The reception of Dutch genre painting in England, 1695-1829

Change log
Mount, Harry Thomas 

This thesis examines the place of Dutch genre painting in the English theory of art between 1695, when Dryden's translation of Du Fresnoy's De Arte Graphica established it as the quintessential example of bad artistic practice, and 1829, when the obsolescence of this way of thinking was signalled by the publication of volume one of John Smith's monumental Catalogue Raisonne of Netherlandish art. The sources consulted are primarily the published art theoretical and critical works of the period, but attention is also paid to collecting and to artistic practice where these had relevance for theoretical issues. Part One addresses the negative understanding of Dutch genre in English theory before the late eighteenth century, taking into account the influence of other discourses such as literary theory and the debates of the Ancients and Moderns over scholarly and scientific method upon which English art theory drew. Particular. attention is given to the criticisms of Dutch low genre for its vulgar humour and Dutch high genre for its literal imitation and minute finish, but the limited praise given to Dutch colour and chiaroscuro is also considered. A chapter is devoted to Reynolds, who changed the debate by conflating low and high genre and attacking both for literal copying rather than for humorous vulgarity. Part Two examines the erosion of the belief that Dutch art was inferior, discussing changes in the art world which influenced art theory and the revaluation of the colour, detail and subject matter of Dutch art which ensued. The influence of external discourses, such as the rise of colour theory, is again considered. Reactions to the attempts of British genre painters to avoid the perceived faults of Dutch genre are analysed. The conclusion argues that in the early nineteenth century the opposition between Dutch and Italian art came to seem less important than that between modern English art and the Old Masters, .whether Dutch or Italian. Appendices offer a statistical break-down of the Dutch genre paintings listed in the little-studied sales catalogues dating from 1689 to 1692 which survive in the British Library.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
British Academy Studentship; Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellowship; Corpus Christi College, Bridges Scholarship.