Old English painting, English artists of the 17th – early 20th century
Collectors of antique painting conservative in their passions. The greatest interest are the Italian Renaissance masters, the old Dutch and German painters, the French Impressionists and some others. At the same time, artists from other countries and epochs often deserve no less attention. Let’s stop our view on painting in England.
Few would call English painting one of the wealth of the country, and in vain. Among the artists of England are many of the most interesting original artists, whose creations adorn the best art galleries of the world and the richest private collections of objects of art.
However, in the wide circles of art lovers, England is unfairly relegated to the background. Not everyone without a hitch would call the name of at least three English painters. Let us try to eliminate this injustice by offering a brief overview of old English painting from the moment of its formation into a separate, independent phenomenon of world art.
ORIGINS OF THE ENGLISH PAINTING.
Until the 17th century, one could only speak conditionally about English painting. Miniatures or frescoes were present, but against the background of the Italian or Dutch schools, the British looked pale. Painting in the country was not encouraged – the strict and harsh Puritans who dominated the ideological sphere did not welcome any “decoration”.
It is not surprising that the authors of the first English paintings were not English. The history of English painting should begin with the works of the great Dutchmen Rubens and Van Dyck, who gave a powerful impetus to the development of English art. But, if Rubens’s painting of the Whitehall Palace in 1629 became for the artist, in essence, only a brilliant addition to the diplomat’s career (he was the head of the embassy of the Spanish king at the talks with Charles I of England), then Charles’s court painter, received the nobility and is buried in the famous London Cathedral of St. Paul.
Van Dyck and the Dutchmen Cornelis Ketel, Daniel Mietens, the Germans von der Faes (Peter Lely) and Gottfried Kniller (Sir Godfrey Neller, Cromwell’s favorite) who came to England after England were portraitists. Their paintings are distinguished by brilliant craftsmanship and subtlety of psychological observation. Their merits were highly appreciated. They all received nobility, and Neller was even buried in Westminster Abbey.
The main genre of English painting was a ceremonial portrait. Historical and mythological scenes occupied a secondary place, and there were only a few landscape painters.
The British in the XVII century were forced to give first roles to brilliant foreigners. But among them appeared original masters. So, William Dobson (1610-1646) began by copying paintings by Titian and Van Dyck, but now the Scottish lords proudly display ancient paintings in their castles, many of which are portraits of their Dobson ancestors.
XVIII CENTURY – “GOLDEN AGE” PAINTING OF ENGLAND.
The work of William Hogarth (1697-1764) was a real breakthrough in the visual arts, which removed the stigma of “eternal disciples” from the English.
He opened the “golden” XVIII century of English painting. It was an innovator and a realist in all respects. He wrote sailors, beggars, his own servants, women of easy virtue. His single canvases or cycles are sometimes keenly satirical, sometimes deeply sad, but always very lively and realistic. And the bright cheerfulness of the “Girls with Shrimps” (1745) simply makes you smile back. This portrait and lovers and critics are unanimously among the most interesting and vital portraits of the era.
Hogarth also wrote historical plots, was a master of engraving. He is the author of the essay “Analysis of Beauty”, dedicated to the issues of goals and the meaning of visual art (1753).
It was from Hogarth that the enlightened society of Europe began to take English art to its rightful place, English paintings became popular, and the artist himself gained continental glory.
The second largest master, whose works should pay attention to connoisseurs of antique paintings, was Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts. He studied in England, spent three years in Italy, where Michelangelo became his idol. The main genre in which the artist worked, remained a portrait.
His creations are distinguished by a great variety – from the ceremonial portraits of nobility, filled with perfection and stiffness, to charming images of children (at least look at the wonderful “Girl with strawberries”, 1771).
He gave the gift of the master and the indispensable mythological plots, but his characters are not academic. Just look at the playful Venus (“Cupid unleashes the belt of Venus”, 1788) or the infantly serious Hercules butuce (“Baby Hercules strangling snakes”, 1786).