27 Facts About British art


Much Victorian British art is out of critical favour, with interest concentrated on the Pre-Raphaelites and the innovative movements at the end of the 18th century.

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Oldest surviving British art includes Stonehenge from around 2600 BC, and tin and gold works of art produced by the Beaker people from around 2150 BC.

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Landscape painting was as yet little developed in Britain at the time of the Union, but a tradition of marine British art had been established by the father and son both called Willem van de Velde, who had been the leading Dutch maritime painters until they moved to London in 1673, in the middle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War.

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British art's counterpart in Edinburgh, Sir John Baptist Medina, born in Brussels to Spanish parents, had died just before the Union took place, and was one of the last batch of Scottish knights to be created.

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British art's drawings show a taste for strongly drawn realism in the direction his son-in-law William Hogarth was to pursue, but this is largely overridden in the finished works, and for Greenwich he took to heart his careful list of "Objections that will arise from the plain representation of the King's landing as it was in fact and in the modern way and dress" and painted a conventional Baroque glorification.

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Fortunately, the booming British art economy was able to supply aristocratic and mercantile wealth to replace the court, above all in London.

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British art's portraits were mostly of middle-class sitters shown with an apparent realism that reflected both sympathy and flattery, and included some in the fashionable form of the conversation piece, recently introduced from France by Philippe Mercier, which was to remain a favourite in Britain, taken up by artists such as Francis Hayman, though usually abandoned once an artist could get good single figure commissions.

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British art made visits of three years to Italy at the beginning and end of his career, and anticipated Joshua Reynolds in bringing a more relaxed version of "Grand Manner" to British portraiture, combined with very sensitive handling in his best work, which is generally agreed to have been of female sitters.

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British art had begun life as a page to the family of the Dukes of Beaufort, who in the 1720s sent him to Rome, where he acquired a classicising landscape style based on that of Gaspard Dughet and Claude, which he used in some pure landscape paintings, as well as views of country houses and equine subjects.

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British art produced models for the Chelsea porcelain factory founded in 1743, a private enterprise which sought to compete with Continental factories mostly established by rulers.

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British art had studied both classical and modern Italian art, and his compositions discreetly re-use models seen on his travels.

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British art could convey a wide range of moods and emotions, whether heroic military men or very young women, and often to unite background and figure in a dramatic way.

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British art's published Discourses, first delivered to the students, were regarded as the first major writing on art in English, and set out the aspiration for a style to match the classical grandeur of classical sculpture and High Renaissance painting.

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British art continued to paint pure landscapes, largely for pleasure until his later years; full recognition of his landscapes came only in the 20th century.

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British art's portraits are mostly characterful but flattering images of dignified society figures, but he developed an obsession with the flighty young Emma Hamilton from 1781, painting her about sixty times in more extravagant poses.

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British art's work was especially sought-after by American collectors in the early 20th century and many are now in American museums.

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British art continued to paint scenes set in Italy, as well as England and Wales, and his death in 1782 came just as large numbers of artists began to travel to Wales, and later the Lake District and Scotland in search of mountainous views, both for oil paintings and watercolours which were now starting their long period of popularity in Britain, both with professionals and amateurs.

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British art'story painting in the grand manner continued to be the most prestigious form of art, though not the easiest to sell, and Reynolds made several attempts at it, as unsuccessful as Hogarth's.

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British art spent most of his adult life based in Rome and had at least as much influence on Neo-Classicism in Europe as in Britain.

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Training in art was considered a useful skill in the military for sketch maps and plans, and many British officers made the first Western images, often in watercolour, of scenes and places around the world.

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British art history was a very common subject, with the Middle Ages, Elizabeth I, Mary, Queen of Scots and the English Civil War especially popular sources for subjects.

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British art's memoirs are a useful source for the period, and he was one of several artists to be employed for a period in the greatly expanded system of government art schools, which were driven by the administrator Henry Cole and employed Richard Redgrave, Edward Poynter, Richard Burchett, the Scottish designer Christopher Dresser and many others.

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Alfred Sisley, who was French by birth but had British nationality, painted in France as one of the Impressionists; Walter Sickert and Philip Wilson Steer at the start of their careers were strongly influenced, but despite the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel bringing many exhibitions to London, the movement made little impact in England until decades later.

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The British art-based American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Aubrey Beardsley, and the former Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Edward Burne-Jones are associated with those movements, with late Burne-Jones and Beardsley both being admired abroad and representing the nearest British art approach to European Symbolism.

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Scottish British art was now regaining an adequate home market, allowing it to develop a distinctive character, of which the "Glasgow Boys" were one expression, straddling Impressionism in painting, and Art Nouveau, Japonism and the Celtic Revival in design, with the architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh now their best-known member.

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British art modernism was to remain somewhat tentative until after World War II, though figures such as Ben Nicholson kept in touch with European developments.

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Abstract British art became prominent during the 1950s with Ben Nicholson, Terry Frost, Peter Lanyon and Patrick Heron, who were pBritish art of the St Ives school in Cornwall.

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