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Samuel Wale's book illustrations: Designing Historical Panoramas in Georgian London

Research Lunch – Isabelle Baudino

  • 31 March 2017
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm
  • Seminar Room, Paul Mellon Centre

between 1743 and 1747, Line engraving and etching; letterpress on verso on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper (page in book) Despite being a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts, Samuel Wale has remained quite an elusive figure. Most of his easel paintings have disappeared and the greater part of his decorative works has been damaged or destroyed. Although he was apprenticed as an engraver, he started his career as a painter, attending classes at St Martin's Lane Academy, decorating the Foundling Hospital and assisting Francis Hayman. While being consistently involved in the academic movement that led to the foundation of the Royal Academy, Wale also became one of the most prolific book illustrators of the day, designing hundreds of plates that contributed to the growing popularity of pictorial histories. Over the course of his forty-year career, he established a formulaic, full-page framed historical scene offering an unprecedented visualisation of British history. Indeed, building on his first selection of historical events, and drawing inspiration from the theatre, other books or paintings, Wale established a sequence of landmarks that gave an overview of Britain's history from its ancient origins until modern times. He thus contributed to the visual perception of historical chronology and created images of national history that were emulated, adapted and appropriated.

I will argue that despite their low aesthetic and commercial value, the images that composed Wale's historical panorama proved remarkably persistent because they brought together history, nationhood and iconography, thus transforming the understanding of history and fostering a new engagement with the past and its traces in the eighteenth-century present.

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Isabelle Baudino

    Isabelle Baudino is Senior Lecturer at the ENS in Lyons and has been a Visiting Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, over the past academic year. Her work focuses on eighteenth-century British art with particular interest in history painting and the Royal Academy, taken individually, but also studied together in the context of the institutionalization of the arts in eighteenth-century Britain. Her study on Samuel Wale is part of a project which is generously supported by a mid-career fellowship from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.