Tag Archives: Royal Academy

What Was The Art World Like in 1850?

Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute – Joseph Mallord William Turner

 

We, or should I say, I have a very specific idea on how non-famous artists get their pieces viewed today. Either they place them on the walls of any business that will have them – say, your local coffee shop or book store – or, the pieces are submitted for review to local galleries. There,  the artist will either have individual pieces that will become part of a collection that’s trying to convey a specific theme, or the artist themselves will be highlighted, with several to dozens of pieces are shown.

I have no idea how true this is today, and I admit that it’s a fiction created in my head based off of nothing more than minimal inputs from actual artists. I do know that the world today is more capitalistic, and that this drives the art scene, somewhat.

My point here is what it’s not. It’s not patronage (although this probably still occurs today), and it’s not a student getting a showing at the local art college (which definitely still occurs today, having been to a few of these myself). It’s this latter example I want to expand upon, because in the early 1800′s, the Art Academies of Europe were where an artist learned their craft, cultivated their talent, found patronage, and had their work shown at annual exhibits. It was the academy system that was the primary means of promoting art in Western Europe, and if one wished to succeed in the art world, inevitably an artist had to demonstrate whatever skills and talents that the leaders of each Art Academy felt was indicative of such.  In other words,  an artist had to meet someone else’s definition of what was acceptable, rather than meet their own. This is a broad interpretation of what likely happened, but it needs to be said for reasons I will cover later.

That’s not to say that those who held sway with the academies were less than liberal in their approaches.  Pieces that pushed the boundaries were featured a fair bit. For example, The Grand Canal, Venice by Joseph Mallord William Turner, pictured above, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835 is an exercise of imprecision*, a sacrifice of “reality” and technique in order to create a more balanced painting.

My point here is that the Academies weren’t necessarily stodgy, but there was a well worn path that one needed to follow. This is a topic for a different post. Right now, all we need to know is that the Academy system existed, and it was the primary means for an artist to succeed in the early to mid 1800′s.

(*The painting is based off of separate sketches that were drawn at different locations in Venice, combined into a single painting that creates a scene that doesn’t truly exist in our reality. This imperfect approach was seen as a detriment to Turner’s work by some, not an asset. The same could be say of his approach to color, as well as technique. While his subjects were classic romanticism subjects – at one point he believed that landscapes could “convey a full range of artistic, historical, and emotional meanings” – it was his techniques that separated him from other artists of the times. Looking at his piece from 1844 entitled Rain, Steam and Speed,  - The Great Western Railway, you can see he was doing things differently.  You can also see a better detailed reprint of his The Grand Canal, Venice here)