Summary of Grand Manner
The term Grand Manner has come to refer to a style of portraiture that emerged in Britain during the eighteenth century. It is attributed to the founder of the Royal Academy of Arts, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who alluded to a "grand style" in his Discourses on Art lecture series delivered to Academy students between 1769 and 1790. In his fourth lecture (Fourth Discourse) he argued that this approach "gives what is called the grand style to invention, to composition, to expression, and even to colouring and drapery". Artists were thus encouraged to draw on the lessons of the past by closely observing the styles of classical Greek and Roman art and masters from the Italian Renaissance (especially Raphael, Michelangelo, and Carracci). Reynolds's intervention came when he suggested that if the same standards of excellence were applied to portraiture then it could compete on an even critical footing with history painting. Reynolds had effectively initiated a new stylistic approach that would be claimed subsequently as the "Golden Age of British portraiture". Through the influence of painters such as Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull and John Singer Sargent, moreover, the Grand Manner style would travel across the Atlantic, where it would make a significant contribution towards America's artistic and political "coming of age".
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- The "Grand Manner" grew out of Reynolds's conviction that "common" portraiture might attain the prestige reserved hitherto only for history painting. He predicted, correctly as it transpired, that a British school of art would attain international influence by elevating portraiture, which it did by establishing explicit links to the art of antiquity, to the status of fine art.
- As the president of the Royal Academy, Reynolds wanted painters to be afforded the same status enjoyed by poets, dramatists, and philosophers and argued that to achieve this then the artist should strive to produce faultless forms rather than slavishly detailing nature or every-day life. The art historian Cecil Gould observed that in Reynolds's vision "Landscape backgrounds or ornamental detail must be reduced to a minimum and individual peculiarities of human physiognomy absolutely eliminated [while] Draperies should be simple, but ample and noble, and fashionable contemporary costume absolutely shunned".
- The Grand Manner was adopted by elite artistic institutions (namely European royal academies) who positioned themselves as both art education centers and the latest tastemakers. The new social symbolism associated with classically posed, life-sized portraits, set against idealized landscapes and interiors, put in place a new hierarchy that effectively demoted "less important" genre paintings such as still lifes and scenes of everyday life.
- The Grand Manner was adopted by a new generation of American artists, including Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Scully, and John Trumbull, who effectively formed the county's first art dynasty. Stuart, arguably America's foremost portraitist, brought a subtle dimension of realism to the Grand Manner style and in so doing helped form the historical vision of heroes of the American Revolution and the pioneers of the new republic.
Overview of Grand Manner
Gainsborough painted, in the words of art historian John Rothenstein, "wonderful" and "lovingly observed" figures placed in pastoral settings "so touching in [their] beauty" they have "never ceased to haunt the English imagination".
The Important Artists and Works of Grand Manner
This portrait depicts Charles I as he turns toward the viewer in a relaxed but regal stance. Behind him two male attendants stand beside his horse: one tending to the welfare of the animal; the other looking attentively into the distant sky. Rather than a formal portrait, the King is portrayed at ease in van Dyck's leisurely and informal treatment. As art critic Richard Dorment noted, "when you see his vividly naturalistic portraits next to the stiff and hieratic work of his English predecessors, it is Van Dyck's theatricality that is so striking". The gloves he holds in his left hand, his walking stick evoking a scepter, and a Latin phrase, reading "Charles I, King of Great Britain" inscribed on a rock in the right foreground, emphasize his status as sovereign. Here Charles plays the part of the ideal courtier, the "perfect gentleman" as he was described in Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier (1528), a treatise that influenced court life throughout Europe for almost two centuries.
The King's clothing - specifically his wide-brimmed hat and silvery doublet shimmering with light - is luxurious, while the outdoor setting conveys the sense of oneness with nature. Van Dyck's portraits were seen as precursors for the Grand Manner style, and his advocacy for outdoor settings allowed for intimate portraits that conveyed the innate virtues of the sitter. As art critic Keith Thomas, noted "nearly all the great 18th-century portraitists, from Pompeo Batoni and Allan Ramsay to Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, copied Van Dyck's costumes, poses and compositions".
This life-size double portrait depicts Lord Sydney in dark green, and, behind him, Colonel John Acland who steps forward with his bow fully drawn. Framed by forest foliage that opens out onto a meadow, and with the spoils of their hunt laying on the forest floor behind them, the two men are presented to the viewer as heroic aristocratic medieval hunters.
