English art and architecture

The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

During the 18th cent. a more restrained architectural style was developed and made popular in the works of Lord Burlington, Colin Campbell, James Gibbs, and William Kent. The Georgian style in architecture (see Georgian architecture), decoration, furniture, silver, and the minor arts was developed during the reigns of the Hanoverian kings (1714–1820). An outstanding architectural fantasy employing Chinese decor was manifested in the Regency style, of which George IV's Royal Pavilion at Brighton (1815–22) is an example.

Early in the 18th cent., after two centuries of foreign domination in the arts, the English school of painting was revitalized by William Hogarth's brilliant and biting pictorial satires. The graphic art of social commentary that he began has flourished in England ever since. It was superbly expressed in Rowlandson's drawings at the close of the century, a time when an opposite trend, toward the poetic and mystical in the graphic arts, also reached its height in the work of William Blake and his followers, notably Samuel Palmer and Edward Calvert.

In portraiture the 18th cent. produced a number of outstanding artists. Sir Joshua Reynolds, who helped found the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 and was the first Englishman to assert successfully the dignity of his profession, shares with Thomas Gainsborough the place of honor in English portraiture. Other major artists in this field include George Romney, Sir Henry Raeburn, and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Gainsborough is distinguished, too, for his landscape painting, a genre in which England has made contributions of the first order. Notable 18th-century landscape painters were Richard Wilson, George Morland, John Robert Cozens, and Thomas Girtin. A type of painting that enjoyed great popularity in the 18th and 19th cent. was the sporting picture depicting hunting and racing scenes, a particularly English form of art. George Stubbs was the outstanding painter and engraver of this genre.

From the 18th cent. on, considerable advances were made in city planning, with the schemes of John Wood I and John Wood II at Bath, and, in the 19th cent., with the efforts of John Nash in London. In the latter half of the 18th cent. England was engulfed by a wave of neoclassicism, characterized by the greater availability of and greater stress on archaeological finds than during the Palladian trend. The principal exponents of neoclassicism were Robert Adam, Sir William Chambers, George Dance II, and Sir John Soane, all of whom developed tasteful variations of the style. In the late 18th cent. a search for the picturesque led to the resurgence of earlier modes, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Greek styles. Among the architects who exploited several styles were Robert Smirke and Sir Charles Barry.

By the Victorian period, the Gothic revival predominated and was developed to great effect by A. W. N. Pugin, who worked under Barry in the design of the Houses of Parliament. Other imaginative variations of the Gothic style were conceived by William Butterfield, W. E. Nesfield, and R. N. Shaw. The latter two and Philip Webb also created remarkable plans for domestic architecture, as did C. F. A. Voysey and Sir Edwin Lutyens toward the end of the 19th cent. Coinciding with the mid-19th cent. Gothic revival, new structural and spatial possibilities were being explored with the use of such materials as iron and glass. Sir Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace for the exposition of 1851 was a landmark in the direction of modern architecture.

Among the most gifted landscape painters of the early 19th cent. were R. P. Bonington and the leaders of the Norwich school (1803–34), John Crome and J. S. Cotman, who also excelled in the medium of watercolor. Their achievement was dwarfed by the two great landscape artists John Constable and J. M. W. Turner; developing totally different styles, they both created rich coloristic effects and worked with a spontaneity that had a strong influence on subsequent French painting. The English romantic period, of which they were the greatest exponents in painting, was followed by the rise of the Pre-Raphaelite school of D. G. Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Sculpture did not parallel the development of English painting, although John Flaxman, Sir Richard Westmacott, Sir Francis Chantrey, John Bacon, and Alfred Stevens worked effectively in a classicizing manner.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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