‘dirty’ with paint. And note how the light blue contrasts with the yellows, giving a kind of shimmer – this would have been much more intense when he painted it, for the blue has muted with age.

The colours, the textures – they’re all so exhilarating to the eyes, all in motion; like the chemicals and gases that exploded with the Big Bang in the formation of the universe, that “first chaos”. And that might be one of the best ways to think about this painting – perhaps even most of Turner’s mature paintings – as the explosion of gases that would make the solid matter of the world.

Turner 8

Graham Reynolds describes:

“a brilliant light dissolves the scene into its colour constituents and spills like debris on the floor of the room”.

It’s a glorious description, but I want to change that verb from “dissolves” to a more positive force –

a brilliant light creates a scene of colour, shaping every corner of the room

– because rather than seeing this as a picture of a room with light streaming through the window, we could look at it the other way around and see it as a painting of light and how it makes the room visible by illuminating the space and wrapping everything in colour and shadow.

Whichever way, it is this investigation of light that, it seems to me, underpins much Turner’s work and gives his paintings such power.

And it is with this aim – the (re)presentation of sunlight – that Turner looked to the 17th-century paintings of Claude Lorrain as we’ll see in part two.

*

Before we leave the Isle of Wight (and as a taster for Claude’s influence) though, have a look at Turner’s (1827)

“Sketch for ‘East Cowes Castle, the Regatta Starting for Their Moorings’ No. 2”

Sketch for 'East Cowes Castle, the Regatta Starting for Their Moorings' No. 2 1827 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

which was possibly painted on the spot, Turner sitting aboard a boat (see Tate website).

Right at the heart of the picture is an intense, brilliant, illuminating (sun)light painted with slabs of thick white paint.

***

Notes:

There are of course numerous books on Turner’s life and art, but I find “Turner: A Life” by James Hamilton [Sceptre, 1997] one of the best in terms of insightful detail and a ‘good read’.

Rambling with Rothenstein (25): History Painting (ii) – Angelica Kauffman

Kauffmann, Angelica, 1741-1807; Angelica Kauffman

Angelica Kauffmann (1741–1807) Self-Portrait

[early 1770s, National Portrait Gallery, artuk.org]

Sir Joshua Reynolds’s promotion of Grand History painting was, perhaps, not quite fulfilled in his own work. However, there were others among the first Academicians who certainly can be understood as ‘History Painters’.

The Royal Academy website notes:

Although Angelica Kauffman was born in Switzerland and spent only 15 years in England (1766-1781) she made a significant impact on the London art scene. Admired and encouraged by Sir Joshua Reynolds, she and Mary Moser became the only two female Members of the Royal Academy. No further women were elected until Annie Swynnerton became an Associate in 1922.

As a painter of historical subjects and portraits, Kauffman’s Neo-classical style conformed to the theories advocated in Reynolds’s Discourses.
She was invited to make her mark on the Royal Academy’s first purpose built home in new Somerset House, when commissioned to paint four allegorical images of the ‘Elements of Art’ (1778-1780) for its Council Chamber ceiling. The works are now positioned in the Entrance Hall ceiling at Burlington House.

Invention (left)
The figure of Invention is the most otherworldly of Kauffman’s four elements of art. Her winged head, celestial orb and upward gaze suggest her capability for higher thought.

Composition (right)
The figure of Composition sits on the boundary between architecture and nature. She contemplates a chessboard while holding a compass, both of which suggest the virtues of planning and precision.

Design (left)
The figure of Design makes studies from the Belvedere torso within a classical architectural setting. Her interest is in proportion, scale and form based on antique prototypes.

Colour (right)
Colour is depicted as an unrestrained female stealing pigment from a rainbow. She is seated on a grassy ledge with a chameleon at her feet – her hair and costume are loose. In touch with nature, she is more intuitive than the figures of Design or Composition.

More in line with her renown as a History Painter is

Rambling 6

“Hector Taking Leave of Andromache” (1768) by Angelica Kauffmann (1741–1807)
[National Trust, Saltram; c/o artuk.org]
The beauty of this painting is perhaps its intimacy, even sensuality, as Hector and Andromache lean in towards each other, their hands holding. “Hector and Andromache fit the Greek ideal of a happy and productive marriage, which heightens the tragedy of their shared misfortune. Once Achilles kills Hector (in the Trojan War), Andromache is utterly alone.” (from Wikipedia).

