British Art  


It was only in the eighteenth century that the landscape genre really began to flower in Britain. Cultivated Englishmen on their Grand Tour, that long pilgrimage through Europe in search of its peoples, art and historical sites, developed the habit of bringing home—mainly from Italy—paintings of real and idealized landscapes. They were equally enthused by the classical pictures of the previous century—by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and especially Claude Gellée, aka Claude Lorrain (1602–1682)—and contemporary vedute of Italy's stunning cities by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) and Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768). Canaletto's visit to England in 1746 resulted in his now famous views of London. The first English landscape painters, among them George Lambert (1700–1765) and Richard Wilson (1714–1782), owe a clear debt to the classical tradition epitomized by Claude and Poussin. This style is sadly lacking in French collections, as is the innovative work of Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), whose intimate acquaintance with Dutch landscapes of the golden age led him to a distinctive rendering of England's changing skies. His landscape work is represented only by a handful of drawings in the Louvre and, indirectly, by the delightful Conversation in a Park, in the same museum.
During the second half of the eighteenth century English artists reinvigorated the traditional approach to landscape with the use of watercolor. In doing so they triggered a taste in Europe for landscapes painted from life, both in England and in Italy, in the 1770s–1780s. To them we owe a more fluid use of color as well as a penchant for contrast and, especially, shifting skies. The new vision pioneered by the English swept Europe in the early nineteenth century, but unfortunately Joseph W. M. Turner (1775–1851), perhaps the most famous of all English landscape artists, is represented in our national collections only by a late, unfinished work, Landscape with a River and a Bay in the Background, in the Louvre, and two watercolors.
In 1824 English painters were given a triumphal reception at the Salon in Paris. The most notable among them were the landscape artists John Constable (1776–1837) and Richard Parkes Bonington (1802–1828), who were acclaimed by the public and an entire generation of young French "Romantic" artists. France's collections are relatively rich in works by these two masters, whose paintings were very much sought after from the outset. The Louvre acquired its first Bonington in 1849, and the Constable masterpiece Weymouth Bay with Approaching Storm was donated in 1873. The museum also possesses a substantial set of Constable drawings, as well as albums donated by David David-Weil in 1924 and Etienne Moreau–Nélaton in 1927.
British artists were also among the first to paint distant vistas. One was John Glover (1767–1849), who moved to Australia in 1831, and two of whose works were acquired by King Louis-Philippe in 1845. Working in the same spirit were artists who responded early to the call of the Orient, among them Edward Lear (1812–1888), whose handsome Sunset on Philae (1861) is in the Musée Condé in Chantilly.
Guillaume Faroult