Room 10: The Arts in the early Eighteenth Century

See the portraits currently on display in Room 10 here

Room 10

© The National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1697 St Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren's great masterpiece, opened to much jubilation. The prospect of decorating the inside of the dome in 1709 attracted foreign artists, including the Venetian, Pellegrini, but in the end the commission was awarded to the greatest English decorative painter of the period, Sir James Thornhill. Portrait painting, however, continued to be dominated by foreigners until the 1720s, including the German, Sir Godfrey Kneller, and the Swede, Michael Dahl.

This tendency to look abroad for artists was a habit which Thornhill's son-in-law, the painter of conversation pieces and modern moral subjects, William Hogarth, strongly opposed. But Britain remained open to ideas from the Continent. It was as a result of visiting Italy in the 1710s and seeing the work of Palladio that Lord Burlington took up and promoted the Palladian style in architecture, followed by his protégé, William Kent. Portrait painters such as Charles Jervas Allan Ramsay and Joshua Reynolds studied in Italy. And Continental talent continued to be attracted to London by the city's growing wealth and increasing sophistication: Handel in 1710, the harpsichord maker Burkat Shudi in 1718, and the three sculptors, Rysbrack, Scheemakers and Roubiliac in the decade from 1720, to name but a few.

The literary world flowered in the early 18th century. Addison, Steele, Congreve and Vanbrugh appear in Room 9 among the Kit-cat Club portraits; Swift, Pope and Thomson in this room. Emulation of the classical writers of ancient Rome led to the period being called a new Augustan age. In the mid-century Richardson, Smollett and Sterne established the English novel as a popular literary form while Horace Walpole produced the first in a new genre of Gothic novels. Increasingly English novels were read abroad, English engravings met with a ready Continental market and, as the century wore on, the English style in gardening, le jardin anglais, found favour overseas.