Particularly fascinating is Kauffman’s turn to aspects of British history:

Rambling 7

Vortigern, King of Britain, Enamoured with Rowena at the Banquet of Hengist, the Saxon General [National Trust, Saltram c/o artuk.org]

The National Trust tells us:

The ancient legend tells how the Britons were betrayed to the Saxons. Rowena is kneeling and accepting a cup from Vortigern, Prince of South East Britain, who has fallen in love with her. Her father, the Saxon, Hengist is present, standing behind whilst soldiers sit a round a table.

There are numerous paintings by Kauffman to explore at artuk.org, including another favourite of British artists: a portrait of Shakespeare and scenes from various plays.

Rambling 8

Portrait of Mary Moser (1744 – 1819) George Romney [c. 1770-71, National Portrait Gallery]

Whilst Kauffman focused on portraits and history paintings, Mary Moser – also a founding member of the Royal Academy – was interested primarily in flower painting.

(I particularly love…)

Moser, Mary, 1744-1819; Vase of Flowers

Vase of Flowers [no date; The Fitzwilliam Museum]

Moser’s skill in flower painting led to the position of drawing mistress to the Royal Princess Elizabeth and several royal commissions. The most notable of these came from Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, in the 1790s. The Queen had recently been given Frogmore House as a country retreat and she commissioned Moser to decorate a room for which she wanted Moser to create the illusion of an “arbor open to the skies”. Moser designed a complex arrangement of both large-scale canvases and painted walls, all depicting English flower arrangements (Royal Academy)

There is a great mini-biography of Moser by Julia Herdman.

Whilst History Painting remained the cherished Ideal, and despite the fact that in Britain that Ideal never really took root as it had in Italy, or in France – it could be used in a very national, patriotic way. France had undergone its revolution in 1789 – terrifying the British authorities and encouraging radicalism from new social philosophies including Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women and the poetry of Wordsworth with which we might recognise the dawning of the Romantic Age. By 1793 war had broken out between Britain and France; in 1804 Napoleon had declared himself Emperor; there was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the turmoil continued through to Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo 1815.

It is perhaps through the attempt to create a British History painting tradition, combined with the context of war with France, that there comes into being an art that is closely tied to the state, that of Military Painting from Benjamin West’s

West, Benjamin, 1738-1820; The Immortality of Nelson

The Immortality of Nelson
(1807, Royal Maritime Museum)

“Nelson… borne heavenward towards the embrace of Britannia” (Roy Porter)

Rambling 10

and  Denis Dighton (1792–1827)’s The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 [1816; National Trust, Plas Newydd]

The turn into the 19th century is an intense time then, with war and social-cultural dislocation. It is also a time when art in Britain really began to come into its own, primarily through two extraordinary artists: William Blake and JMW Turner.

It’s to the art of Turner that we’ll turn next in a series I’ve called “Turner and the Sun”…

***

There is an article on Angelia Kauffman c/o the Royal Academy of Arts here.

Rambling with Rothenstein (24): History Painting (i) – Introduction, Gavin Hamilton.

Wilson, Richard, 1713/1714-1782; Wilton House from the Southeast

[Not Italy, but]

Wilton House from the Southeast

by Richard Wilson (1714–1782) [1760; Yale Center for British Art]

In the decades after 1760 one sees evidence everywhere of the consequences of the British obsession with classical antiquity, the result of the Grand Tour. It was carried out in the spirit of a transference of both a political and cultural empire to the island of Great Britain. At the same time the island’s own ancient cultural traditions were being rediscovered. The progressive urgency was to create out of these two streams a single British culture, one that could simultaneously look back to Greece and Rome but equally to the Anglo-Saxons, the barons of the Middle Ages and the heroes of Gloriana’s England.

– Roy Strong: The Spirit of Britain

*

As the first President of the Royal Academy, Joshua Reynolds – inspired by his own visit to Rome – promoted the Grand Style of History Painting to his students. In his lectures, he explained that the history painter would find suitable subjects – of “intellectual grandeur”, “philosophick wisdom” and “heroic virtue” – by turning to the masters of the Italian Renaissance and themes derived from classical history, mythology and the Scriptures. Thus armed, John Rothenstein notes, the history painter could address his works to the people of every country and every age.

