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Title: The 'ingenious moral painter' : Edward Penny, the Royal Academy and the reinvention of genre painting 1768-1782
Author: Lax, Lucinda
ISNI:       0000 0004 2745 2947
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 2013
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Edward Penny (1714–1791) was the Royal Academy’s founding Professor of Painting and a frequent participant in the public art exhibitions that transformed London’s art world after 1760. Although Penny’s work has traditionally been dismissed as ‘tame’ and sentimental, recent scholarship now suggests that his mid-1760s exhibition paintings should be recognised as a highly significant attempt to apply the themes and concerns of historical art to accessible, contemporary subject matter. This thesis builds on these reinterpretations, but focuses on the still almost wholly neglected works from Penny’s Academy professorship (1768-83). Habitually dismissed as of marginal importance in comparison with the ‘grand manner’ portraits and history paintings for which the Academy is best known, these works are shown here to be among the most important and influential products of Penny’s long exhibition career. Using carefully contextualised close readings, each chapter takes a coherent phase of Penny’s career as an Academy exhibitor. The first two chapters show how the artist at first struggled to find a form of art that would be sufficiently dignified to conform to the Academy’s lofty artistic aims without forsaking the accessible, distinctly ‘British’ subject matter he favoured. The remaining chapters show how Penny finally succeeded in solving this problem by using scenes from everyday life to convey elevated moral messages. These ‘sermons in paint’ made such humble themes acceptable to the Academy, providing the inspiration for an enduring tradition of Academic ‘genre’ painting, pursued at first by William Redmore Bigg and George Morland, and then, more famously, by such figures as David Wilkie and William Mulready. Penny thus emerges not only as the foremost proponent of a previously unrecognised counter-classical idiom at the heart of the early Royal Academy, but as a critically influential figure in the development of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art.
Supervisor: Hallett, Mark Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available