English Painting

THE art of painting was not practised until late in England. There are a few remains of mural decorations in churches in various parts of the country and in Westminster Abbey, which must have been executed prior to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, but no English painters of much note appeared previous to the eighteenth century. Before this time all important works were entrusted to foreigners, notably those of the German, Flemish, and Dutch schools; therefore, the impress of these schools upon the English is marked. Holbein (German School) — Mabuse, Moro, Rubens, Van Dyck (Flemish), Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, portrait painters— and the two Van de Veldes, marine painters (Dutch), were employed by the reigning sovereigns and their courts. Some of these painters performed their most important work in England.

Characteristics. — Portrait painting is a marked feature, in which the influence of Van Dyck especially is seen until the time of Sir Joshua Reynolds, through whom Italian influence obtains power. Genre painting is prominent, also landscape, in which much realism and study of nature is seen. Color and effect are ends sought for.

Sir James Thornhill (1676–1734) was the first native artist who received important commissions for public work.

His wall paintings are not very interesting or of much worth to the art world.

These may be seen in Hampton Court Palace, Greenwich Hospital, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

William Hogarth (1697-1764), born in London, and a son-in-law of Sir James Thornhill, is the first really great name. He belongs to the province of the higher genre, was author as well as painter, and had the same aim in both his painting and writing. He was a most clever satirist, and strove to work reform by holding up to ridicule the popular vices of his day.

His aim was to make paintings similar to stage representations, and he succeeded admirably.

In composition his pictures are thoroughly and exquisitely dramatic, without in the least degenerating into the theatrical. His color, as a general thing, is poor.

Many of his pictures have been engraved.

Most important works :

Series of pictures, ” The Harlot’s Progress,” ” The Rake’s Progress,” ” Marriage à la Mode.” National Gallery, London.

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), born in Plympton, Devonshire, holds high rank, especially in portrait. He at first was influenced by Van Dyck’s work. Afterward, having spent several years in Italy, he endeavored to imitate the color and force of the great Venetian masters and the chiaroscuro of Correggio. Thus he became somewhat of an eclectic painter, influenced by the different schools of Italy and Belgium. He was first president of the Royal Academy of London and exerted a powerful influence upon his immediate followers. His popular ” Discourses ” consists of lectures given to the students of the academy. He painted historical pictures, but they are inferior to his portraits.

His principle was that likeness and individual character depend more upon the general effect than upon the exact modelling and likeness of the features.

His composition is graceful, his light and shade soft and broad, and his color rich, warm, and harmonious.

He was particularly successful in his portraits of women and children.

His works can best be studied in National Gallery, London, and in private collections throughout England ; they can also be seen in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City. The most noted is probably ” Allegorical Portrait of Mrs. Siddons,” Dulwich Gallery, England.

Well-known pictures often engraved are ” Innocence ” and ” Angels’ Heads,” both of which are in National Gallery, London.

Thomas Gainsborough (I 727-1788), born in Sudbury, Suffolk, is celebrated for his portraits, landscapes, and genre pictures. He was a thoroughly original painter, both in conception and execution, and, unlike Reynolds, followed no school traditions.

He was fond of cool coloring. His celebrated ” Blue Boy,” a youth in blue satin, is said to have been painted to disprove the opinion of Reynolds that the predominance of blue in a picture is incompatible with a good color effect.

He used the peculiar method of handling called hatching.

His landscapes are marked by much poetic feeling.

Important works :

Portraits of Mrs. Siddons and Dr. Schomberg. National Gallery, London.

“The Blue Boy.” Grosvenor Gallery, London.

Fine landscapes are in South Kensington Museum and National Gallery, London.

George Romney (1734-1802), born in Dalton, Lancashire, was a rival of Reynolds and Gainsborough in portrait painting.

His works of this kind are remarkable for fine drawing and modelling, with freedom of handling. In richness of color they are inferior to Reynolds’.

He also produced ideal works in which is shown a refined poetic fancy.

Many examples may be seen in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and Royal Institute, Liverpool.

