The Diary of Joseph Farington:
Volume 1, July 1793 - December 1974; Volume 2, January 1795 - August 1796

Joseph Farington, Kenneth Garlick, Angus Macintyre

Publicaton Date
September 1979
Standard Number
Yale University Press
654 pages, volumes 1 & 2 of 16.

A fifteen-volume reprint of the diary of Joseph Farington (1747-1821), a professional topographical artist and lived most of his life in London. Through his extensive involvement in the affairs of the Royal Academy, his wide circle of friends, and his membership in several clubs and societies, he touched the life of his time at many points. This diary, which he kept from 1793 until his death, provides a meticulous record of his actions and observations and is an invaluable source for the history of English art and artists. It also constitutes an absorbing record of this period’s social, political, and literary developments.

The first two volumes cover the time from July 31, 1793, when he visited Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill, to August 31, 1796. Apart from recording his constant involvement in Academy business, he describes his visit to Valenciennes and his sketching tour for the History of the River Thames. Such matters as the sale of part of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s collection, the controversies over the Shakespeare forgeries are set down against the background of the French Revolution and the war, and of political turbulence at home. The diary is now for the first time published in full.

The third and fourth volumes cover the period in which Farington’s influence within the Royal Academy was at its height and he earned the title of ‘dictator of the Royal Academy.’ These years where characterized by artistic controversy over such matters as the eligibility of architects for membership, the expulsion of James Barry from his position as Professor of Painting and then from the Academy itself, and the alleged destructiveness of James Wyatt’s restoration of Durham Cathedral. Farington immersed himself in these and other artistic matters ranging from the campaign for the establishment of a national gallery to his budding friendships with the young Turner and the young Constable.

In the fifth and sixth pair of volumes, the chief interest is provided by Farington’s account of his visit to Paris, in company with Fuseli, during the Peace of Amiens in 1802. West, Opie, Flaxman, Hoppner, and Turner were among the other English artists who visited Paris at the same time, as did Charles James Fox and his followers. Farington provides much material on French art and artists, notably on David and his pupils, and on the works of art looted from other parts of Europe, especially from Italy, which were on view in the Louvre. There are vivid descriptions of Napoleon and of the atmosphere of Paris during the Consulate.  During these years Farington also undertook tours of the Lake District, Scotland, and the Wye valley. He portrays in detail the pre-Regency society of these years, ranging from the small change of gossip and social life to the serious matters of art and politics.

The seventh and eighth volumes of the diaries run from January 1805 to the end of December 1807, a troubled time for the Royal Academy. Farington chronicles the disputes that led Benjamin West to give up in December 1805 his increasingly untenable position as President.

The ninth and tenth volumes of the diary cover the years from January 1808 up to December 1810. Among the public events that preoccupy Joseph Farington are the wars in Europe and South America and the spectacular scandal that erupted in 1809 over Duke of York’s association with Mary Anne Clark. This period finds Farington embarking on extended tours—one to the north of England and two to the West Country—making sketches to illustrate the survey of Britain, Britannica Depicta, compiled by his friends Samuel and Daniel Lysons. Farington’s association with this and other projects for the publishers Cadell and Davies involves him in negotiations with many engravers, among them Joseph Landseer, James Heath, and Samuel Middiman. Within the Royal Academy (to which Landseer is pressing that a number of engravers be admitted) feelings run high over the lecture by John Soane criticizing the architecture of Covent Garden Theatre, which was the work of Robert Smirke, the son of Farington’s oldest friends. At the end of 1810 Farington is occupied with assessing Robert Smirke’s prospects at the coming election of academicians. In common with many others in the diarist’s wide circle of acquaintances, Thomas Lawrence and John Constable continue to seek Farington’s advice on professional and practical affairs.

Volumes thirteen and fourteen of the diaries take Farington past his seventieth birthday but show that his keen interest in public and artistic affairs remained undiminished. He rejoices at the end of the long war with France, deplores the conduct of Lord Byron, approves the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and speculates about the probable authorship of the attack on prominent connoisseurs in the catalogue raisonné of the British Institution exhibition. In private life, Farington survives a financial disaster, and campaigns tirelessly to secure the promotion of a nephew to the rank of Post Captain in the Royal Navy.

A final index volume provides access to Farington’s fascination with criminal trials, elections, and frequent Royal scandals of the day as well as the recurrent subject of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars in Europe.