The release of the aristocratic grip over painterly subject matter and an avenue to some subjective “normalacy” begins in Fine Art, in British painting with William Hogarth (1697-1764). Yet the grip is still firmly in place with the inauguration of the British Royal Academy in 1768 under the watchful eye of Sir Joshua Reynolds. A rising star along with Sir Reynolds and Henry Raeburn is Thomas Gainsborough. Yet, Gainsborough made no bones about the fact he preferred painting landscapes, gypsies, and rural folk to the ostentacious fashion plates of the aristocracy, which was the bread and potatoes to the original British Royal Academy painters. These stunning fashion portraits resemble todays photospreads in HARPER’s BAZAAR and International VOGUE except for the fact that in Gainsborough’s day the models were actual persons and fixtures in the culture and social elite of England. Today’s models are odd ghosts glidding from absurd photoshoot to photoshoot.
In the eighteenth century, the desparity of wealth was quite palatable yet few conceptualized it’s dynamic until the “artists” pointed this out. Wordsworth did this along with Coleridge and Hazlitt. Charles Lamb will become an early advocate of Wordsworth’s poetry, as Coleridge would forever proclaim Wordsworth as the greatest poet of their age! Hazlitt, all his life, maintained that Coleridge was the greatest verbal genius he had ever met! As for Hazlitt himself, a young journalist named Charles Dickens will state that he became a writer because he read the essays of William Hazlitt. This crew of British poets and journalists are highly significant for their individual accomplishments : Wordsworth as a groundbreaking humanist modern poet; Coleridge later as a writer on aesthetics and modern philosophy; Hazlitt as a deliniator of character and one of the greatest writers on the craft of William Shakespeare; Lamb also as a writer on Shakespeare; and Dickens as the greatest modern caricaturist of the modern novel and one of the greatest novelists to date.
It is profoundly interesting that we get this generation of writers precisely at the time American “individuality” asserts itself in the actions and thoughts of our founding-fathers and leaders of this new republic. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison, John Adams; examplify the idealism of individuals in a free society racing out of the yoke of our feudal past. The function and mechanics of such transcendant qualities as Imagination, Dreams, Virtues, and Idealisms become concrete in the blaze of the newly created country which also inspires my British crew of modern writers.
In a visionary and artistic way, this is what the British new modern writers were creating for expanding and building on the structure of character, to help develop and establish the modern citizen. Dramatic walls to bounce against, heighten ideals against constantly transgressing realities, to give substance of goal and vision against the chaotic flux of striving life in an ever shifting social dynamic. A dynamic yet to be written and solely to be played out as life by individuals. Individuals who are not actors but citizens : and ideals for living and not photo-images for commercials or cinematic delusions to realities barely realized.