Migrations: Journeys into British Art

By Davies, Christie | New Criterion, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Migrations: Journeys into British Art


Davies, Christie, New Criterion


"Migrations: Journeys into British Art"

Tate Britain, London.

January 31--August 12, 2012

"Mondrian || Nicholson: In Parallel"

The Courtauld Gallery, London.

February 16-May 20, 2012

"Migrations" at Tate Britain is an account of the arrival of European and American artists in Britain and their contributions to and influences on British art. The overall narrative is broken down into a series of separate sections.

It begins with the many Dutch and Flemish painters who came to England in the seventeenth century to enjoy the patronage of British kings and aristocrats who wanted their portraits painted by the best artists of the day, artists who already enjoyed an international reputation. Here we find Anthony van Dyck's iconic portrayals Charles I (1636) and Charles's French queen, Henrietta Maria (1636). Artists from the Low Countries also introduced landscape painting to England when Charles I commissioned ten paintings of towns and castles in the north of England from 1638 to 1641. Furthermore, Dutch skill in depicting ships and the sea may be seen in Willem van de Velde the Younger's The Departure of William of Orange and Princess Mary for Holland (1677), painted when he was working for Charles II, who wanted a record of this dynastic marriage. There is an irony of sorts here, for only eleven years later William was to return with a substantial fleet and depose Charles II's brother, James II, and reign jointly with his wife, James's daughter, as William and Mary.

The exhibition progresses into the eighteenth century, the period when members of a cultured and wealthy English elite traveled south on the Grand Tour in search of art and classical ruins and Italy became a key influence on British art. When war interrupted the tours, Canaletto came to England for nine years in pursuit of his clients and substituted London's parks for the canals of Venice. The Italian connection assisted the triumph of neo-classical ideals of order, harmony, and beauty in England, as well as the creation of a distinctive artistic profession. When the Royal Academy was set up in 1768, a third of the founding members were migrants who had settled in Britain. Benjamin West of Pennsylvania, who had come to live in London in 1763 and served as the historical painter to George III, became the second president of the Royal Academy, succeeding Sir Joshua Reynolds. …

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