England is a tiny country but as most people know has at one time or another been part of an empire that has almost covered the globe. Consequently, the influence it has had on different aspects of society cannot go unnoticed. The subject of art is no exception and because the history of this country is long and deep it is also rich with artistic heritage. Of course, art is as old as time and no doubt there was some skilled artists back when this tiny land was taking shape and was finding its way through the many periods of aggression and turmoil invasion and political unrest. Art like any creative form can reflect these moments. One thing is certain if you look into history you will find record of many notable artists who either made their way to England or were born there and became influential at the English royal court of their day where primarily art found its platform and support.
The period of English history from 1700 to 1800 may have yielded some of the best-known artists. Among these Joshua Reynolds born 1723, George Stubbs born 1724, and Thomas Gainsborough born 1727 are perhaps the most notable. Each of these became known for a particular facet of painting. Reynolds specialized in portraits and was considered one of the major European painters of the 18th century promoting what came to be known as the grand style. In 1768 he became the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts.
George Stubbs was essentially a self-taught artist with a passion for anatomy even studying the human form under the guide of the surgeon Charles Atkinson. He later took this passion to study horses spending 18 months dissecting then for research! Perhaps his most famous work as a result of this meticulous preparation is that of whistle jacket a picture of a prancing horse now find in London’s national Gallery.
Thomas Gainsborough was also a portrait and land scape artist who eventually surpassed his contemporary Joshua Reynolds to become the dominant British portraitist. Gainsborough developed a type of portrait where he would put the sitter into the landscape. He was also thought by many to be one of the most technically able yet experimental artists of his time. In addition to these three giants of the era this century produced two of arguably the best-known English artists JMW Turner and John constable. Turners landscapes are famously recognized for their amazing use of light. Constable similarly painted landscapes and was fascinated like Turner with capturing the reality of what he saw rather than some idealized impression as had previously been popular. Perhaps nowhere is this free approach more apparent than in his work Stonehenge considered by some to be among the greatest of watercolours ever painted.
The aforementioned artists are but a glimpse into the prolific and vastly influential period of the 18th century. What is clear when one looks at these and many of the other artists of that day is that they were all passionate in their quest for a kind of truth and excellence. These and the obvious skills they mastered in their chosen field have endeared 1 them to us down to this very day.