Past Events

The Epic of Common Life: Genre Painting and Social Change in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain

Paul Mellon Lectures – David H. Solkin

  • 25 October to 22 November 2004
  • 6:00 – 7:00 pm
  • National Gallery, London
1808, watercolor, pen and ink, sponging, and gum over graphite on wove paper

Thomas Heaphy, Inattention, 1808, watercolor, pen and ink, sponging, and gum over graphite on wove paper

Digital image courtesy of Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1975.3.175

This year's Paul Mellon Lectures take as their subject the new school of painting of everyday life that emerged to great acclaim in Britain during the period spanning the Napoleonic Wars and the Great Reform Bill. Initiated by David Wilkie's 'Village Politicians' of 1806, and reaching a monumenlal summation almost twenty-five years later in the work of Benjamin Robert Haydon, this movement registered the deeply ambivalent feelings of a nation in the throes of accelerating economic growth and of conflict both at home and abroad: what emerges from the imagery of its most ambitious artists is a widespread sense that the traditional boundaries between country and city are in the process of dissolving, and that a more regularised present is everywhere encroaching upon the customary past. In its fascination with the compression of space and time, early nineteenth-century British genre painting locates itself at the start of a trajectory linking the art of the Age of Revolution with the postmodern culture of the present day.

25 October

New Adventures in Space and Time: Reconfiguring Rural Life in the Age of Revolution

1 November

Trouble in Arcadia

8 November

The Subjects and Spaces of Surveillance

15 November

The Colonisation of Carnival

22 November

The End of Olde England: Remaking the Nation after Waterloo

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of David H. Solkin

    One of the world’s leading authorities on the history of British art, David Solkin taught for eight years at the University of British Columbia before joining The Courtauld in 1986, where he was promoted from Lecturer to Reader in 1993, and to Professor in 2002; eight years later he succeeded the late John House as Walter H. Annenberg Professor of the History of Art. In the autumn of 2007 David became The Courtauld’s first Dean and Deputy Director, a position that he anticipates occupying until the end of the academic year 2015-16. He plans to retire shortly thereafter.

    In addition to numerous articles, David has published four important books: Richard Wilson: The Landscape of Reaction (London, Tate Gallery 1982); Painting for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven & London, Yale University Press 1993); Painting out of the Ordinary: Modernity and the Art of Everyday Life in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain (New Haven & London, Yale University Press 2008); and Art in Britain 1660-1815 (New Haven & London, Yale/Pelican History of Art series, 2015) . David was the guest curator of the exhibition Art on The Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836, which took place at The Courtauld Gallery in 2001-2002. He also edited and co-authored the collection of essays that accompanied the exhibition, for which he was awarded the inaugural William M.B. Berger Prize for British art history. More recently David curated Turner and the Masters, the hugely successful exhibition which opened at Tate Britain in the autumn of 2009, before going on to the Grand Palais in Paris and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.

    Having just completed his monumental Pelican History, David is now turning his attention to an exhibition of Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits of the artist and his relations, entitled Gainsborough’s Family Album, which is scheduled to open at the National Portrait Gallery in autumn 2018.

    David was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2012.