It was a very ‘hit & miss’ project.

“Theory” summarises Rothenstein “was not matched by practice.”

Roy Strong is similarly dismissive, recognising instead that the end of the 18th century was a period of intense national myth-building, of seeking a cultural identity for a Great Britain composed of four nations, at the heart of a global Empire and now galvanising a patriotic fervour in response to the ongoing wars with France and, especially, the French Revolution.

This was primarily, of course, the programme of the elite – the aristocracy and the government – and, just as with the consolidation of the British art world into the Royal Academy, there was much opposition.

However, what emerges is not failure as such, rather an extravagance of art that ranges from the neoclassical reimagining of Ancient Rome (keenly associated with Britain of course) to alternative visions of an Ancient Britain; from poetic representations of mythic Bards to scenes from Shakespearean plays; from landscape to portraiture, to paintings of military heroism and pictures of everyday life.

And within the ambition of History Painting – which I personally find a fascinating treasure trove – we find ample scope for absolute brilliance and outright eccentricity.

The Scottish artist Gavin Hamilton (1723-1789) is the first ‘history painter’ that Rothenstein discusses; and he’s a perfect example of both the brilliance and eccentricity of the neoclassical form, spending much of his life working in Italy.

Hamilton, Gavin, 1723-1798; The Death of Lucretia

The Death of Lucretia [1760s, Yale Center for British Art; artuk.org]

According the ancient myth, the rape of Lucretia was a pivotal event in the foundation of the Roman republic. Lucretia was a virtuous noblewoman during the reign of the tyrant King Tarquin. After being raped by the king’s son, she stabbed herself in the presence of her husband Collatinus, her father Lucretius, and two companions-in-arms, Lucius Junius Brutus and Valerius Publicola. Dying, Lucretia begged them to seek revenge. Here she is shown collapsing against her husband, who covers his face in grief. Brutus holds up the bloodstained dagger and, joined by Lucretia’s father and Valerius, swears and oath to overthrow Tarquin. From this moment, Brutus leads the revolt. Tarquin and his family are expelled, and the Roman republic is established – and sustained for centuries by the models of the virtue and piety.

And there is a lecture on the painting c/o the Yale Centre here.

This then is a perfect neoclassical composition – a history painting that has a narrative grounded in Roman myth and that speaks to the world of a great foundational morality, of the rights of the individual, of ‘people power’ and the fight for democratic citizenship; liberty against tyranny.

A second painting reflects another aspect of cultural identity that was so important at the time in which Hamilton was working:

Hamilton, Gavin, 1723-1798; The Abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots

The Abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots [Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow]

Mary, Queen of Scots is shown imprisoned in Loch leven Castle, being forced to sign her abdication in favour of her infant son, James.The scene is set in the interior of Loch Leven castle, near Stirling, in 1567.

Again, it represents a foundation stone in Scottish history (apparently the first painting showing a scene from the life of Mary) and part of the progression towards a united Great Britain: her infant son, James VI of Scotland would become James I, King of England.

By contrast, a third painting by Hamilton reflects the rather more eccentric side of history painting:

Hamilton, Gavin, 1723-1798; James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra

James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra
[1758, National Galleries of Scotland]

As the National Galleries’ website explains:
In 1751, James Dawkins and Robert Wood set out on an expedition to study the remains of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. Both men were fascinated by exploration. At this time there was a great interest in the discovery of the ancient world. The findings and drawings of men such as Dawkins and Wood helped inform the taste for the neoclassical that was sweeping Europe. Here, Hamilton has shown the men with their Turkish escorts as they approach Palmyra.
Which all makes ‘imperial’ sense, but what is peculiar is that:
It is presented as a scene from classical history with the two explorers dressed in togas.

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Next time: History Painting (ii) Angelica Kauffman and James Barry.

Picture Postcard: Two extraordinary Elizabethan Portraits

I’ve just watched James Fox’s “A Very British Renaissance: The Elizabethan Code” on BBC i-player   (available for the next few weeks) and he highlighted two extraordinary paintings from the Elizabethan Age, well worth watching (from about 14minutes in).

