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William Hogarth




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Mulready. The three last named are the best, by reason of their preference for rustic scenes combined with landscape.

Now, if portrait painting is one of the glories of English art, landscape is another; in both directions it rose to supreme heights. Nevertheless, the current of sentimental and anecdotal painting, in spite of the many ways in which it is opposed to a strong and healthy conception of art is not as artificial in England as it would be elsewhere, in France, for example. In England this sentimentality, humour, and even this rather theatrical setting interest us, not only because the artists who made themselves its interpreters were not without real pictorial qualities, but above all because we see in the very spirit, however open to criticism, of their little pictures, a sincerity springing from the depths of the national temperament and an inheritance, emasculated but indubitable, of the great Hogarth.

The third characteristic of the English school is the moral strain emanating from the old Puritan tradition. It sometimes favours a conception of art closely akin to that of the novel which from the eighteenth century onwards is so living and original a part of English literature. Sometimes it leans towards the pamphlet, which is, moreover, often one of the forms of the English novel, or else towards caricature. Sometimes it inspires visions by turn angelic and apocalyptic, but always with a profound moral aim; and, finally, sometimes results in movement which is to all appearances entirely poetic, like that of the Pre-Raphaelites, but with a poetry that is more literary than plastic and in which the idea of purification is applied almost as much to the intentions of art as to its specific processes and sensible effects.

This moral spirit alternating between utilitarian moralism and poetic fantasy has produced two men incontestably original in their force and singularity and quite unparalleled elsewhere: Hogarth and Blake.

It may be said that Reynolds was, in his fashion, the legitimate heir of Hogarth, not of Hogarth the moralist andsatirist, but Hogarth the portrait painter. The author of Marriage á la Mode and The Shrimp Girl gave with his strong rough lands the decisive impetus to the national temperament. Reynolds was never a pupil of Hogarth's, but certainly owes more to him than to the estimable Thomas Hudson (1701—1779), his official master, who has no other title to fame. But his debt to the great masters of the past, Titian, Rembrandt, and even Raphael, Michelangelo and the Bolognese, not to mention Rubens and Van Dyck, is still greater. In his writings, he evolved a doctrine of imitation, a fact with which he had sometimes been reproached, but wrongly so, since he succeeded — without perceptible effort — in making his borrowings his own and giving to a composite creation a homogeneous, personal-and national character.



His best paintings do not resemble the ceremonial portraits painted according to formula yet imposing and magnificent, in which the French excel. The supremely aristocratic quality of his art was to endue all the luxury and elegance with an air of familiarity - of pleasant ease and romance.

One day this man of learning seems to have forgotten all his calculations and abandoned himself to inspiration which created a masterpiece of poetic spontaneity, one of the most perfect paintings in which a great artist has enshrined his dream of woman, Nelly O'Brien.



Thomas Gainsborough (1727—1788), few years younger than Reynolds, rivalled him in fame. He had nothing of the theorist, the teacher the leader of a school, he never thought of combining in his art skilful borrowings from the greatest artists of various foreign schools. Unlike Reynolds he never left England. He is a poet, and a poet by instinct, quivering with sensitiveness, capricious and fantastic but always natural. Although he painted some good portraits of men he is par excellence the painter of women and children. A profound admirer of Van Dyck, he took him for his model; but this admiration does not detract from his originality, which has a unique quality of seductiveness. On Van Dyck's themes — such as that of the boy clad in costly satin, with the woman's face, long and delicate — tie composed entirely new variations, a word here employed in all the, fullness of sense attributed to it by musicians. There is some music of the sweetest, most winning, and most subtle kind in Gainsborough's best canvases.

Almost inadvertently and with no thought except to satisfy his love of the country he is the veritable creator of the great English school of landscape painters, no less a source of glory to their native land than are her painters of portraits.

England had long shown a great love of natural beauty. The connoisseurs had collected in their London salons and the galleries of their country houses the works of Ruysdael, Cuyp, Canaletto, Guardi, Claude; but no work bearing an English signature was ever seen there. It was still in imitation of Canaletto that Samuel Scott the companion of Hogarth, painted his views of London, so precious as historical records, lie was one of the founders of the Society of Water-Colour Painters which was to have such important developments. The real creators of English landscape, however, are Wilson and Gainsborough.



Richard Wilson (1714—1782) took to landscape somewhat late, having first devoted himself with success to the portrait, whereas Gainsborough, on the contrary, started as landscape painter. It was at Rome, where he lived for six years, that encouraged by Zuccarelly and Joseph Vernet, Wilson painted his first landscapes. Having returned to England he pursued his career as a landscape painter, in the Roman style, sometimes interrupting his reminiscences of Italy to paint the beauties of Wales, where he was born. In spite of certain monotony we must concede to Wilson's works the charm of noble serenity, especially when his wide skies shed a limpid light upon the waters of a lake surrounded by the harmonious lines of mountains. Gainsborough also began by imitating the Dutch when he painted Harwick Harbour or the county around Sudbury. But from the start he announced much more clearly than Wilson the road to be followed by English landscape. His canvases painted between the age of 20 and 25 already herald Constable's earliest works.

TASKS


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