The Hermitage collection of 16th-to19th-century English painting includes over 450 items and is of particular importance, bearing in mind the rarity of works by English artists in European museums.
The earliest items in this highly interesting collection date from the second half of the 16th century. Above all these are the small portraits which were so widespread at the time, whether depicting historical persons and statesmen, such as the Portrait of Edward VI (c.1547) by an unknown author, or members of the minor nobility, as in Portrait of an Unknown Man by Marcus Geeraerts the Younger, a Fleming by birth, who attained the rank of Royal painter.
One of the most distinctive artists of the 1640s, William Dobson, is represented by the Portrait of Abraham van der Doort.
There are excellent examples of the skill of England's leading portrait painter in the late 17th to early 18th c, Sir Godfrey Kneller: Portrait of Grinling Gibbons, the celebrated woodcarver and sculptor, and Portrait of John Locke, executed not long before the artist's death. A younger contemporary of Kneller, John Wootton, is closely associated with the development of the hunting genre in painting, a characteristic example of which is the work Dogs and a Magpie. The 18th century, when the national school of painting flourished, is represented by artists who brought fame to England far beyond its shores. Three works by the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds, represent a most unusual side of his art, the painting of canvases on historical subjects: The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpents (1786-1788), commissioned by the Russian Empress Catherine II and symbolising young Russia's growing strength, The Continence of Scipio (1788-1789) and Cupid Untying the Zone of Venus (1788) both intended for Count Potemkin. Works by Reynolds' contemporaries also found their way to Russia: Venus Comforting Cupid, Stung by a Bee, and Portrait of George, Prince of Wales, and Prince Frederick, Duke of York (1778) by the historical painter to King George III, Benjamin West, who headed the Royal Academy after Reynolds's death. Portrait of a Lady in Blue (late 1770s - early 1780s) by Thomas Gainsborough is the only work by the master in the Hermitage collection, but is widely regarded as a brilliant example of the style of this portraitist, who lived in permanent rivalry with Reynolds. These two leading artists of the day naturally influenced the younger generation, such as George Romney, even while the latter preserved his own individual style, as can be seen in his Portrait of Mrs Harriet Greer (1781). Genre painting and landscapes occupied a central place in the work of George Morland, who was born into a family of painters. Of his six works in the Hermitage, the most interesting is Approaching Storm (1791), its romantic and tempestuous subject reflecting the prevailing mood of the day.
The most striking of the works which form part of this romantic tendency come from Joseph Wright of Derby, one of the most original of all English artists of the period. The Iron Forge (1773) is a true masterpiece of light and shade while Firework Display at the Castel Sant Angelo (The Girandola) (1778-1779) presents a magnificent sense of the night sky lit up by bonfires and rockets. In contrast, Richard Bonington produced gentle works depicting historical and oriental subjects, and many landscapes, such as Boats by the Normandy Shore (c.1825). The romantic mood also influenced portraitists as the 19th century dawned, and Thomas Lawrence was the leading exponent of the style. He was so popular with clients that he could afford to depict almost exclusively the rich, royal and famous, amongst them members of the Russian nobility who were travelling or living abroad, as in Portrait of Count Mikhail Vorontsov (c.1806). George Dawe sought vainly to rival Lawrence but he was awarded the prestigious commission to produce over 300 portraits of Russian generals for the Gallery of 1812 in the Winter Palace. Like Dawe, William Allan and the Scotswoman Christina Robertson both worked in Russia, Allen painting the many different nationalities of the Russian Empire, while Robertson was a favourite at court, producing elegant, glossy portraits of members of the royal family.
Portrait of a Lady in Blue
The Iron Forge Viewed from without
Joseph Wright of Derby
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