The first stretches the concept of what a portrait might be:

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It’s a “portrait” of Sir Henry Unton, commissioned by his widow in about 1596 and at the National Portrait Gallery. Unfortunately the artist is unknown, but the painting shows scenes from Upton’s life – from birth in the lower right hand corner to his death.

I find it quite amazing – indeed rather exciting! It seems to recall medieval church wall-painting rather than suggesting the ‘face’ portraits that would come to dominate British art.

The second rather fabulous painting James Fox discusses is again a portrait which currently resides in the archives of Northampton Art Gallery:

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Sir Christopher Hatton, by an unknown artist again (although the artist has pictured himself at the bottom left).

In turn the painting includes all sorts of symbolism to decode – and what brilliant colours! – but to fully appreciate the whole it also needs to be turned about as the imagery continues onto the back.

Segar, William, c.1554-1633; Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591)

There are some notes about the work online at artuk.org – including the possibility that the artist was from the studio of portrait painter William Segar (1554-1633) and even that an astrologer (depicted at the bottom right?) may have been involved in the painting.

Otherwise there seems to be very little information, so it’s fascinating to see the programme.

And how very intriguing these pictures are, so very “eccentric” – showing, as Fox says, that English Renaissance painting was experimental, rich and sophisticated.

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Rambling with Rothenstein (23): Gainsborough, a joy of life.

centre: Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) Self Portrait [c.1759, National Portrait Gallery]

right: Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) Self Portrait [c.1749, National Portrait Gallery]

And of course, on the left, our very own John Rothenstein [by Jacques-Emile Blanche; 1927; National Portrait Gallery] whose book An Introduction to English Painting notes the rivalry between Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, explaining it through the words of (art historian and Director of the National Gallery) Charles Holmes:

“Art with Reynolds is made to seem so like a conscious intellectual force that we do less than justice to the aesthetic enthusiasm that inspired it, whereas with Gainsborough this last is plainly to the fore.”

[There’s a discussion about Reynolds and his art – “The Artist as Intellectual” – by Martin Postle c/o the Paul Mellon Centre on 18th June 2020]

That difference between the two artists seems even to play out in the two portraits above: the twenty-five year old Reynolds, with palette and brushes, looking ambitiously into the future, whilst Gainsborough, in his early thirties, gazes at us rather more pleasantly, framed by the leafy branches of a tree.

The ‘aesthetic enthusiasm’ that Holmes notes certainly comes through in Gainsborough’s painting – in his later works especially there is a thrill in the silvery-feathery-creamy strokes of the paintbrush; his colours are lighter than those of Reynolds and it’s often interesting to note the design of his pictures.

Rothenstein says: “[Whilst] Hogarth began the liberation of English portraiture from the formality imposed upon it by foreign masters, Gainsborough completed the process, and in so doing he brought to it a new spirit – fresh, informal and unselfconscious.

There is something else Gainsborough brings to his art – a joy of life.

If we were to choose just one of the nearly 400 painting at artuk.org by which to explore Gainsborough’s work, I’d suggest:

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The Rev. John Chafy Playing the Violoncello in a Landscape [c.1750–2, Tate]

which is as eccentric as “Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen” (1773, Tate) by Reynolds that we discussed last time: why is a religious chap out in the middle of countryside-nowhere playing a viola?!

In his biography of the artist “Gainsborough: A Portrait”, James Hamilton describes

“With music and perhaps birdsong, Chafy, curate of Great Bricett, a village north-east of Sudbury on the road to Needham Market, is shown celebrating enjoyment in life.” (p.91)

And although an early painting, Gainsborough is only 23, it brings so much together.

There is the landscape that Gainsborough loved to paint throughout his life (indeed would have preferred to paint if there hadn’t been money in portraiture).

Note also the ‘cross’ by which the painting is planned: as the tree trunk divides the canvas diagonally one way, the foliage into the architecture divide it the other, seemingly separating culture and nature.

Then, colour-wise, the deep warm hue of the violincello balances a patch of dramatically blue sky, whilst the Rev. himself is in stark black and white.

The classical ruin we see refers to the history of art and music:

The figure in the niche holds a lyre, the attribute not only of Apollo, God of the Arts, but also of Terpsichore, the Muse of dancing and song, and Erato, the Muse of lyric and love poetry.

