Henry Fuseli, ‘The Shepherd’s Dream, from ‘Paradise Lost’’ 1793
Henry Fuseli
The Shepherd’s Dream, from ‘Paradise Lost’ 1793

On display until 9 April 2012

I passed my time in London in the midst of enchantments that offer an ardent young man the combination of a thousand masterworks…
Eugène Delacroix

In this room, we show artists and pictures that starred in public exhibitions when Romanticism was becoming recognised as a phenomenon. Styles and themes mutated, genres mingled as artists broke free of the traditional hierarchy of subject matter taught by the Royal Academy.

These pictures, made for show or even spectacle, reflect Romantic characteristics in different ways, in their subjects or modes of expression. Like painting itself, display culture was changing and especially vibrant in London where artists lacked official patronage and competed for attention in a free market. The annual Academy exhibition was joined by others held by independent organisations like the British Institution, art dealers or regional art societies. Always independent, Turner created his own gallery at his London home.

British critics did not single out Romantic works or artists in exhibitions as critics did in Paris, where the ‘Battle of the Styles’ between Romantics and Classicists sometimes came literally to blows. However, French visitors to London or to the 1824 Paris Salon exhibition, where Constable won a prize, recognised qualities in British painting that seemed more ‘Romantic’ than their own.

This display has been devised by curator David Blayney Brown.