Writing the Lives of Painters: Biography and Artistic Identity in Britain 1760-1810

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Writing the Lives of Painters explores the development of artists' biographies in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain. During this period artists gradually distanced themselves from artisans and began to be recognised for their imaginative and intellectual skills. The development of the art market and the burgeoning of an exhibition culture, as well as the foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, all contributed to redefining the rank ofartists in society. This social redefinition of the status of artists in Britain was shaped by a thriving print culture. Contemporary artists were discussed in a wide range of literary forms, including exhibition reviews, art-critical pamphlets, and journalistic gossip-columns. Biographical accounts ofmodern artists emerged in a dialogue with these other types of writing. This book is an account of a new literary genre, tracing its emergence in the cultural context of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It considers artistic biography as a malleable generic framework for investigation. Indeed, while the lives of painters in Britain did not completely abandon traditional tropes, the genre significantly widened its scope and created new individual and social narratives that reflected and accommodated the needs and desires of new reading audiences. Writing the Lives of Painters also argues that the proliferation of a myriad biographical forms mirrored the privileging of artistic originality and difference within an art world that had yet to generate a coherent 'British School' of painting. Finally, by focusing on the emergence of individualbiographies of British artists, the book examines how and why the art historiographic model established by Georgio Vasari was gradually dismantled in the hands of British biographers during the Romantic period.

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