David Solkin

David Solkin is a reader in the history of art at the Courtauld Institute. His Painting for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in 18th-Century England was published last year by Yale.

Sans Sunflowers

David Solkin, 7 July 1994

The tremors of political unrest that rocked so many universities on both sides of the Atlantic during the late Sixties and early Seventies had important repercussions in many of the humanities and social sciences; but no discipline was more profoundly shaken than the history of art. Throughout the postwar era, the vast majority of art historians had championed the canonical achievements of European visual high culture: in the wake of the events of 1968 they suddenly awoke to find themselves accused of complicity in the hegemonic operations of an oppressive structure of power. Once among the cosiest and most genteel of subjects, academic art history entered on a period of protracted and divisive confrontation.

Pushy Times

David Solkin, 25 March 1993

In a notebook entry written during the summer of 1743, the English engraver George Vertue paid tribute to his friend the ‘ingenious’ William Taverner, who ‘besides his practice of the Law … has an extraordinary Genius in drawing and painting Landskips, equal if not superior in some degree to any painter in England’. Like other contemporary amateur producers of landscape watercolours, Taverner must have been aware that the favourite occupation of his leisure hours had long been associated with the demonstration of power and prestige; Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier (first English translation, 1561) was only the first of many treatises on aristocratic conduct to recommend drawing as an activity appropriate to men of the highest rank. Moreover, in a nation where political rights and social status depended first and foremost on the ownership of land, the drawing of landscapes in particular came to acquire a remarkably potent symbolic charge. It is hardly surprising therefore that a lawyer such as Taverner, in common with many other upwardly-mobile members of the 18th-century middle class, sought to dignify his position by appropriating the identity of the noble amateur.

Beyond the Cringe: British Art

John Barrell, 2 June 2016

David Solkin​’s new book is designed to replace Painting in Britain 1530-1790, a volume of the Pelican history of art by Ellis Waterhouse, which was first published in 1953 and appeared...

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Crossed Palettes

Ronald Paulson, 4 November 1993

There are two British world-class painters, Turner and Constable; but there are a number of others – at least as original and interesting as their contemporaries on the Continent – who...

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