high on the hog: boastful splendiferous types

…Of what there is no doubt is that this life was wasteful, extravagant, ostentatious- an appalling contrast, as Dr. Samuel Johnson noted, to the human wretchedness of rural or urban slums; yet it was saved both by its humanity and by its taste. The houses, the pictures, the furniture, and above all the landscaped gardens in which nature had been so gently subdued, are its permanent memorial and a part of the European tradition .They give style and grandeur to what might have been merely a gross and vulgar self-indulgence. These boastful, splendiferous men created enduring beauty.

—Wooded Upland Landscape, probably 1783
Thomas Gainsborough (British, 1727–1788)
Oil on canvas

Gainsborough first saw seventeenth-century Dutch landscapes as a young apprentice in London in the early 1740s. He made a drawing after one of them, a forest scene by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/29–1682), the Dutch artist whose work he most admired. By 1748, he had returned to his native Suffolk and was an accomplished landscape painter and draftsman. However, he was uninterested in the English tradition of topographical painting. Commissions for landscapes based on the Dutch model were few, and for his livelihood he was forced to turn to conversation pieces and portraiture. Gainsborough made his reputation as a portraitist in Bath, to which he moved in 1759, and in London, where he spent the last fourteen years of his life. His later landscapes are broadly painted and evocative. Informed by his lifelong interest in nature, they were nevertheless composed in the studio.—Read More:http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/06.1279

There have been far richer men, before and since their time, greater connoisseurs, greater patrons of the arts, even greater eccentrics, but in the British aristocracy of the eighteenth century there met two hostile but fertilizing traditions that gave it its curious splendor. In it the feudal world was still alive in its arrogance, its fierce disregard of consequence, its personal sense of destiny, but it operated in the new world of bourgeois delights. Secure in its own greatness, the aristocracy could parade its great wealth without guilt and with a total disregard of the envy of the multitude. For these noblemen’s way of life was based not on wealth alone but on a sense of caste. Their blood and power stretched back into antiquity and looked forward to eternity. Greatness was all.

—Attracting the patronage of the celebrated actor David Garrick, he was soon depicting him and fellow performers in some of their greatest roles. The fascinating section ‘Garrick and the London Stage’ reveals Zoffany’s remarkable skill in capturing the dramatic moment — as in David Garrick and Mrs Pritchard in Macbeth (1765) — as well as creating vivid portraits. Royal patronage of London theatre in the 1760s enormously boosted its popularity, and Zoffany successfully rode this new cultural wave.—Read More:http://www.churchnewspaper.com/?p=25310

Unawares, the great wave of democratic industrialization engulfed them; inexorably, the end came. Yet the houses remain, and their parks that time has perfected. The paths thread through the ancient oaks and scented limes, disclosing across the calm lakes the Palladian grace of mellowing brick and stone.

—George Stubbs painted his rustic scene Haymakers in 1785. Its pendant Reapers – both pictures are in Tate Britain – depicts the labourers bundling sheaves in a landscape that’s even more ethereal in its glowing summer haze. A farm manager or landowner sits on his horse, towering above them. He looks down at a young woman who looks up at him.
There is a supposedly radical view of 18th-century landscape art that sees, in these haunting images of a lost agrarian world, an ideology of property. It goes back to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. But what do these two paintings really mean, politically?—Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2009/jun/03/george-stubbs

As one walks slowly between the trees, one is conscious of the generations of men and women who walked here. They too were full of hope. They were here and are no more; soon we shall follow them; but these houses and these parks, either in splendor or in ruin, will long outlast the life that made them, carrying their grace and beauty to stir the hearts of people for whom destiny is no longer personal.

—The clue is surely that man on the horse in Reapers. The look he exchanges with the woman below him is full of significance. Would a landowner, looking at this painting, have sniggered and savoured the implication of droit de seigneur?
That makes no sense as an interpretation of a picture. No ruling class has ever seen itself in that way. People want fantasies about themselves in art, not graphic implications of the abuse of power. Look at it this way: is there a single work of 18th-century literature that celebrates aristocrats and their servants sexually exploiting the workforce? No. But there are many works, from Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones to William Hogarth’s prints, that regard such behaviour as oppressive.
Stubbs admires these rural workers just as he admires horses – and in both cases he seems to prefer the patient servant to the cold-eyed master. He does not prettify the labourers in Reapers and Haymakers to deny the realities of rural poverty: he does it to make them look heroic. Although fully dressed, they pose like classical nudes.—Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2009/jun/03/george-stubbs

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