Recent Reviews: ‘The Intimate Portrait’ and ‘Fuseli’s Milton Gallery’

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, reviews by Editor on March 26, 2010

Reviews from the current issue of The Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 33 (March 2010),

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The Intimate Portrait: Drawings, Miniatures and Pastels from Ramsay to Lawrence, curated by Kim Sloan and Stephen Lloyd, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 25 October 2008 — 1 February 2009; British Museum, 5 March — 31 May 2009.

Reviewed by Kate Retford, Birkbeck College, University of London.

This exhibition brought together nearly 200 portrait drawings, pastels and miniatures from the rich collections of the British Museum and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, billed as “more intimate types of Georgian and Regency portraiture.” These were not regularly exhibited works. Miniatures are hard to display, particularly in a way that will convey full experience of their qualities and functions. Drawings can only ever be shown for limited periods of time, owing to the threat of fading. The show included some exceptional images, not least Thomas Lawrence’s 1789 drawing of Mary Hamilton, enhanced with red and black chalk, used for the publicity materials. It was the export licence deferral and subsequent acquisition of this beautiful portrait by the British Museum which prompted the show. . . .

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Luisa Calè, Fuseli’s Milton Gallery: ‘Turning Readers into Spectators’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 273 pages, ISBN: 0199267383, $125.

Reviewed by Martin Myrone, Tate Britain.

The Swiss-born history painter Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) was a central figure in London’s cultural scene from the 1770s through to his death, both acclaimed and reviled for his extravagant paintings of supernatural, heroic and uncanny scenes. Approaching Fuseli from the perspective of a literary scholar armed with the lessons of narrative theory and reception studies, Luisa Calè’s new study makes a highly significant contribution to the literature on this artist, and seeks to establish his work in the context of a commercial culture of art that fostered complex dependencies and exchanges between the visual and the textual, the social and the aesthetic. The book focuses on Fuseli’s Milton Gallery – a scheme of ambitious paintings based on subjects drawn from the poet’s writings and life that preoccupied the artist through the 1790s – which opened, to almost complete public indifference, in 1799 and 1800. Calè offers an impressively thoughtful reconsideration of this major artistic project which has wide implications for our understanding of narrative painting and the commerce of art at the end of the eighteenth century. . . .

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