Enfilade

New Title: ‘British Art and the Seven Years’ War’

Posted in books, Member News by Editor on August 29, 2010

Douglas Fordham, British Art and the Seven Years’ War: Allegiance and Autonomy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 352 pages, ISBN 9780812242430, $65.00s / £42.50.

Between the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and the American Declaration of Independence, London artists transformed themselves from loosely organized professionals into one of the most progressive schools of art in Europe. In British Art and the Seven Years’ War Douglas Fordham argues that war and political dissent provided potent catalysts for the creation of a national school of art. Over the course of three tumultuous decades marked by foreign wars and domestic political dissent, metropolitan artists—especially the founding members of the Royal Academy, including Joshua Reynolds, Paul Sandby, Joseph Wilton, Francis Hayman, and Benjamin West—creatively and assiduously placed fine art on a solid footing within an expansive British state.

London artists entered into a golden age of art as they established strategic alliances with the state, even while insisting on the autonomy of fine art. The active marginalization of William Hogarth’s mercantile aesthetic reflects this sea change as a newer generation sought to represent the British state in a series of guises and genres, including monumental sculpture, history painting, graphic satire, and state portraiture. In these allegories of state formation, artists struggled to give form to shifting notions of national, religious, and political allegiance in the British Empire. These allegiances found provocative expression in the contemporary history paintings of the American-born artists Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley, who managed to carve a patriotic niche out of the apolitical mandate of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Douglas Fordham teaches art history at the University of Virginia.