Past Events

Pen and Pencil: Writing and Painting in England, 1750-1850

Lecture – Duncan Robinson

  • 21 January to 18 February 2009
  • 6:00 – 7:00 pm
  • Sainsbury Theatre, National Gallery, London

In these lectures, Duncan Robinson attempts to show the importance of literature in the broadest sense, in the development of the visual arts in Britain. For Hogarth ‘my picture was my stage,’ and his scenes from life as he saw it paved the way for that narrative tradition in English painting so beloved of the Victorians. From his lectern, Reynolds not only discoursed on art but raised the bar for his profession by insisting that the student at the Royal Academy Schools must ‘warm his imagination with the best productions of ancient and modern poetry.’ For Gainsborough, Reynolds’s opposite in every sense, intimate correspondence took the place of formal lecture; from the letters he wrote to his friends we gain an appre- ciation of the man as well as insights into his painting. And the same holds true of Constable. By contrast, Turner’s appreciation of poetry encouraged him to pen his own ’Fallacies of Hope.’ The final lecture is devoted to visionaries and dreamers, to artists for whom, like Blake, the literary and the visual are inseparable in the unity of their art.

  • 21st January: ‘Subjects I consider’d as writers do.’ William Hogarth
  • 28th January: ‘He can never be a great artist who is grossly illiterate.’ Joshua Reynolds
  • 4th February: ‘From the window I am writing I see all those sweet fields...’ John Constable
  • 11th February: ‘Painting and Poetry ... reflect and heighten each other’s beauties.’ JMW Turner
  • 18th February: ‘I dare not pretend to be anything other than the Secretary; the Authors are in Eternity.’ William Blake
Hogarth's reflection in mirror with sollum dog sat next to it

William Hogarth, The Painter and his Pug, 1745

Digital image courtesy of Tate