Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760—1830
3 February—20 April 2007
In the Main Galleries, Burlington House
Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA, Portrait of King George III, 1779 Oil on canvas Citizens and Kings: Portraits in the Age of Revolution, 1760—1830 examines the radical shift that occurred in portraiture, both painted and sculpted, in response to the Enlightenment and the revolutions in Europe and America. It includes works by the great innovators of portraiture, David and Goya, as well as their contemporaries such as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Roslin, Mengs, Vigee Lebrun and Singleton Copley and their successors, including Ingres, Gros, Lawrence and Runge.
The period covered by this exhibition saw enormous changes in all aspects of people’s lives. The development of trade, the beginnings of Empire, rapid urbanisation and the growing force of the industrial revolution, brought on by scientific discoveries and invention, created new centres of wealth and new kinds of people who acquired it. Spurred on by scientific thought, the Enlightenment philosophers urged the use of reason in their questioning of the claims of State and Church or the nature of society and the family.
Studio of Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat. Oil on canvas, 162.5 x 130
Politically, the success of Enlightenment ideas was embodied in the new state of America, founded on the rights of man to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, though not for their slaves. And while Enlightenment ideals may have run aground on the irrationality of the French Revolution, they were to survive the inevitable reaction to that period of violence and terror. The ending of the Napoleonic wars saw the restoration of monarchical absolutism in many countries and an attempt to batten down the libertarian ideas of the period. Yet by 1830 France had a new ‘citizen-king’, Louis-Philippe, and Britain was two years away from the Great Reform Act which doubled the number of eligible voters. The ways in which people chose to represent themselves, and the manner by which artists found new forms to do so, provides us with a parallel insight into this turbulent and exciting historical period.
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This text is abridged from the Royal Academy Education Department publication
Citizens And Kings: An Introduction to the Exhibition (0.8 MB)
Supported by The Henry Moore Foundation