Benjamin West (1738-1820), born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, belongs by right to the English School of painting. When a very young man he painted portraits in Philadelphia, then removed to New York, but when twenty-two years of age went to Rome, where he studied for about three years and immediately afterward settled in England, where he spent the remainder of his life.

He is the chief historical painter of his time in England.

His composition is powerful, his drawing good, but his color is characterized by a dull red and is monotonous.

He inaugurated a new era in historical painting by dressing his characters in the costumes of their times instead of the conventional Greek and Roman ones which had been invariably used before. At the time he was much opposed by other artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds.

West himself thus gives an interesting account of his first painting of this kind, the ” Death of General Wolfe”: “When it was understood that I intended to paint the characters as they had actually appeared on the scene, the Archbishop of York called on Reynolds and asked his opinion. They both came to my house to dissuade me from running so great a risk. Reynolds began a very ingenious and elegant dissertation on the state of the public taste in this country, and the danger which every innovation incurred of contempt and ridicule, and concluded by urging me earnestly to adopt the costume of antiquity as more becoming the greatness of my subject than the modern garb of European warriors. I answered that ‘ the event to be commemorated happened in the year 1758, in a region of the world unknown to Greeks and Romans, and at a period of time when no warriors who wore such costume existed. The subject I have to represent is a great battle fought and won ; and the same truth which gives law to the historian should rule the painter. If, instead of the facts of the action, I introduce fictions, how shall I be understood by posterity? I want to mark the place, the time, the people, and to do this I must abide by the truth.’

” They went away then, and returned when I had the painting finished. Reynolds seated himself before the picture, examined it with deep and minute attention for half an hour, then, rising, said to Drummond, ‘ West has conquered; he has treated the subject as it ought to be treated; I retract my objections ; I foresee that this picture will not only become one of the most popular, but will occasion a revolution in art.’ ”

When we look at the picture we cannot help wishing that the artist had not been quite so literal as to make the great general die with the hard, stiff, black stock about his neck.

West was patronized by King George III, from whom he received a salary for thirty-three years. He was second president of the Royal Academy.

His ” Death of General Wolfe ” is in the Grosvenor Gallery, London. He is also represented in National Gallery, London. Seventeen pictures are in Hampton Court, England. Pictures are in museums and private galleries of America.

James Barry (1741-1806), a native of Ireland; Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), born in Zürich; and John Opie (1761-1807), of Cornwall, England, were successful professors of painting in the Royal Academy and excelled more as art writers and critics than as painters.

Examples of Barry’s work may be seen in his “Adam and Eve,” South Kensington Museum, London ; also, series of six pictures representing the history of the civilization of man. Adel-phi Gallery, London.

Fuseli’s best works are his illustrative series, ” Milton Gallery,” consisting of forty-seven designs, and “Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery,” of eight designs.

Opie’s portraits are in English galleries.

Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), born in Bristol, excelled chiefly in his portraits of women and children. He was a fine colorist, but was not very correct in drawing, some of his figures being noticeably out of proportion to their heads.

This fault is explained by the fact that he often employed other artists to complete his picture after he had painted the head. He sometimes lost the value of figures in the splendor of the accessories.

Portraits by him are in Waterloo Gallery, Windsor ; National Gallery, London ; and private collections throughout England.

William Etty (1787–1849) was a pupil of Lawrence. His early work was not very successful, but after a period of study in Venice he conquered the difficulties of flesh painting as few English painters have done, and produced many fine figure pieces.

Works are in Royal Academy, Edinburgh, and National Gallery, London.

William Blake (1757–1827), born in London, was a most eccentric artist. He was a designer rather than a painter, for few of his compositions possess any color harmonies.

His subjects are religious, and those intended especially to improve mankind. His invention was endless, his de-signs extravagant, but often fine, even grand in composition.

Most of his figures are superb in sweep of line and force of action. Many of his works are tinted etchings.

He may be studied in the chief museums of England and America.

