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Collectors of antique paintings are conservative in their passions. Of greatest interest are the Italian masters of the Renaissance, the old Dutch and German painters, French impressionists and some others. However, often artists from other countries and eras deserve no less attention. Let us look at the paintings of England.

Few would call English painting one of the wealth of the country, and in vain. Among the artists of England are many interesting original masters, whose creations adorn the world’s best art galleries and the richest private collections of art.

However, in wide circles of art lovers, England is undeservedly pushed into the background. Not everyone without a hitch will name at least three English painters. We will try to eliminate this injustice by offering a brief overview of ancient English painting from the moment of its formation into a separate, independent phenomenon of world art.

Until the 17th century, English painting could only be talked about conditionally. Miniatures or murals were present, but against the backdrop of Italian or Dutch schools, the British looked pale. Painting in the country was not encouraged – the strict and harsh Puritans who dominated the ideological sphere did not welcome any “embellishment”.

Van Dyck. Portrait of King Charles I

It is not surprising that the authors of the first English paintings were not English. The history of English painting begins with the works of the great Dutchmen Rubens and Van Dyck, who gave a powerful impetus to the development of English fine art. But, if Rubens’s performance of murals for the Whitehall Palace in 1629 became for the artist, in fact, only a brilliant addition to the career of a diplomat (he was the head of the Spanish king’s embassy in negotiations with Charles I of England), then Anthony Van Dyck was the court artist of Charles, received the nobility and buried in the famous London St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Van Dyck and the Dutchmen Cornelis Ketel, Daniel Mitens, Germans von der Faes (Peter Leli) and Gottfried Kniller (Sir Godfrey Neller, Cromwell’s favorite) were portrait painters who came to England after him. Their paintings are distinguished by brilliant craftsmanship and subtlety of psychological observation. Their merits were highly appreciated. They all received the nobility, and Neller was even buried in Westminster Abbey.

Peter Lely. Girl with cherries

The main genre of English painting was a ceremonial portrait. Historical and mythological subjects occupied a secondary place, and landscape painters were few.

The British in the XVII century were forced to cede their first roles to brilliant foreigners. But among them original masters appeared. Thus, William Dobson (1610-1646) began by copying the paintings of Titian and Van Dyck, but now the Scottish lords proudly display old paintings in their castles, many of which are portraits of their ancestors by Dobson.

A real breakthrough in art, which removed the stigma of “eternal students” from the British, was the work of William Hogarth (1697-1764).

William Hogarth. After wedding

He discovered the “golden” XVIII century of English painting. He was an innovator and realist in every way. He wrote sailors, beggars, their own servants, women of easy virtue. His single canvases or cycles are sometimes acutely satirical, sometimes deeply sad, but always very lively and realistic. And the bright cheerfulness of “Girls with Shrimps” (1745) simply makes you smile back. This portrait, both amateurs and critics unanimously classify among the most interesting and vital portraits of the era.

Hogarth also wrote historical subjects, was a master of engraving. He authored the essay “Analysis of Beauty”, devoted to questions of the goals and meaning of art (1753).

It was starting from Hogarth that the enlightened society of Europe began to give its rightful place to English painting, English paintings became popular, and the artist himself gained continental fame.

The second largest master, whose works should be paid to connoisseurs of antique paintings, was Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts. He studied in England, spent three years in Italy, where Michelangelo became his idol. The main genre in which the artist worked, remained a portrait.

His creations are distinguished by a wide variety – from the ceremonial portraits of the nobility filled with perfection and stiffness to charming images of children (look at least at the wonderful “Girl with Strawberries”, 1771).

Joshua Reynolds Girl with Strawberries, 1771

The master also gave the gift to indispensable mythological subjects, but his characters are by no means academic. Just look at the playful Venus (“Cupid unties the belt of Venus”, 1788) or the infantically serious butus of Hercules (“Baby Hercules, suffocating snake”, 1786).

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