Yet the painting also has the very contemporary vibe of French artist Antoine Watteau:

Watteau, celebrated for his colourful and delicately sophisticated work, introduced a new type of subject into eighteenth century French painting: the fêtes galantes. These were scenes in which exquisitely dressed young people idle away time in dreamy, romantic, pastoral settings.

This must have appealed to the British sense of theatricality, dressing up and play that has so often appeared in our ramblings.

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Indeed there is a print at National Galleries Scotland of Watteau at his easel with his friend and patron playing a viola out in the forest that Gainsborough may well have seen and found as a source of inspiration.

That portrayal of the individual in a landscape was truly fashionable. This was the Age of Sensibility, when the harmony of culture and nature reflected the beauty of the soul.

Gainsborough, Thomas, 1727-1788; Portrait of a Woman

Portrait of a Woman [1750; Yale Centre]

Against a classical and landscape backdrop, this fashionable young woman holds a book on her lap as she looks towards us. The emergence of the novel in English literature raised “new ideals of personal virtue based around emotional sensitivity and the imagination” – another aspect of this Age of Sensibility.

It’s too easy to see Gainsborough’s paintings as ‘fashionable’ in any simplistic way though, for as a student in London he had been part of Hogarth’s circle – those young artists seeking modern ways of painting – and so the fact that he gives a book to the woman in this picture is important, it’s to be noted; it reflects a time of popular, socio-cultural change.

It was probably through another artist of Hogarth’s circle, Francis Hayman, that Gainsborough learnt of Watteau. We might also remember that Gainsborough would have assisted Hayman in painting the decorative scenes displayed at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens – a haven of nightlife, fireworks, supper parties and music that no doubt Gainsborough, ever vital, would have enjoyed immensely.

This returns us to the Rev. Chafy painting, for Gainsborough’s greatest passion was music: Gainsborough is known to have played several instruments with ‘native skill’ and was an active member of the Ipswich Musical Club (described by Hamilton as “a good excuse for some lively men to gather together to drink and play”, ie. rather rowdy!) which may have been where he met Chafy, making this a portrait of both friendship and shared enthusiasm – giving it that “fresh, informal and unselfconscious” flavour of modern, contemporary life that Rothenstein notes.

To keep to the music theme, we’ll end with the portrait of a composer:

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Ignatius Sancho (1729? – 1780) [1768, National Gallery of Canada]

Ignatius Sancho had the most extraordinary life. Born on a slave ship crossing the Atlantic and orphaned at the age of two he was brought to England where, in time, with a patron in Lord Montagu and access to the libraries, he began working at Montagu House as a valet, which is where this portrait was painted by Gainsborough.

As James Hamilton notes,

“Sancho, like Gainsborough, was part of the flow of thespians, artists and literati, and thus it is likely that he and Gainsborough were already acquainted, by reputation if not in person, before he walked through the door carrying the Duchess of Montagu’s mantua. Sancho’s portrait, therefore, might be classed as the portrait of a friend and fellow artist, rather than a portrait of a client sitter’s servant.” (p.242)

Active in the anti-slavery movement and increasingly renowned as a ‘man of letters’, Sancho would go on to publish A Theory of Music, two plays and

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Minuets Cotillons & country Dances for the Violin, Mandolin, German Flute, & Harpsichord. Composed by an African. [1775; British Library]

The “Minuets” can be heard on YouTube.

In “Ignatius Sancho: African Man of Letters” (unfortunately out of print, NPG) Reyahn King notes, according to Wikipedia, that: Gainsborough conveys both the warmth and humour of Sancho’s personality and his refined gentlemanly qualities.

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Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings do seem to bring a bright, personal freshness to the long tradition of portraiture in Britain.

Yet his true love was for landscape painting – a genre in the ascendant in British art despite Joshua Reynolds who, as President of the new Royal Academy, diagnosed the necessity for History Painting – the results of which we’ll look at next week.

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Rambling with Rothenstein (22): Joshua Reynolds

Reynolds, Joshua, 1723-1792; Sir Joshua Reynolds

Self-Portrait [c.1747; National Portrait Gallery]

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) is renowned as the first President of the Royal Academy where his lectures – published as “Discourses in Art” – stressed the Italian Renaissance traditions and learning from the Old Masters. According to John Rothenstein in “An Introduction to English Painting”, Reynolds was a great artist whose influence was as decisive as that of Hogarth.

