Face Value: Emily Mann on the 18th-Century Equivalent of the Celebrity Photo-Shoot. (Art)

By Mann, Emily | New Statesman (1996), July 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Face Value: Emily Mann on the 18th-Century Equivalent of the Celebrity Photo-Shoot. (Art)


Mann, Emily, New Statesman (1996)


It is amazing how fond the English are of having their portraits drawn," observed a Swiss miniaturist in 1755. That is certainly the impression one gets from a visit to the exhibition of paintings and drawings by George Romney (1734-1802) at the National Portrait Gallery.

The show, marking the bicentenary of Romney's death, charts his rise from provincial artist to London society painter, aiming to rescue his reputation from the shadows of success cast by his better-remembered contemporaries Thomas Gainshorough and Joshua Reynolds. The exhibition also highlights the dilemma that confronted many artists of the time: the gulf between their artistic ambitions and what the punters wanted to fill that spot in the entrance hall, on the staircase or above the mantelpiece in their town or country houses.

Romney's career, largely dictated by fashionable society's passion for portraits, provides an insight into the demands and constraints of the art market in 18th-century England. We learn that artists were seldom their own boss, free to express their creativity and imagination, but rather were servants to the patrons of art.

As with the public art exhibitions of Romney's day, the walls of the current show are dominated by the faces of the well-mannered and well-monied. In a world with a burgeoning wealthy class, but without society photographers and Hello! magazine, the portrait painter was evidently much sought after. And in most cases his product was no less public than today's celebrity photo-shoot: from its inception, when the subject commonly arrived for a sitting accompanied by an entourage (a sort of performance art in itself) to the finished painting's exhibition (where "creatures of high-life" crowded to "compliment each other on their own gaudy countenance") to commissions for copies and prints of the original.

Just as photos of celebrities have an appeal far beyond their friends and family, these 18th-century portraits were intended not merely to provide their owners with a good likeness of their nearest and dearest -- indeed, the portrait painter Henry-Pierre Danloux was able to say that he admired Romney "despite the truly defective likeness of his models..."

Portraits reflected and reinforced cultural values, reaffirming the different spheres occupied by the sitters. Men appear "decided and grand"; women "lovely". Such distinctions are particularly evident in Romney's child portraits. The Charteris Children is divided in two by a tree trunk in the background. On one side, the boy grasps the string of his kite and, with his dog looking up at him obediently, turns purposefully away from the viewer, out into the landscape beyond. While he is off for adventure outdoors, his sisters are going nowhere: they are sheltered from the outside world, seated and passive, sweet and vacant. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Face Value: Emily Mann on the 18th-Century Equivalent of the Celebrity Photo-Shoot. (Art)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.