Jonathan Richardson:
Art Theorist of the English Enlightenment

Carol Gibson-Wood

Publicaton Date
May 2000
Standard Number
Yale University Press
272 pages

Jonathan Richardson (1667-1745), one of his generation’s foremost portrait painters, was also one of the most influential art theorists in eighteenth-century Britain. In this critical biography, Carol Gibson-Wood provides for the first time a detailed account of Richardson’s life, including new information from original archival sources and unpublished correspondence, along with an analysis of Richardson’s most significant theoretical texts.

Gibson-Wood describes art consumption in England in Richardson’s time as well as the debates concerning native versus Continental painting. She argues that Richardson’s personal and written responses to these circumstances quintessentially embody “bourgeois” English Enlightenment ideals and the Lockean principles underpinning them. The first part of the book examines Richardson’s personal life, professional career, literary aspirations, activities as a collector, and relationships with such contemporaries as Alexander Pope. In the second part Gibson-Wood sets Richardson’s writings in the context of earlier art theory and of other genres of contemporary writing and concludes that his art-theoretical program was a radically English one that upheld the ability of freethinking Englishmen—including painters—to establish their own aesthetic criteria.