Exhibition: The Golden Age of English Painting at the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris

The Musée du Luxembourg in Paris is dedicating an exhibition to Masters of English painting from Reynolds to Turner. This must-see show features masterpieces lent by Tate Britain, running from September 11, 2019 to February 16, 2020.

This is a classic not to be missed by English art lovers. The Luxembourg Museum pays tribute to ‘L’Age d’Or’ (the Golden Age) of this artistic movement, which flourished during the second half of the 18th century.

Foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts

The reign of George III was preponderant for British art, with the founding of the Royal Academy of Arts, of which Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), was the first president at the height of his career. This period also saw Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) join the Academy.

In their own ways, Reynolds and Gainsborough, both masters of portraiture, brought novel visual and intellectual innovations to the genre, honouring the great masters while reinventing the wheel. With signs of an artistic golden age booming, this movement was also supported by major players in trade and industry, and then by the king himself.

The exhibition tackles the confrontation of the two portrait painters, through full-length paintings and intimate studies of members of the royal family or personalities of the day.

From the old to the new generation: Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hopper, Beechey, Lawrence

Reynolds’ intellectual ambitions contrast with Gainsborough’s pictorial ease. Redefining British art alone, they raised the next generation to new heights. A selection of major portraits by their competitors and/or followers, such as John Hopper, William Beechey and Thomas Lawrence, recall the influence of these two precursors.

This retrospective also addresses the themes of lineage, family and home with the genre painting that gave birth to a new approach to childhood, characterised by an apparent relaxation and highlighting childlike innocence. But the styles end up opposing each other through the topics discussed.

Painting everyday life and rural worlds

Reynolds’ extraordinary portrait ‘The Archers’ puts the concept of wilderness at the service of a heroic representation of the British ruling class, when Gainsborough, George Stubbs and George Morland focus their attention on the picturesque, through paintings depicting everyday life, especially in rural areas.

With the political and commercial exploitation of overseas territories as the basis for artistic progress, part of the exhibition relates the presence of Great Britain in India and the Caribbean.

The great rise of watercolour

At the same time, another section discusses the tremendous growth of watercolour, which allowed many artists to stand out by meeting the needs of a new amateur society. The last part of the exhibition shows how British artists such as Henri Fuseli, John Martin, P.J. de Loutherbourg and J.M.W. Turner sublimated narrative figuration, paving the way for a new conception of art as a support for the imaginary.