18th century paintings and decorative arts
At the beginning of the eighteenth century England was one of the most artistically backward countries of Europe. A hundred years later, the British School enjoyed prestige across the continent. Britain had become a melting pot of agricultural progress, industrial growth and overseas trade, in which the values of materialism, property ownership and social order were enshrined. To many, Britain was a model of the modern political state, and its artists too came to epitomise modernity.
The conditions in which British art flourished were distinct from those that nurtured other European schools. Patronage from the church and the crown was minimal and the aristocracy tended to prefer portraits and landscapes to more elevated subjects. Taste was shaped by the rise of the commerical classes and the marketplace. A Royal Academy was founded belatedly in 1768, but despite the celebrity of its first President, Sir Joshua Reynolds, the principles of academic art were less ingrained in the artistic life of Britain than elsewhere in Europe.
Also in this room:
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