University of York
Supervised by Dr Richard Johns, Lecturer in History of Art, University of York and Dr Martin Myrone, Lead Curator (British Art to 1800), Tate
October 2017 –

Self-portrait by the landscape painter George Arnald, depicted in his studio with his easel and palette, in front of a large romantic landscape painting

George Arnald
George Arnald 1831
oil on canvas
NPG 5254
© National Portrait Gallery, London

After the establishment of the Royal Academy in 1768, London experienced an ‘age of exhibitions’, a new social culture that changed the artistic economy. In response, artists’ roles, motivations and inspiration were changing. So, too, were their studios adapted to accommodate patrons, exhibit work, mould their identity and reflect their professionalism, and be a location of creativity. Due to the lack of research, landscape paintings are currently interpreted, potentially inaccurately, based on understandings of the studios of artists of other genres. This thesis explores what scholarship has so far overlooked: the irony that rural landscapes were being painted in urban London, the outside world being created inside the limits of a room. By building a visual, material and theoretical understanding of the landscape artist’s studio, we can reshape the foundation on which we interpret the landscapes produced in those spaces. Where were their studios situated? What were their studios like? How did the artists adapt them for landscape painting and, in turn, how did this impact the landscape paintings themselves?

The research is broken down into quantitative and qualitative methods, triangulating data from a GIS map, a database of landscape artists in London and case studies. Each approach will corroborate the accuracy of what is shown in visual sources. The case studies will reveal what life was like for the typical landscape artist: George Arnald (successful but forgotten), Harriet Gouldsmith (providing insight into the life of female landscape artists), George Morland (socially notorious and still remembered) and John Constable (whose posthumous, increasing fame knows no bounds). This thesis seeks to expose how the landscape artist’s studio was the location of a thriving urban culture which has been underestimated by scholarship to date.

How did you come to be researching this subject?

As an avid painter when I was an undergraduate student, I became fascinated by how artists achieved such technical feats before the days of photography and acrylic paint. I wanted to understand the spaces and circumstances in which some individuals excelled to the walls of the Royal Academy or to become household names while others fell into obscurity. Artists are often worshipped for their skill, but I believe that by introducing audiences to the studio space anyone can relate to a great artist and their work on a human level. The artist’s studio – the space, its contents and how it was used – can tell us so much about the artist, breaking down barriers between the viewer and the artist’s work.

About Rhian Addison

Rhian Addison has been a curator for eight years, predominantly focusing on British art between 1700 and 1950. Her training and experience has been practical: designing and project managing exhibitions, working with conservators to care for collections, cataloguing and loaning works for exhibition. She decided to pursue a PhD to delve further into her interests and improve her research skills, after which she intends to return to curating.

Selected exhibitions include: Cozens and Cozens (June 2017 – June 2018), Whitworth Art Gallery; South Asian Modernists 1953–63 (September 2017 – April 2018), Whitworth Art Gallery; Watts Landscapes (February – June 2016), Watts Gallery; Close Up & Personal: Victorians & Their Photographs (June – November 2016) Watts Gallery; Liberating Fashion: Aesthetic Dress in Victorian Portraits (February – June 2015), Watts Gallery

Publications include: Turner’s Tatham [forthcoming]; ‘“The up-springing stem of the neck” in G.F. Watts’s paintings’, Visual Culture in Britain [forthcoming]; ‘Protecting digital cultural assets: a review of the export process and supporting mechanisms’, OGL The National Archives, April 2019; ‘The Educators of Trees: Alexander and John Robert Cozens’, Whitworth Art Gallery, June 2017; Co-authored with Hilary Underwood, Liberating Fashion: Aesthetic Dress in Victorian Portraits, Watts Gallery, 2015; Veronica Franklin Gould and Ellen Terry Keremi Gawade, The Painter’s Actress, edited by Nicholas Tromans and Rhian Addison, Watts Gallery, 2014; Auctioning L.S. Lowry: A Sales History, 1990–2012, Piano Nobile, 2013

Twitter @RhianLAddison