Painting for Money - Solkin, David H. - Yale University Press
Art and Architecture

Series Information
The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Published for the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art  

Painting for Money

The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century England

  • David H. Solkin
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Out of Print.

A distinctly modern art world emerged in eighteenth-century England. The period witnessed the establishment of the first public spaces for the display of works of art, widespread discussion of artistic issues, and the rise of an art market responsive to the tastes of a large and diverse audience. In his discussion of these phenomena David H. Solkin shows how major developments in English painting went hand in hand with rapid economic expansion, and how the sudden light of public exposure transformed pictorial theory and practice.

The book opens by examining the attempts by artists in the early eighteenth century to represent commercial prosperity as a source of moral as well as material well-being. By the 1730s these efforts had borne fruit in an innovative imagery of polite conversation, which in turn laid the foundations for a new kind of public art designed specifically for a middle-class audience. Solkin reveals how market forces soon changed the traditional subject matter of historical painting into something less high-minded and more popular, as artists abandoned the idealized depiction of classical narratives in favor of creating detailed portrayals of contemporary British themes. At the same time, the image of the hero moved away from a character of stern and stoic masculinity toward a new paragon of sensibility and benevolence, designed to appeal to a non-heroic audience. The founding of the Royal Academy in 1768 heralded an attempt to reassert the more exclusive standards of the past, but this did not check the growth of a new genre of painting with its own inner dynamic, meaning, and ambition.

Lavishly illustrated and written in a lively style, the book is compulsory reading for anyone interested in eighteenth-century British art, culture, and social history.

David H. Solkin is Lecturer in the History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London.