Passion and Politics: Two centuries of British art


exhibition Details

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw huge changes in Britain. The nation's power base continued to shift from the monarchy to one where Court and Parliament had a shared role. Britain became an imperial power, its dominion extending around the globe. Known as the Age of Enlightenment, radical ideas about taste, science, economics, literature and art brought about a new understanding of the world. A specific British culture emerged, one that spoke of individual achievement, and where the new middle classes acquired land and personal wealth to match that of the gentry. Enclosure of common land brought agricultural benefits for landowners, but drove many of the poor to eke out a living in the cities. While France suffered major social upheavals through revolution, dissension in Britain never brought down the state. Queen Victoria's long and peaceful reign in the nineteenth century occurred alongside further rapid changes in the face of industrial development.

Whereas in the seventeenth century almost all of the painters attached to the Court originated from Holland, Belgium and France, William Hogarth (1697-1764) heralded an era that has since been described as the Golden Age of British Painting. For the first time, artists created works that spoke of the rich variety of their own time - an age of discovery from which Britannia arose triumphant, childhood was invented, and women began to question their place in society. Ordinary people became a legitimate subject for art, and satirists lampooned kings, courtiers and country folk in equal measure. Every aspect of British life came under the scrutiny of the artist, whose works remain a rich and satisfying record of the age.

Curated by
Mary Kisler
New Gallery
Free entry

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