“[Reynolds] believed that the classical artists of Italy had perfected a tradition to which no others could hold a candle, that they were, in short, masters of the great unchanging principles of painting.”

In turn he promoted art as concerning itself with ideal aspects of nature, its subjects drawn from history or mythology – so-called History Painting.

Reynolds’ own art, however, was that of portraiture, which he brought “to a maturity and splendour that caused the work of his predecessors to appear archaic and provincial by comparison” says Rothenstein.

This is a progression rather than a sudden shift, and I’m fascinated by the continuations.

Take one of Reynolds’ most (to my mind) extraordinary paintings:

Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen 1773 by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792

Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen [1773; Tate]

The aristocratic Montgomery sisters, Barbara, Elizabeth and Anne, are shown decorating a statue of Hymen, the Greek god of marriage and fertility, with flowers…  The women’s poses are more often associated with the Graces than portraits of aristocratic women.

This is portraiture in the Grand Manner so appreciated by Reynolds: a huge canvas, its subjects mimic renaissance ideals in reference to mythological legend; and note also the inclusion of ‘classical’ busts and columns – all to raise the art of portraiture to create “a moral and heroic symbolism”.

It’s a theatricality we can trace all the way back through the dressing-up masquerades and Roman flavours in the Baroque art of the Stuart court, not to mention the love of the theatre itself that continued to spread amongst the 18th century population of England.

This ‘bringing together’ of antiquity- and Old-Master-style was often criticised:

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Nathaniel Hone: The Conjurer [1775; National Gallery of Ireland]

This beautifully executed satirical painting (the full title of which is ‘The Pictorial Conjuror, Displaying the Whole Art of Optical Deception’) caused an outcry when it was submitted by the artist for exhibition at the Royal Academy, London, in 1775. The reason given was that included in the picture was a nude caricature of the Swiss painter Angelica Kauffman… The true cause of offence, however, was that the picture was seen as an attack on Kauffman’s friend Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy. His practice of borrowing poses from Old Master paintings to ennoble his portraits was seen by Hone as plagiarism.

It’s a harsh critique and I’m not sure entirely fair for whilst William Blake and, later, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood would also criticise Reynolds (for various reasons), JMW Turner had a much more positive view of him as a teacher and role model:

[Turner] once declared that he spent ‘the happiest perhaps of my days’ with Reynolds, and in later life Reynolds was the only English artist that Turner ever discussed – writes Peter Ackroyd in his brief biography “Turner” [Vintage, 2006]

It may be that Turner recognised Reynolds experimentation. There is a fascinating sketch in the Tate collection:

Sketch for 'The 4th Duke of Marlborough and his Family' c.1777 by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792

Sketch for “The 4th Duke of Marlborough and his Family” [1777; Tate]

This sketch shows the painter struggling with the problem of integrating the solemn splendour of the adults with a more modern, relaxed informality preferred for young children and dogs says the Tate website, suggesting that Reynolds was actively working on how a modern portrait/ conversation piece might look – the sophisticated adults amidst the ‘Hogarthian’ play of the children.

There is also an intriguing canvas in the Royal Academy collection:

Reynolds, Joshua, 1723-1792; Studio Experiments in Colour and Media

Studio Experiments in Colour and Media

This canvas was used by Sir Joshua Reynolds to experiment on gums, varnishes, oils and waxes as well as various pigments probably to record the effects of time on the colours and materials – RA

A 2015 catalogue “Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint” from an exhibition at The Wallace Collection [edited by Lucy Davis and Mark Hallett] also suggests how Reynolds’s innovations as a painter were often the product of collaboration – in part, with his assistants and his students, but, more importantly, with his patrons and subjects, with whom he continually explored the possibilities of gesture, expression, performance and role-play suggesting again Reynolds’ modernity in an age of scientific research and people’s individuality and self-identities.

Certainly he brilliantly emphasises identity and personality in

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Elizabeth Linley (1754–1792), Mrs Richard Brinsley Sheridan as Saint Cecilia [1775; Waddesdon Manor, National Trust]

Elizabeth Linley was a renowned singer and writer. She’s shown playing a pipe organ, but – and here Reynolds takes us by complete surprise – Elizabeth appears to stare at clouds and a ray of light that materialise above the organ suggesting perhaps her extraordinary musicality and imagination, recognising certainly Reynolds’ play and enjoyment in his art-making.

