A major revolution swept through British art history in the 1980s. It shook up its genteel ways and turned it resolutely, even militantly, towards the social history of art. John Barrell's The Dark Side of the Landscape, Michael Rosenthal's Constable, Ann Bermingham's Landscape and Ideology, and Marcia Pointon's Hanging the Head were the key texts. The most incendiary of the new British art historians was David H. Solkin, whose catalogue for the Tate's Richard Wilson: The landscape of reaction sent the Home Counties into cardiac arrest. Wilson's stately landscapes of antique Rome and Augustan England now bore the hallmarks of the repression of the landowning classes for whom the artist was the willing and knowing agent. Interestingly, these art historians came into their own during the Thatcher Zeit of 1979–90. Years after she had passed into obscurity, one of the revolutionaries could not give a lecture on British art without a ten-minute denunciation of Mrs Thatcher and her wicked ways. They fought back for another England through art history.
Patrick McCaughey reviews 'Art in Britain 1660–1815' by David H. Solkin
Art in Britain 1660–1815
by David H. Solkin
Yale University Press (Footprint) $119 hb, 384 pp, 9780300215564
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Patrick McCaughey is former Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford Connecticut, and the Yale Center for British Art. His most recent book is Strange Country: Why Australian Painting Matters (2014). His other works include Voyage and Landfall: The Art of Jan Senbergs (2006). He also edited Bert & Ned: The Correspondence of Albert Tucker and Sidney Nolan (2006). He writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement and Australian Book Review. He lives and works on the banks of the Quinnipiac River in New Haven.
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