Tradition & Ingenuity: 18th Century Art in England

Both art history and the art industry today, recognize England as producing some of the most influential art in the 18th century. Working with the distinct style based in tradition, British painters focused on landscapes and portraits while making an effort to document English life at the time.

In the 18th century, portraits were the most profitable way for an artist to make a living and it was a tradition for many of the local wealthy to have one made. Joseph Wright of Derby was a popular portrait artist who used candle light in many of his portraits, heightening the drama of each scene. Many artists continued the portraiture tradition and took it to new heights with attention to detail and different techniques, especially seen in works such as “Blue Boy” by Thomas Gainsborough.

Landscape painting eventually became one of the 1700’s most popular forms and English artists garnered praise for their pastoral paintings. Though foreign landscapes were preferred at first, soon ‘homegrown’ artists such as Richard Wilson gained appreciation and were sought after for their pioneering works. Country houses and rural landscapes were celebrated by the briefly popular Norwich school, a group of artists from the Norfolk region. Growing throughout the 18th century and into the 19th, the popularity of rural scenes and verdant spaces from artists such as Thomas Malton, and later J.R. Cozens, brought worldwide renown to the English Landscape School.

Bordered with water and hosting all four seasons, England remains an inspiring space for any landscape artist. The frequently changing weather is a common theme in British art and painters are still transcribing the pastoral geography in England today. Although the tradition of British landscape painting was born in the 18th century, it continues to be a strong part of the artistic identity and industry in the U.K. today. Working with a variety of materials techniques, 21st century artists depicting the natural vistas of England continue the venerable tradition begun so many years ago.

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