The continued discipline and development of Painting in the fine arts, beyond the baroque, really put the artist to the task of defining and deciphering the “ways of man”. And in ways which in their day and continue to the present day to challenge everything between man’s consciousness and the fact that we exist. To become established in the modernizing society of the eighteenth century as an artist, more often meant to adhere to the developing schools of thought and discipline, themselves just becoming defined. The British Royal Academy is one such school of Modern Art that openned in 1768 under the presiding influences of the artist and scholar on fine art Sir Joshua Reynolds.
This original academy had as its core subject matter the Grand Style portraiture of the aristocracy of the day in England. Then there was a painter who was singular in his view and artistic nature; equal in the refined style of the grand portrait; and whose naturalism and humanism so innately effected one, that he is primarily the sole connection to the direction the fine arts will take into the nineteenth century, from this first generation of Royal Academy artists. In veiwing the array of these British portrait masters, the causual eye will find a commonality but with only minor stylistic differances. The differences between Sir Reynolds and Gainsborough are deeply profound. Sir Reynolds had a strong foundation from classical traditions after Michelangelo and other artists, which followed a solid build-up and architecture of paint application. Gainsborough, on the other hand, looked to start from the example of a French painter of a highly original approach and only of the prior generation; Watteau’s (1684-1721) fluent and lyrical movement of brush gave life to the touch of the brush which in itself transformed the language of painting.
Gainsborough never took the all but mandatory trip to Rome and Italy. He looked instead to the Dutch and French schools and dropped Sir Reynolds and the Academy’s well founded admiration for the school which created the movement we know today as the Renaissance. Gainsborough’s approach looked to a fresh naturalist affinity between earth and artist which also psychologically moved the art effect to reaching deeper into ones psyche’ for reasons of being closer to nature, by passing methodologies. Gainsborough’s naturalism predates the nineteenth century naturalists who become dominant in the next century; Constable and J.M.W. Turner. Gainsborough also opens the senses to evokation of nature through the movement of leaves; the filtering of light and mass through the air; yet with a force of craft reminiscent of Peter Paul Rubens and his broad powerful effect.