Elizabeth was muse to a number of painters, including Thomas Gainsborough, Reynolds’ great rival, who we’ll meet in Rambling (23).

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There’s to be an on-line lecture on 18th June given by Martin Postle about Joshua Reynolds called “The Artist and Intellectual” see Paul Mellon Centre.

 

 

Rambling with Rothenstein (21): Sporting and Animal Painting

As Hogarth brought the streets of London to the canvas, and Wright the ‘romance’ of industry, so other artists were picking up the threads that would lead to landscape painting. In the 18th century though, rather than ‘pure’ landscape painting, this meant turning the portrait-artist’s eye to animals (principally horses), whilst the social commentary of ‘conversation piece’ painting reflected an apparently stable system of rural working life.

I note this here at the beginning because of a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby that might stand in contrast to much of what follows:

Wright of Derby, Joseph, 1734-1797; Earthstopper on the Banks of the Derwent

Earthstopper on the Banks of the Derwent

[1773; Derby Museum and Art Gallery; artuk.org]

The Derby Museum website notes: An earthstopper was a man paid by local huntsmen to block up foxholes, also known as earths, the night before a hunt so that the foxes couldn’t get back in and would more easily be caught.

(which raises the question of what is ‘sport’ in relation of to animals; fox-hunting)

The painting has all the mysterious ‘romance’ of Wright’s art, the moonlight, the lamplight that singles out this solitary man working through the night with his dog and horse for companions. And yet, as we might have noted from Wright’s blacksmith paintings, a certain ‘social realism’ balances the romance: the hard, lonely toil; that, even as the man works in the pay of the landowner, his ragged clothing pronounces poverty.

The difficult lives of workers in rural Georgian England are rarely pictured. Instead, the ‘gentry’ and the new ‘middling sorts’ who commissioned art for their country houses wanted subjects that announced and celebrated their status.

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As with portraiture and decorative painting, the development of art in England is interwoven with the art and artists of continental Europe. Rothenstein notes Jan Wyck (1640-1700), a Dutch-born artist who migrated with his father (also an artist) to England and developed a highly successful career as a painter of portraits as well as battle and naval scenes. One of his students was John Wootton (1686-1764) of Warwickshire who would use his training in the depiction of the battlefield as the basis to become, as Rothenstein says, “the first horse-painter of his day”. As his pictures of the hunt might well resemble battlefield scenes to an extent; many are ‘portraits’ of horses, many of which ran at Newmarket (where there had been horse-racing since the 12th century).

Wootton, John, c.1682-1764; A Grey Horse and Jockey in Red Colours, before a Stable

A Grey Horse and Jockey in Red Colours, before a Stable [1715; National Trust, Clandon Park; artuk.org]

Wootton, John, c.1682-1764; Viscount Weymouth's Hunt: Mr Jackson, the Hon. Henry Villiers and the Hon. Thomas Villiers, with Hunters and Hounds

Viscount Weymouth’s Hunt: Mr Jackson, the Hon. Henry Villiers and the Hon. Thomas Villiers, with Hunters and Hounds [1733; Tate]

“We now have to consider one who stands head and shoulders above the other sporting artists of the English School, George Stubbs [1724 – 1806]. He ranks among the greatest animal painters of the world and as a portrayer of horses he has never been excelled and seldom rivalled” – enthuses Rothenstein:

“He was the first European artist to paint animals as they are”.

Stubbs, George, 1724-1806; 'Hambletonian', Rubbing Down

‘Hambletonian’, Rubbing Down [1800; National Trust, Mount Stewart; artuk.org]

And what is especially significant about Stubbs’s work is that it is based not only on the visual appearance of the horse, but the underlying anatomy. A self-taught artist, he moved from his home in Liverpool to work as a portrait painter in York whilst studying human anatomy and, after an unfulfilling trip to Rome:

In 1756 he rented a farmhouse in the village of Horkstow, Lincolnshire, and spent 18 months dissecting horses, assisted by his common-law wife, Mary Spencer.

