Military themes in British painting 1815-1914
This thesis examines the treatment of the British Army and military themes, in painting, during the period 1815- 1914. All the works discussed were exhibited at the Royal Academy, which, although it underwent modifications in status, remained the nearest equivalent to a State Institution for Art in Britain. All the paintings shown there were painted with the knowledge that they were to be seen by the controllers of the Academy and the dominant classes of society. It will be inferred then, that the paintings shown there may be taken to have been acceptable to ruling class ideologies, and are therefore instructive of 'official' attitudes to military art. Representations of the contemporary Army, in this period, fell into two main catagories - battle paintings and genre depictions of soldiers. Chapters one to three survey battle paintings; studying the relation of this genre to the Academy; the relative popularity of the genre and the career patterns of its practioners. The critical reception of battle pictures at the Academy and certain important public competitions will be noted and considered in the context of contemporary ideologies about art and about the Army and its men. Chapter four discusses the vital concept of 'heroism' and its treatment in English military art. In particular, the reasons for the popularity of certain military figures above their peers, in academic art, will be explored. It will be argued that the process of 'hero-making' in art was not determined by professional success alone, but was often the result of the intervention of patrons, publicists and pressure groups. It will be shown that contemporary ideologies of heroism and art-historical convention precluded innovation in representation to correspond with technological developments in warfare. Battle paintings of heroes remained rooted in the conventions of 'chivalry' until the end of the First World War. Chapters five and six study genre representations of the soldier. Paintings of the 'recruit', the 'veteran' and the soldier and the family are discussed in relation to contemporary ideologies of the soldier held by the dominant classes. This thesis seeks to show that the military genre pictures, exhibited at the Royal Academy, are significantly related to developments in ideas about the Army and society, and that the uncertain status of battle painting was reflective of the equivocal attitude towards the Army and the Empire in this period.