A Century of British Painters

A Century of British Painters

A Century of British Painters

A Century of British Painters

Excerpt

In a short account of the most eminent painters, ancient and modern, by Richard Graham, which was appended to the second edition of Du Fresnoy The Art of Painting, published in 1716, the writer says: 'I am ashamed to acknowledge how difficult a matter I have found it to get but the least information touching some of those ingenious men of my own country, whose works have been a credit and a reputation to it.' Yet this difficulty mainly refers to the notices of only four English artists who are included in Graham's work--Samuel Cooper, William Dobson, John Greenhill, and John Riley. Horace Walpole also remarks, in his Anecdotes of Painting in England (1762), that this country had not then a single volume to show on the works of its painters, and he even apologizes for the title of his work.

When a collection of English pictures was sent in 1855 to the International Exhibition in Paris, our art was almost unknown there; and endeavours to obtain suitable space for its proper display were received with impatience--for it clearly was not deemed of much importance where the English pictures were hung. When, however, the cases were opened, curiosity prompted a glance at some of the pictures; then surprise at their merits, which were generously acknowledged, attracted more admirers than were convenient to those charged with the arrangement; and before this task was completed, the French artists admitted to their English brethren that only two schools then existed in Europe--'ours and yours'. 'Other schools', they said, 'are founded on ours; yours is an original school'--an opinion which, if only intended as a compliment, is not the less a fact and a truth.

The truth seems to be that the English painters, for the better part of a century, struggled against an old prejudice--namely, that art is neither congenial to our soil nor to our nature, and cannot flourish among us. Hogarth, with all his shrewd intelligence, and not a little prejudice, held this opinion. He says: 'We cannot vie with these . . .

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