The collection of nineteenth-century European art ranges from Neo-classicism and Romanticism to Impressionism.
Developments in French art are especially well represented.
Benjamin Barker was a landscape artist who worked in the vicinity of Bath, a fashionable spa town in southwest England. This painting focuses on a picturesque subject—a group of peasants quarrying stone near a wooded pool. In the late eighteenth century, the “picturesque” was an important aesthetic concept. Landscapes defined as picturesque were characterized by irregular, asymmetrical compositions, and often depicted traditional ways of life that were beginning to vanish with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Additionally, the pictorial structure and palette of this painting evoke the manner of seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting, a genre avidly collected in Britain during Barker’s lifetime.
Court painter to Marie Antoinette, the portraitist Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun fled France during the French Revolution and spent several decades traveling through Europe. From 1803 to 1805, she lived in England, where she met Margaret Chinnery, a fashionable London society hostess. Vigée Le Brun painted this portrait during her stay at the Chinnery country estate, Gilwell Park. In her memoirs, the artist described her hostess as “a very handsome woman whose mind had great finesse and charm.” Here, Chinnery is depicted as a cultured woman reading a work by the French author Madame de Genlis.
After studying art in Rome during the 1770s, Henry Fuseli moved to London, where he became Europe’s most famous painter of Shakespearean subjects. His dramatic style and predilection for the supernatural elements in the Shakespearean repertoire brought him special acclaim. This work reflects the Romantic taste for the “Gothic”—a term used at the time to describe the supernatural and demonic. It depicts a scene from Shakespeare’s 1611 play The Tempest, in which the wizard Prospero, protecting his daughter Miranda from the advances of his slave, Caliban, threatens the latter with magical powers. Caliban’s twisted figure, flooded in strong light, dramatically dominates the composition.
Alexander Nasmyth has been dubbed the “father of Scottish landscape painting.” During the eighteenth century, landscape painting developed into an important genre in the British Isles, fueled by the growing tourist industry and a fascination with views deemed “sublime” or “picturesque.” In Scotland, the production of landscape views that were identifiably Scottish also reflected efforts to forge a distinct national identity. Nasmyth’s A View in Glen Coe, Argyllshire portrays a scenically dramatic area in the Scottish Highlands. As the site of a notorious massacre of a Scottish clan in 1692, Glencoe also holds an important place in Scottish history.