MA in the History of Art

Made in Britain: Forging a Visual Art for a Nation at War, 1793-1815

Main Visual

Course Description

With its declaration of war on France in 1793, Britain embarked upon a prolonged struggle for military supremacy with its age-old enemy that would consume the better part of both nations’ energies until the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.  Although only a small minority of British artists directly addressed this conflict, its effects on native visual culture were both widespread and profound.  If the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1792 witnessed the passing of the country’s most eloquent champion of the European Grand Style, the subsequent outbreak of hostilities with France not only fanned the flames of British nationalism, but also produced a near-total embargo on Continental travel – thus depriving painters and sculptors of access to Italy, the repository of the greatest classical masterpieces, and forcing them to depend instead on the cultural and natural resources of their own homeland.  This MA aims to explore how it was, when left to its own devices in these circumstances of relative isolation, that British art truly came into its own.

At the centre of our investigations will be the wartime London art world, a place riven with its own internal conflicts, with critics, connoisseurs, cultural entrepreneurs and artists all staking their claims for the attention of a burgeoning urban public.   Out of this competitive cauldron there emerged important new schools of landscape art and genre painting, led by JMW Turner and David Wilkie respectively. Modern modes of portraiture, crafted by such artists as Thomas Lawrence, John Hoppner, William Beechey and James Northcote, fought for attention in the Royal Academy exhibitions, while history painting’s centre of gravity moved into the commercial spaces of Pall Mall and elsewhere in the capital’s West End.  From 1806 the RA found its position of supremacy further undermined by the British Institution, which not only organised its own annual shows, but also conducted its own schools for artists and offered them significant patronage.  The same era additionally saw watercolour taking on new prominence, as a national medium with its own dedicated exhibitions and celebrated specialist practitioners. Artists in other media flourished, too:  leading sculptors produced a series of ambitious monuments at St Paul’s, devoted to a pantheon of recently-fallen military and naval leaders,  while graphic satirists, including James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, exploited a busy trade in political printmaking and caricature. As well as looking at each of these different developments in detail, this MA will consider how they worked together to generate a distinct, and distinctly self-sufficient, British visual culture during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Language and other requirements

Standard entry requirements.