Animal Portraiture in the 18th Century

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Animal Portraiture in the 18th Century

By | December 2010
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In the British eighteenth century, the animals portrayed were usually important in a sporting or agricultural context, and their depictions were therefore important for the people they “worked” for. In the first part of the century more importance was placed on an appropriate physical depiction, good scientifically speaking, but at the same time it inevitably brought with it an intense emotional detachment. Changing gradually, in the latter part of the century pets and wild animal were given more and more attention, at the moment when Romanticism was the latent ideology. That meant the arrival of personification and a much more sentimental attitude towards the depicted animals, in the context of the rising importance and comeback of nature in the general mind of society.

We can easily identify and differentiate these two approaches to the same subject of animal portraiture animals in the brushes of George Stubbs, the most prominent artist of the subject in the earlier period and Edwin Henry Landseer, who on the other hand, focuses on the mood and feeling of the subjects.

Plenty of examples of animal painting can be found in sixteenth and seventeenth century Flemish art, already in classical subjects that included animals interacting with people, like The Fall of Phaeton by Peter Paul Rubens. His wildly swinging horses may be influenced by battle scenes painted in the Renaissance by the great masters Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Jan Eyck has his own version of The Fall of Phaeton, probably under the same influence, and different in terms of execution of the subject, but not in terms of the treatment of the animal itself in the context of the painting.

On the other hand, Jan Wyck painted dogs and horses alone, but still in an unemotional way most of the times, not quite going all the way through the psychology of the animal in any occasion, like in his Grey Arab Stallion In A Landscape, a profile of the horse in a bucolic landscape with...

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