English Painting

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Charles I, King of England, from Three Angles by Anthony van Dyck.

English Painting has a long and rich history. It is believed that English painting had been influenced by the Celts; however some scholars affirm that real English painting started in the 18th century; this is because the most important painters who worked before in England were foreigners (Hans Holbein the Younger, Anthony van Dyck, etc.), from mainland Europe, and painting was essentially an aristocratic matter (Works from the masters of Italian Renaissance were in the collections of the Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Buckingham). Nineteenth Century, "The Great Century of British Painting", produced a variety of outstanding works. J.M.W. Turner and John Constable influenced not only subsequent generations of British painters, but American and European as well. Portraits and landscape painting have been the great English specialism. In late XIX century, Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, a classical-subject Dutch painter, the most successful of the Victorian era, enriched English painting (in some list he appears as English painter).[1]

Victorian watercolors (c. 1835 - c. 1900), was an era in which the English watercolor tradition reach such popularity that everyone from the Royal couple Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to common schoolchildren was "en plain air" painting the English countryside; paintings by W. Turner, David Cox and Peter DeWint increased their prices.[2]

Watercolor: Burnham Beeches by Miles Birket Foster (1825-1899)

See: Gallery of English Painting Masterpieces

Remarkable English Painters

Nicholas Hilliard

The Elizabethan Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), was the most celebrated of English miniaturists. His reputation extended to France. Hilliard was a follower of Hans Holbein. He was also the author of a treatise on miniature painting, "The Art of Limning".

Hilliard was the author of the miniatures of Elizabeth I, 1572, Sir Walter Raleigh, 1585, Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, and other members of the courts of Elizabeth I and James I of England.

William Hogarth

Graham Children.

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) was one of the greatest innovators in English art. He was a professional rebel. He found English art sycophantic, and determined to make it independent. Instead of working for a few rich patrons, he evolved the idea of making his living out of popular engravings of his pictures. He believed that the lack of a native school of painting was largely due to the fashions imposed on a credulous public by connoisseurs and critics and he waged continual war on taste and the Old Masters. [3]

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Portrait of Nelly O'Brien

Sir Joshua Reynolds (Plympton, Devon 1723- London 1792) was an English Rococo Painter and distinguished member of London's intellectual society. By 1760, Reynolds had become the most popular portrait painter in London. In 1768, he founded with Thomas Gainsborough the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1784, Reynolds was appointed principal royal portrait painter. He was already been knighted since 1769.[4]

Reynolds' works show an exceptional combination of emotions and technique. Often portraiture with subjects related to Greek and Roman deities, or men, children and women in a wonderful colorist style. Creativity, diversity and originality is present in his painting. Portrait of Nelly O’Brien (Wallace collection) is considered one of his masterpieces.

Since 1912, an statue of him is in the courtyard of the Royal Academy.[5]

Reynolds Lady Caroline Howard.jpg

Lady Caroline Howard.

Thomas Gainsborough

Lady Georgiana Cavendish, 1787.

Thomas Gainsborough (Sudbury, Suffolk, 1727 – London, 1788) was a landscape and portrait painter, considered one of the great English masters. In the aristocratic spa town of Bath and later in London, he became well known for portraits like Mrs. Philip Thicknesse (1760), Mary, Countess Howe (about 1763-4), The Blue Boy (exhibited R.A. 1770), and the landscape The Harvest Wagon (exhibited S.A. 1767). In 1768 he became one of the foundation members of the Royal Academy, at which he exhibited annually until 1784.[6]

In 1780, Gainsborough painted the King George III and Queen Charlotte, becoming the Royal Family's favorite painter. Before his death in 1788, he turned from portraiture to pictorial compositions, producing in all some 200 landscapes in addition to his prolific output of about 800 portraits of the English aristocracy. [7] Gainsborough is the master of the English Rococo.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, was in painting his most important rival.

William Turner

Dido building Carthage, 1815.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (Covent Garden 1775 - London 1851) was a British Romantic painter. Important artistic influences upon Turner during the 1790s were Thomas Gainsborough, Michael Angelo Rooker, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, Henry Fuseli and Richard Wilson. [1] In 1799, he was elected to the Royal Academy where he exhibited watercolors from 1790 to 1820.

In satisfying the fashion for ruins, mountains and waterfalls, he was pleasing and nourishing himself. Ruined abbeys awoke his feelings of history and so charged his mind with the fallacies of hope that this became the title of a chaotic, illiterate epic from which, throughout his life, he quoted mottoes for his pictures. (cf: Clark, Ibidem)

Venice, Storm at Sunset, 1840.
The Blue Rigi, ca. 1845.

After W. Turner’s death, in 1856, the "Turner Bequest" was settled by a decree; this contains around 300 oil paintings and nearly 30,000 sketches and watercolors by his own hand, all found in his studio.

It is said that Turner created landscape paintings that are revolutionary even today.[8] He is considered not only Britain's greatest painter but arguably the finest landscape and marine painter ever. [2]

Turner anticipated French Impressionism.

John Constable

Flatford Mill, 1817.

John Constable is today recognised as the major English landscape painter of the 19th century, matched only by his contemporary, J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). But he was not particularly successful during his lifetime. [9]

Constable, as the son of a prosperous miller, was brought up in one of the most beautiful parts of the English country. "These scenes," said Constable, "made me a painter--and I am thankful". His life had always the intense images of his childhood contemplation, trees, horses, water, clouds. (cf: Clark, Ibidem)

Constable The Haywain.jpg The Hay Wain, 1821.

Alfred Sisley

Thames at Hampton Court, 1874.

Alfred Sisley (Paris, 1839 - Moret-sur-Loing, 1899) was an English Impressionist landscape painter, one of the creators of French Impressionism; he was born in Paris of English parents, and spent most of his life in France but retained British citizenship. While living in Paris, he met Monet, Renoir and Jean-Frédéric Bazille. He exhibited with the Impressionist group in 1874, 1876, 1877 and 1882.

In the 1870s he produced a remarkable series of landscapes of Argenteuil, where he was living, one of which, The Bridge at Argenteuil (1872; Brooks Memorial Gallery, Memphis, USA) was bought by Manet. Towards the end of the decade Monet was beginning to have a considerable influence on him, and a series of landscape paintings of the area around Paris, including Marly, Bougival and Louveciennes (1876; Floods at Port-Marly, Musée d'Orsay), shows the way in which his dominent and evident lyricism still respects the demands of the subject-matter.[10]

Bristol Channel from Penarth, Evening, 1897.

See also

Nursery by Stanley Spencer, 1936.

External links

The Penance of Jane Shore by William Blake, 1793.
David Cox, Windermere During The Regatta, 1832.
The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah by John Martin, 1852.


Benjamin Franklin by David Martin, 1767.
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Englishness of English Art, London: Architectural Press, 1956.


  1. Short Biographies of Leading Victorian Painters
  2. Victorian watercolors
  3. Sir Kenneth Clark: "Hogarth, Constable and Turner" - appeared in "Masterpieces of English Painting" by Hans Huth (page 9)
  4. Joshua Reynolds
  5. Sir Joshua Reynolds Olga's Gallery.
  6. Biography of Thomas Gainsborough
  7. Thomas Gainsborough
  8. Joseph Mallord William Turner Watercolor artists.
  9. John Constable: The Man and His Work
  10. Sisley, Alfred.