Enfilade

Exhibition | The Golden Age of English Painting

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 17, 2019

Press release for the exhibition:

The Golden Age of English Painting: From Reynolds to Turner
L’âge d’or de la peinture anglaise: De Reynolds à Turner
Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 11 September 2019 — 16 February 2020

Curated by Martin Myrone and Cécile Maisonneuve

This exhibition, showing a selection of masterpieces from Tate Britain, highlights a key period in the history of painting in England, from the 1760s to around 1820, capturing the originality and diversity of the period. It takes visitors from the founding of the Royal Academy, with artists such as Reynolds and Gainsborough, to the turning point in the early 19th century, notably with Turner. The public will rediscover the great classics of British art here, all too rarely exhibited in France.

The reign of George III was preponderant for British art, with the founding of the Royal Academy of Arts, of which Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), was the first president at the height of his career. This period also saw Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) join the Academy. In their own ways, Reynolds and Gainsborough, both masters of portraiture, brought novel visual and intellectual innovations to the genre, honouring the great masters while reinventing the wheel. With signs of an artistic golden age booming, this movement was also supported by major players in trade and industry, and then by the king himself.

The exhibition tackles the confrontation of the two portrait painters, through full-length paintings and intimate studies of members of the royal family or personalities of the day. Reynolds’s intellectual ambitions contrast with Gainsborough’s pictorial ease. Redefining British art alone, they raised the next generation to new heights. A selection of major portraits by their competitors and/or followers, such as John Hopper, William Beechey, and Thomas Lawrence, recall the influence of these two precursors. The exhibition also addresses the themes of lineage, family, and home with the genre painting that gave birth to a new approach to childhood. Reynolds’s extraordinary portrait The Archers puts the concept of wilderness at the service of a heroic representation of the British ruling class, while Gainsborough, George Stubbs, and George Morland focus their attention on the picturesque, through paintings depicting everyday life, especially in rural areas.

With the political and commercial exploitation of overseas territories as the basis for artistic progress, part of the exhibition addresses the presence of Great Britain in India and the Caribbean. Another section discusses the tremendous growth of watercolour, which allowed many artists to stand out by meeting the needs of a new amateur society. The last part of the exhibition shows how British artists such as Henri Fuseli, John Martin, P.J. de Loutherbourg, and J.M.W. Turner sublimated narrative figuration, paving the way for a new conception of art as a support for the imaginary.

Amandine Rabier, L’âge d’or de la peinture anglaise (Paris: Gallimard / Réunion des musées nationaux, 2019), 56 pages, ISBN: 978-2072859595, 10€.

 

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