Dabbling In Art History, Regency Style

CE-avatar Cara/Andrea here,

This weekend officially kicks off summer, a season which lights a bright glow of anticipation for long, lazy afternoons sharing a hammock or a beach blanket with a good book. (If you are like me, your TBR pile is reaching frightening heights!)

TSTAR-final And speaking of books . . . I've a new one, To Surrender To A Rogue,  hitting the shelves in a few days. It's the second in my "Circle of Sin" trilogy, which revolves around a a close-knit group of female scholars who each have a dark secret that comes back to haunt them. This was a really fun series for me—it was both challenging and exhilarating to create three heroines who are incredibly confident intellectually, but incredibly vulnerable emotionally. They are brilliant, brainy scientists (Don't ask me why I chose that field. Maybe it was because in fiction I could make up for my less-than-stellar achievements in real life math and science classes!) And while the first book featured Ciara, the chemistry expert, this current release stars Alessandra, whose specialty is archeology—a subject which is far firmer ground for me.

But actually I am digressing . . . for while I do plan on blogging about Alessandra's interest in antiquities, and why the city of Bath makes a perfect setting for the book, today I'm going to talk about the hero's special interest, which is also a subject near and dear to my heart. Jack is a distinguished military man—and he's also an accomplished watercolor artist. So he, like the ladies, is a contrast of hard and soft edges.

 My background is in art, and having dabbled in watercolor color painting, I was especially excited about exploring its history during the Regency era. So twirl your sable brushes to  fine point, add a wash of pigment to your cold pressed paper and let's sketch in a quick outline of the early nineteenth century art scene in Great Britain!

The country has an incredibly rich heritage in watercolor painting, and, as is true in so many other fields, the Regency was a time of great energy and evolution as artists began to look at their world in a whole new way. In previous centuries, watercolorists were considered more as draftsmen than true artists, and often worked with surveyors and mapmakers. Their work was considered utilitarian,  more a record of topographical information—how a town or a countryside or cathedral looked—than a creative work.


Boats
That began to change as techniques loosened and became more expressive. The traditional style was known as the "stained glass" method, in which ink outlines were carefully colored in with washes of pigment. But watercolors, as opposed to oil paints, are by their very nature spontaneous. They dry very quickly, so an artist must work fast. yet, they are also transparent, so one can build color, change tones, add details, slowly building an organic image  of luminous beauty.

The change in attitude actually began in 1760 when watercolor artists were first allowed to exhibit their painting in the annual public art exhibitions. The Royal Academy, which was founded in 1768,  also recognized the medium, but for the most part, its practitioners were treated like second class citizens. So in 1804, a group of artists banded together and made a bold move, establishing the Society for Painters in Water-Colours. By proclaiming their own special status and organizing their own exhibitions, they in effect through down a gauntlet to the rest of the art world—and won recognition with both their peers and the paying public.

Exhibit The shows were, according to Great British Watercolors, by Matthew Hargraves, "critical, popular and financial successes." Indeed, William Marshall Craig gave a series of lectures at the Royal Institution in London in which he categorically claimed that watercolors were far superior to oil painting. The debate was a heated one throughout the first few decades, with noted periodicals  such as Rudolph Ackermann's monthly Repository of Arts featuring a series of essays on the subject in 1812. Of course no consensus was reached—the important point was that watercolorists had succeeded in establishing themselves as a serious players in the art world.

Turner You may all recognize the name of J.M.W. Turner, who is perhaps the most famous watercolorist of his era. His innovative, impressionist style—which still appears incredible modern—helped revolutionize painting as a whole, but there were also equally talented artists who are less well-known, especially to an American audience. Here are just a few of the notable names:


Cozens Alexander Cozens
(who was really a Georgian, but I'm taking artistic license) taught for years at Eton. In addition to producing hauntingly beautiful works of his own, rendered in an austere, monochromatic palette, he shaped the artistic tastes a whole generation of English aristocrats . Two of his pupils, Sir George Beaumont and William Beckford, are recognized as two of the greatest collectors and connoisseurs of their age.


Girtin Thomas Girtin
trained with Turner at Munro's Academy and while his work appears more traditional than that of Turner, his exploration of texture, shadow and color established him as a leading practitioner of the medium. Unfortunately an early death, at age 27, cut short a brilliant career.


Roberts David Roberts
was one of the leading "travel" artists, a genre which appealed greatly to a Regency audience who were in love with exotic places. His works were most of the East, which seemed to have a special allure to his viewers.

While the majority of watercolorists were landscape artists, Thomas Rowlandson was a luminary of figurative art. A famous satirical printmaker as well as a painter, Rowlandson captured scenes of daily life with a eye for every boisterous, bawdy detail. 

Rowlandson I hope you have enjoyed this oh-so brief peek at the fabulously rich and diverse world of British watercolors. My fictional hero Jack (who is a mix of Girtin and Roberts) feels honored to stand—figuratively speaking of course—alongside such impressive and imaginative men. You can lean a little more about actual paintingtechnique in the scenes with his drawing master . . .Jack does pay attention to detail . . . that is, when he isn't distracted by Alessandra.

What about you? Do you have a favorite artist?  And do you have a preference for either watercolors or oil paintings? Or does the medium matter at all to you? I'll be giving away a signed copy of my new book to one lucky reader, who will be chosen at random from all those who leave a comment here between now and Monday.

Happy Holiday weekend, everyone! And special thanks to all the men and women who have served our country throughout history.