Though at the time shotguns were generally used for hunting, archery had become fashionable amongst the aristocracy and the figure of the young and virile archer had become a fashionable motif in art. As art historian Ruth Kenny observed, "The painting celebrates the men's friendship by linking it to an imaginary chivalric past, when young lords pursued 'manly' activities together against a backdrop of ancient forest. The two subjects run and take aim in perfect rhythmic harmony; at one with each other and joint masters over nature". Yet Reynolds invented these aristocratic costumes to evoke the chivalric past, as the art critic Richard Dorment noted, "His compulsion always to move in new directions is linked to his conviction that portraiture could attain the prestige associated with history painting only through the exercise of the painter's imagination [...] At the root of all this lay his lifelong ambition to establish a school of British painting of international importance".
In 1768 Reynolds became the first president of the newly formed Royal Academy of Arts and the following year was knighted by King George III. Painted in the same year that he began presenting his Discourses on Art to the Academy, and this painting was intended to make a personal statement whereby, as Ruth Kenny noted, Reynolds "demonstrated his desire to elevate portraiture to the level of high art, alongside the genre of history painting". He exhibited this painting in the Royal Academy's 1770 exhibition where it met with great acclaim.
This life-size work depicts William Grant, arms folded, his head slightly turned and lowered beneath a broad brimmed hat, as he skates gracefully in the general direction of the viewer. His clothing, dark but illuminated by the highlights of the white cravat, the gray lapel and silver buckles on his shoes, confirm Grant's stylish elegance. His full-skirted coat, meanwhile, flares out slightly giving a palpable sense of movement as he glides across the picture frame from right to left. The portrait, with the majesty of nature captured in the receding trees and low horizon, epitomizes the Grand Manner style and demonstrates its influence upon the first generation of American artists.
In 1775, and following the example of other American artists such as John Singleton Copley, Stuart travelled to England where he studied with Benjamin West for six years (even exhibiting a portrait of his mentor at the Royal Academy in 1781). The Skater was Stuart's first full-scale portrait. An aristocratic Scotsman, and excellent ice skater, Grant commissioned the artist, but, on the day he was due to sit for his portrait, Stuart recalled how Grant had said "on account of the excessive coldness of the weather [...] the day was better suited for skating than sitting for one's portrait". Accordingly, the two men went skating in London's Hyde Park, and Stuart painted the portrait quickly, and from memory. Exhibited at the 1782 Royal Academy exhibition, the work was met with such acclaim that Stuart said he had been "suddenly lifted into fame by a single picture". Patrons flocked to him for portraits, and his reputation began to rival that of both Gainsborough and West.
After eighteen years in Britain and Ireland, Stuart, by now in debt and hounded by creditors, returned to the United States where he established a studio in Philadelphia. He became reborn as a leading portrait artist, known particularly for his many portraits of George Washington, the first president of the United States. His work influenced other American artists, including Thomas Sully, John Vanderlyn, Washington Allston, and, the "painter of the Revolution", John Trumbull.
Useful Resources on Grand Manner
- The Story of ArtBy E. H. Gombrich
- The Tate GalleryBy John Rothenstein
- Seven Discourses on Art by Sir Joshua ReynoldsOur Pick
- The Swagger Portrait: Grand Manner Portraiture in Britain from Van Dyck to Augustus John, 1630-1930Our PickBy Andrew Wilton
- Van Dyck and Britain at Tate Britain, reviewOur PickBy Richard Dorment / The Telegraph / February 16, 2009
- How the mighty fallBy Jonathan Jones / The Guardian / May 21, 2005
- Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint, The Wallace Collection, review: 'illuminates his achievement'Our PickBy Richard Dorment / The Telegraph / March 16, 2015
- Gilbert Stuart, the Man Who Painted WashingtonBy James Thomas Flexner / August 1976
- Who was the mysterious Madame X in Sargent's portrait?By Jason Farago / BBC / January 2, 2015
- How Madame X Came to the MetBy Stephanie L. Herdrich / Met Museum / January 8, 2016
- Madame XXXOur PickBy Jonathan Jones / The Guardian / February 1, 2006
- 13 Stars Who Channeled Madame X on the Red CarpetBy Lauren Hubbard / Town and Country / September 5, 2008
- Thomas Lawrence: The new romantic - reviewOur PickBy Richard Holmes / The Guardian / October 15, 2010
- The truth about Cindy Sherman's society portraitsBy Paul Moorhouse / Phaidon / February 4, 2014
- Van Dyck, The Anatomy of PortraitureOur PickThe Frick Collection
- Gainsborough's Morning Walk | Talks for All| | National GalleryOur PickChristine Riding
- The classic portraits of John Singer SargentCBS Sunday Morning / Martha Teichner
- Kehinde Wiley: John Singer SargentVirginia Museum of Fine Arts
- The Lansdowne Portrait of George WashingtonOur PickDorothy Moss / George Washington's Mount Vernon
- Hidden Clues You May Have Missed in Washington's PortraitSmithsonian Channel