A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
GEORGE ROMNEY AND JOSEPH WRIGHT
OF DERBY

WHILE Barry, West, and Copley were devoting themselves principally to historic art, there were other English painters, their contemporaries, who endeavoured to uphold and continue the fame of English portraiture, even during the lifetime of Reynolds and Gainsborough. Of these George Romney and Joseph Wright, known as Wright of Derby, demand our notice; but while making them the joint subjects of this chapter, they have no other connexion, either in their art or their lives, than may be assigned to them as contemporaries holding rank in the same profession, of whose art it is convenient to treat together.

It has been objected to Reynolds that he spent much of his life and wasted his fine powers in experiments on colouring. The same cannot be said of either Copley or West; one method seems to characterize all their works, which evince great readiness, and in Copley's case great apparent power of painting at once, great decision of handling; but both had little feeling as painters.

There is no doubt that much of the common appearance of the works of both Copley and West resulted from a poor executive; even in the disrupted and cracked surface of Reynolds there is ever a noble quality seen beneath, and the very texture of decay is less offensive in him than the uniform hard surface and dry juiceless cracks in their pictures--for even their works have cracked--but without that luscious richness as of an over-ripe fruit, which characterizes the work of Reynolds.

West, Copley, Francis Cotes, R. A. ( 1726- 1770), Nathaniel Dance (Holland) , R. A. ( 1730- 1811), and, in his early portraits, Wright of Derby, painted solidly and at once, and cared very little if at all for the ground; and in this they followed the executive methods of the old school. They showed great dexterity, but at the same time great sameness of handling, and a dry unvaried surface that gets haircracked, and may rise from the ground and scale off, but rarely draws together, and never gives signs of flowing in the darks.

A curious portrait on one of the staircases at Hatfield will illustrate both this indifference to the ground on which they painted, and the

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