Richard Wilson (1713–1782) was the first important English landscape painter. His pictures are far more popular to-day than when he painted them. They are largely classic scenes, in which there is considerable conventionality, after the manner of Italian landscapes. They are marked by good composition, somewhat cold color, bold and massive foregrounds, verdant foliage, and wide distances. The figures were generally painted by some other artist.

Many of his pictures have been engraved. Among these are : Cicero in his Villa,” ” Meleager and Atalanta,” ” Apollo and the Seasons,” and ” Niobe.” He may be studied in English galleries.

John Constable (1776-1837), like Wilson, was influenced at first by Italian landscape painting. Afterward, following the Dutch painters, he studied nature and put much realism into his work. His pictures of English rural scenery are, for simplicity of subject, truth of nature, and freshness of color, truly admirable.

He possessed mannerisms, one of which was his fondness for representing dew on the vegetation, which often gives a spotty effect.

Representative works are in South Kensington Museum and National Gallery, London.

Following Constable are the landscape painters John Crome ( 1760-1821), commonly called Old Crome, to distinguish him from younger painters of the same name, — a keen student of natural effects, whose best works are in National Gallery, London ; and Sir Augustus Callcott (1779–1844), sometimes called the English Claude, who followed Italian methods rather than nature. Callcott also painted works of the higher genre.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) is one of the best-known names in landscape painting. Mr. Ruskin, the great English art critic, made it a chief object in the writing of his ” Modern Painters ” to hold the works of Turner up for the admiration of the world, believing that he has painted the noblest skies, mountains, trees, and seas ever represented by artists’ brush. He was one of the most hard-working, as well as original of painters. For more than sixty years, with scarcely an intermission, his pictures were hung on the walls of the Royal Academy.

His life is remarkable by reason of the contrast between its humble origin, the weakness and pitifulness of its private aims, and its splendid results for the nation and the world of art, for, despite all his faults, Turner was a great painter.

Characteristics.—His taste was classic, and Claude Lorraine was his first model. He always idealized his subject, not painting the place itself, but, after having grasped all the principal features of a region, gathering these into one impression, which he placed on paper or canvas.

He loved to paint wide distances, rivers, seas, mountains, anything that would give a sweep of horizon lines, — delighted in effects of aërial perspective, and studied the problem of painting sunlight until he was distracted. Such luminosity as his is seen in the work of no other painter.

He had three styles; the first is highly elaborated, with comparatively cool color ; the third, used during the last years of his life, is almost literally destitute of form and wholly extravagant in excess and wildness of color ; the second is between these two and marks his best works.

He painted in both oil and water colors. Many critics give a superior rank to his water colors. His reckless manner of using oils has tended to their change of color.

Two rooms in the National Gallery, London, are devoted solely to Turner’s oil pictures, among which ” Fighting Temeraire ” and ” Wilkie’s Burial ” are perhaps the most noted.

A Turner Water Color Gallery is attached to the National Gallery, which contains about three hundred of his water-color paintings, including the original illustrations of Roger’s Italy.

” The Slave Ship,” one of his most famous later works, is in a private collection in Boston.

Among other well-known water-color landscape painters are Thomas Stothard (1755-1834), many of whose works are illustrative ; Anthony Fielding (1787-1849), and Samuel Prout (1783-1852).

The most noted genre painters are Sir David Wilkie (1785—1841) ; Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859), born of American parents ; Gilbert Stuart Newton (1794-1835), born in Halifax, Nova Scotia ; and William Mulready (1786-1863).

All are well represented in South Kensington Museum and National Gallery, London.

Sir Edwin Landseer (1802—1873) has gained distinction as animal painter. His pictures are full of sentiment and evince such sympathy with the dumb creation that they appeal to the heart and are justly popular. Deer and dogs are his favorite subjects, and his paintings of these creatures have been so admirably reproduced that they are familiar to all.

Many of his pictures are in South Kensington Museum and National Gallery, London.

