French Art In Nineteenth-Century Britain

Morris, Edward
Date published: 
May 2005

Early in the nineteenth century French art was largely rejected by British artists, critics and patrons. This rejection reflected both constant political opposition to France over the preceding 130 years and the growth of cultural nationalism in Britain. During the nineteenth century this hostility was gradually replaced by an acceptance and even enthusiasm for French culture, which transformed British art. This book charts the impact of French culture on British art and, to a lesser extent, the influence of British art in France during the nineteenth century. Thoroughly original, it is the first full overview of artistic and cultural relations between the two most important nations for the visual arts of the period.

Political conflict between the two countries was replaced during the course of the century by a new internationalism and by a general acceptance of free trade. Romanticism was a common ideal. Cosmopolitan Whig collectors began to collect contemporary French art. The British and French royal families became interested in the art of the other country. French artists travelled to England often as refugees or as economic migrants. International exhibitions were held in London and Paris, and French art was widely exhibited in England by enterprising dealers. French artistic training was greatly admired in Britain. French classicist idealism inspired English history painters, and French tonal naturalism was studied by British genre and landscape painters. British artists travelling in France admired many aspects of culture, life and landscape there. The Gothic Revival in England had important French connections. French naturalism in anatomy and technical expertise in bronze revived British sculpture. New serious English art periodicals devoted much space to French art. British moral objections to French art weakened. The new role of women in cultural life proved to be another link between the two nations.

Previous studies of this subject have been largely confined to the importance of Romanticism and Impressionism; this book covers the entire field and offers an encyclopaedic account of all aspects of the British reception of French art in the nineteenth century. It will be a vital resource for all those working in the area for the foreseeable future.

Edward Morris was Curator of Fine Art, National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, until his retirement in 1999.