“The Anatomy of the Horse” was published in 1766 (many of the original drawings can be seen on the Royal Academy website), and it was this scientific research and knowledge that led to aristocratic patronage and numerous paintings, the most famous of which is no doubt “Whistlejacket” at the National Gallery. Looking through the artuk.org website, it is fascinating to see the range of Stubbs’s work – from the ‘horse-portrait’ to paintings of dogs and wild beats, and he does something more, too:

Stubbs, George, 1724-1806; Mares and Foals in a River Landscape

Mares and Foals in a River Landscape [1763-8; Tate Britain; artuk.org]

The painting is carefully composed. As Tate notes, it exemplifies the artist’s sense of pattern and rhythm:

Mares and Foals in a River Landscape utilises a classical composition which gives an overall symmetry and balance to the group, in which the three mares and their foals are placed so as roughly to form a cone, with their rumps marking the perimeter and their heads the apex. The feeding foals are essential to the composition, allowing the spectator’s eye to be drawn over the whole group in a slow revolving rhythm.

What it also does though is set the horses by themselves – although they are owned, groomed and ‘in service’ as it were – they are shown interacting within their own ‘society’; they have their own relationships with each other.

Stubbs, George, 1724-1806; A Couple of Foxhounds

A Couple of Foxhounds [1792; Tate]

And I can’t resist including these two dogs; their personalities are palpable as is their relationship with us as they gaze out quizzically, uncertainly wondering what we’re looking at!

Two other artists mentioned by Rothenstein are Benjamin Marshall (1767-1835) and James Ward (1769-1859) – contemporaries, but with very contrasting styles.

To look through Marshall’s work at artuk.org, we can see his painting is very much in the style of Stubbs, though as Rothenstein notes, there is a real severity with “every visible muscle, artery and tendon starkly emphasised”. Yet many of his paintings also remind me of Hogarth as Marshall catches the sociable atmosphere.

Diamond with Dennis Fitzpatrick Up [1799; Yale Center for British Art; artuk.org]

John Hilton, Judge of the Course at Newmarket; John Fuller, Clerk of the Course; and John Stevens, a Trainer [1804; Yale Center for British Art; artuk.org]

By contrast “Ward’s painting is turbulent. Instead of the severe calm which prevails in Marshall’s paintings, the weather of Ward’s is stormy… [for] he looked to Rubens for inspiration.

Portraits of Blackthorn, a Broodmare, with Old Jack, a Favourite Pony, the Property of E. Mundy, Esq. 1812 by James Ward 1769-1859

Portraits of Blackthorn, a Broodmare, with Old Jack, a Favourite Pony, the Property of E. Mundy, Esq. [1812; Tate]

…commissioned by Edward Miller Mundy of Shipley Hall, Derbyshire. It portrays particular animals he owned – Old Jack, a bay pony, standing on the left, and Blackthorn, a chestnut mare, with a tiny new-born foal on the grass in front of her.

Greatly influenced by Rubens, [Ward] seems in his turn to have been a model for Landseer in the manner in which he endowed animals with human emotions.

Rothenstein agrees with the Tate in regard to Ward’s influence on Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), saying “Landseer created whole mythology of animal experience. His dogs registered the sublimest emotions; his stags were the personifications of nobility and heroism.”

Landseer, Edwin Henry, 1802-1873; Suspense

Suspense [1834; Victoria and Albert Museum; artuk.org]

Landseer’s art might not be everyone’s cup of tea; it reflects the high emotional tone of Victorian art and deep sentimentality, and certainly seems a long way from the Georgian artists of the previous century. Rothenstein is particularly dismissive: Landseer’s appeal perhaps escapes us now… [it all seems] rather facile.”

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The chapter on “Sporting and Animal Painting” skips quite a long way (and there is more to be said when we discuss landscape art). Next time though we’ll return to Portraiture through the work of Joshua Reynolds.

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However, just to return to the introduction and the recognition that the countryside was a very different place depending on whether you were an earthstopper or a landowner, some of James Ward’s paintings interestingly depict the less decorative ‘working’ side of rural life.

Ward, James, 1769-1859; Interior of a Stable

Interior of a Stable [1830s, Yale Center for British Art; artuk.org]

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Tending the Piglets [no date; Christie’s]

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