Among other painters of animals are Charles Landseer, the brother of Sir Edwin ; James Ward, a farmyard painter ; John F. Herring, whose pictures of horses are so popular ; and Edwin Douglas, known by his Jersey cattle.


About 1847 arose the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art, inaugurated by Hunt, Rossetti, and Millais, and assisted by the influence of Mr. Ruskin and other writers, together with a few sculptors.

Its aim, like that of the German “Brethren,” was to improve the art then being produced, and, like that, took for its model the work of painters who preceded Raphael. Unlike the Germans, however, whose great endeavor was to imitate the simple devotional spirit of the fourteenth-century painters, the Englishmen strove to follow the real-ism of design and execution that marks the work of these old masters. They resolved to render all ideas materially, and to give a faithful transcript of nature.

They called themselves the “Prae-Raphaelite Brotherhood,” and often signed their pictures “P. R. B.”

Holman Hunt (1827) exhibits fully the principles of the Brotherhood. Even the most ideal of his works are treated with absolute realism. This is indeed their chief characteristic. He has studied, as have few others, to gain the true and literal setting for every subject, never allowing himself to paint a picture whose scene is laid in a foreign country without visiting it and learning the truth regarding accessories.

The result is that his pictures seem to be made up merely of these accessories, which impress beyond the subject.

We are tempted to count the leaves and fruit on his trees, the blades of grass in his foregrounds, the shavings on the floor, and the nail-heads on the wall. The great pictorial truths of light, color, and atmosphere are sacrificed.

Some of his latest work seems slightly modified for the better.

Examples often reproduced are “The Light of the World,” ” Christ in the Temple,” ” The Shadow of the Cross,” ” Triumph of the Innocents.”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828—1882) was an Italian by birth and a poet by nature. He chose his subjects for painting from poems and mythology, and was naturally so much given to the ideal that it was wholly impossible for him, however much he strove, to carry out the principles of his Brotherhood. His work was only hampered and injured by the attempt.

He loved best to paint the faces and figures of women.

In these there is much subtle, spiritual beauty. His drawing is often defective. The mannerisms of singularly shaped necks and hands, of eyes full of unsatisfied longing, of full lips, and hair that falls heavily with its weight, mark his pictures.

His color is particularly rich and glowing. His power of design is seen in many fine decorative effects.

Examples often reproduced are “Girlhood of the Virgin,” “Annunciation,” “Beata Beatrix.”

Sir John Everett Millais (1829–1896) followed the principles of the Brotherhood only for a short time, and but few of his pictures can be called examples of the movement ; among these is ” Jesus in the Carpenter’s Shop holding up His Wounded Hand.”

A feeling for the higher genre entered into his work and is illustrated in some of his most famous pictures.

He became a fine portrait and figure painter, and takes high rank among English artists of his day.

Among his best-known pictures are “The Huguenot Lovers,” ” Boy Princes in the Tower,” ” First Sermon,” ” Second Sermon,” ” Yes or No?”

The most important men influenced by the Prae-Raphaelites were Ford Madox Brown (1821—1893) painter of historic subjects ; Burne-Jones (1833-1898), pupil of Rossetti, whose finely drawn pictures, half classic, half romantic, are full of charm; and Alfred Moore (1840–1893).

Among other noted names are Sir Frederick Leighton (183o–1896), late President of the Royal Academy, who painted Italian and Oriental scenes and portraits.; Edward J. Poynter (1836), present President of Royal Academy, who paints mythological scenes and portraits ; George F. Watts (1818), whose poetic, allegorical pictures and portraits are so well known ; W. Q. Orchardson (1835), painter of higher genre, some-what after Hogarth’s style ; George W. Boughton (1834), sometimes numbered among American painters because his early years were spent in this country, who loves to paint Normandy and Breton peasants ; Frank Holl (1845–1890) and Hubert Herkomer (1849), portrait painters ; Elizabeth Thompson Butler, so successful in her “Roll-Call,” ” Return to Inkerman,” and other military pictures ; Alfred Parsons and W. L. Wyllie, landscape painters ; and Henry Moore, marine painter.