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"Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner: British Painting and the Rise of Modernity" opens in Rome
Visitors look at the painting "Tatiana and Bottom" of Swiss painter Johann Heinrich Fussli, as part of the exhibition of paintings "Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner, English painting towards modernity" at Palazzo Sciarra Museum in Rome, on April 14, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO.

ROME.- After the success of the 2010 exhibition Rome and Antiquity. Reality and vision in the eighteenth century - which focused on the role of ancient classicism as a model for the development of arts, erudition and taste, and which spread all over Europe from the Capital of pontiffs - the exhibition Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner. British Painting and the Rise of Modernity moves the spotlight onto the British environment. It is there that an alternative to the language of classicism developed and defined a true artistic identity capable of interpreting modernity, i.e. the prospective common language for the entire Old Continent during the 19th Century.

The exhibition Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner. British Painting and the Rise of Modernity is promoted by the Fondazione Roma, in collaboration with the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della Citt di Roma, and organised by the Fondazione Roma-Arte-Musei. It will be hosted at the Museo Fondazione Roma within Palazzo Sciarra from 15 April to 20 July 2014.

With Carolina Brook and Valter Curzi as curators, the exhibition aims at offering a global perspective on the artistic and social development matured across the 18th Century in parallel with the advancement of Great Britain's hegemony in the historical, political, and economic fields.

About 100 art pieces have been collected thanks to the support of the most prestigious museums such as the British Museum, the Tate Britain Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Royal Academy, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of London, and the Uffizi Gallery, to which has been added another important collection from the significant contribution offered by the Yale Centre for British Art.

“Following the good response from the public and critics to the exhibition on the central cultural role Rome has played in the 18th Century, I wanted to look beyond the borders of our Nation. I wanted to explore the exceptional events that saw England at the core of the economic and social evolution through which it developed its own artistic language in order to become a model for Europe as a whole in the 19th Century” said Professor Emmanuele F.M. Emanuele, the President of the Fondazione Roma.

“Thanks to some of the most relevant international institutions, namely the British Museum, the Tate Gallery, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, this exhibition represents a further evidence of something I strongly believe in: private entities, especially no-profit entities, are a much-required asset for the development of high-profile cultural projects. At the same time, they can offer a new and innovative management model in the sector of culture.

This exhibition comes almost half a century after the last one Rome organised about Britain in the 18th Century and is a further step in the cultural programme the Fondazione Roma – which I have the honour to chair”, Prof. Emanuele added – “started in 1999. Over the years, the Fondazione has organised more than 42 exhibitions, thus enriching the cultural offer of our city with always innovative and culturally stimulating proposals”.

18th Century London was the heartbeat of the British Empire, with a 700 thousand increase in the number of inhabitants across the first half of the century. This is the period addressed in the first section of the exhibition, which hosts artworks from Scott, Marlow, Sandby and to which the mastery of the Venetian painter Canaletto is added. Through their views, they are the witnesses of an evolving city soon to become the symbol of a modern metropolitan city.

The second section addresses what is known as the New World, where the distinctions between aristocracy and middle class dwindled in both social and cultural terms. Artists can therefore rely on a new class of patrons made of professionals with a genuine interest in promoting those painters and themes that can claim their new status. The works presented in this section are the portraits of emerging industrial and trade investors, scientists, and explorers painted by Zoffany, Hodges, Wright of Derby. They appear together with musicians, actors, and sportsmen, in fact the new favourite figures of an increasingly demanding public widely engaged in community life. This section is therefore a way to interpret the passion for arts and sports, the consecration of industrial development, the interest in science and, last but not least, the enthusiasm towards the quest for the exploration of new continents.

The development of patronage in the middle class and the advent of an art “market” for an increasingly wider public played a fundamental role in the radical transformation of the relationship between national culture and visual arts. For the first time, England conceives its own national school of arts, which happens, in fact, much later than in other European countries.

The third section focuses on the context as a passage Towards National Iconography: Hogarth and Fssli. The contribution from both these painters - being England the birthplace of the former and the country of adoption for the latter - will be pivotal in the affirmation of purely British art.

Included in the section is a selection of the most important engravings from Hogarth, such as the circle Marriage -la-mode or the Election Day. Through these artworks, which obtained huge success across the century, Hogarth looks at daily scenes of social and political life with critical and disenchanted eyes.

Within the English cultural life of the time, theatre had a predominating position and stirred the interest of all social classes. And theatre was the environment for the maturation of one of the most symbolic trends of British art: scene painting. With the first interpreter being Hogarth - who painted famous actors while acting - scene painting developed further through the extraordinary paintings by Fssli, a young Swiss artist who moved to London and one of the future most famous painters of Shakespearian theatre.

The British environment was deeply permeated by Protestantism, which rejects religious subjects in paintings. This is why portraits have reached a popularity no other European country will ever match in the future. The importance this genre acquired in Britain emerges from the writings of Jonathan Richardson at the beginning of the 18th Century, where he entrusts to portraits the task of passing over the virtues of the greats to posterity.

In the fourth section, The heroic age of portrait, hosts works from masters like Gainsborough, Reynolds, Ramsay and Zoffany. It extols the achievements of British portrait arts and its distinctive marks and original, admirable compositive solutions. The section includes a gallery of elegant noble women, generals, and families that invite the visitor to observe a world of people proudly showing their achievements and results.

Not only portraits will be fortunate art pieces in 18th Century England. The love for landscapes by the British people, in fact collectors of Italian and Dutch landscapes since the 17th Century, made the British artists focus on this subject across the entire century.

Just as portraits, landscape painting reflected the political and public aspiration of clients, whose castles and mansions stand out at the centre of their lands. A contribution to this current also came from the writings of Alexander Pope and James Thomson. Through lyric poems inspired to the Georgics of Virgil, they could provide a poetic vision of the British country as of a modern Arcadia, the shrine of beauty and harmony.

The artworks in the fifth section, "On the Spot" landscape, are dedicated to watercolour techniques, which notably spread in England during the 18th Century. The works by the most significant artists using such a technique are included in the section, where refined and intense English and Italian landscapes are a snapshot of sunrises and sunsets under sunny or leaden skies.

The sixth section, Landscape Variations, hosts large format oil paintings of the most renowned artists who engaged in this genre. Here we can find works by Richard Wilson, the first great representative of British landscape painting, who developed a deep passion for it during his stay in Italy only to develop his own style at a later stage with its compositions presenting the typical British climate and nature. The homage to Italian landscapes is found in the superb view of the Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno by Wright of Derby, a superlative painter of moonlight effects, in fact one of his favourite subjects (Snowdon by Moonlight, Victoria Gallery, Liverpool).

The last section leads to the end of the exhibition and is dedicated to Constable and Turner, two internationally renowned artists and admirable representatives of the evolution of British landscape painting in the first half of the 19th Century.

The art of the two landscape painting masters stems from their work through the figurative tradition of the 18th Century. By means of the continued and relentless experimentation, their art is open to what could be called the age of modernity. Such a research pattern disseminated and enforced a new figurative language, which transformed England in an example for the first time during the 19th Century.

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