Prints and Exhibitions

  • Gillen D’Arcy Wood


In an 1814 letter to the comic actor Charles Mathews, Coleridge makes a careful distinction between theatrical naturalism and literal truth: “A great Actor, comic or tragic, is not to be a mere Copy, a facsimile, but an imitation, of Nature. Now an Imitation differs from a Copy in this, that it of necessity implies & demands difference—whereas a Copy aims at identity1 As I described in my introduction, the language of this distinction between acting and mere mimicry—modeled on that between imitation and copy—constitutes an idée fixe of Coleridge’s lectures on aesthetics. For example, he counseled would-be dramatic poets with the same terms he applied to the actor Mathews, that is, “not to present a copy, but an imitation of real life.” Whether watching a play or reading it in one’s study, Coleridge states, “the mind of the spectator, or the reader, therefore, is not to be deceived into any idea of reality.”2 Coleridge’s carefully reiterated distinction between the imitative genius of art and the technique of merely “copying” reality illuminates and protects the idealist impulse integral to Romantic poetics. Clarifying his position in the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge stipulates that images of nature, “however beautiful, though faithfully copied from nature,” do not constitute art unless “they are modified by a predominant passion.”3 The shaping sensibility of the artist, actor, or poet must “modify” reality in the service of an ideal.


Royal Academy British School Print Industry Visual Culture Original Painting 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Collected Letters, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), 3:501.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. R. A. Foakes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 5(2):277.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe [after the Centenary Edition] (New York: AMS Press, 1967), 10:8.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Richard Sha, The Visual and Verbal Sketch in British Romanticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), 52.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1966), 220–21. For a discussion of the English print trade informed by Benjamin’s “Mechanical Reproduction” essay, see John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997), 449–63.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Earl of Shaftesbury, Second Characters; or, The Language of Forms, ed. Benjamin Rand (New York: Columbia University Press, 1914), 121.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    David Solkin, Painting for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 274.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See Reynolds, Discourses on Art, ed. Robert Wark (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 320–36. Wark has dutifully included a transcript of Blake’s embittered commentary in the Yale edition of the Discourses, but Lawrence Lipking has warned against the critical tendency to read Reynolds solely through the lens of Romantic reaction against him. It is a consequence of Blake’s canonization by twentieth-century literary critics, Lipking contends, that we “perceive Reynolds’ Discourses through the screen of Blake’s famous marginalia,” not because Blake’s opinions had any impact on Reynolds’ reputation at the time. The Ordering of the Arts in Eighteenth-Century England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 164.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Painter in Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 88.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Louise Lippincott, Selling Art in Georgian London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 144.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Timothy Clayton, The English Print, 1688–1802 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 177. I am indebted to Clayton’s original and comprehensive research for a considerable portion of the historical material in this chapter.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    Reynolds, ed. Nicholas Penny (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1986), 35.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    From the engraver Sir Robert Stranges Inquiry into the Rise and Establishment of the Royal Academy of Arts (London, 1775), 71–75; see also Sidney C. Hutchinson, The History of the Royal Academy, 1168–1968 (London: Chapman & Hall, 1968), 40. Among the “auctioneers” alluded to by Strange was James Christie, whose association with the building “no doubt reinforced Reynolds’s need to rigidity lines between art and commerce.” Visual and Verbal Sketch in Romanticism, 43.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    Desmond Shawe-Taylor, The Georgians: Eighteenth-Century Portraiture and Society (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1990), 26.Google Scholar
  15. 30.
    “A skilled painter ought not be a slave to Nature, but rather its arbiter.” Dialogue sur le colons (Paris, 1699), 8.Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    Ellis Waterhouse, Reynolds (New York: Phaidon Press, 1973), 20.Google Scholar
  17. 35.
    Richard Godfrey, Printmaking in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 48, quoted in Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: The Subject Pictures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 42.Google Scholar
  18. 36.
    A Review of the Polite Arts in France, at the time of their Establishment under Louis XVI, compared with their Present State in England (London, 1782), 51.Google Scholar
  19. 37.
    The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, ed. Edward Malone (London, 1797), 2:51–53.Google Scholar
  20. 42.
    The Autobiography and Memoirs of Benjamin Robert Haydon, ed. Tom Taylor (London: Peter Davies, 1926), 1:212–13.Google Scholar
  21. 43.
    James Barry, Works (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1809), 177.Google Scholar
  22. 45.
    An Inquiry into the Requisite Cultivation and Present State of the Arts of Design in England (London, 1806), 221–22.Google Scholar
  23. 46.
    For a comprehensive account of Boydell’s career, together with larger issues he represents—namely, the failure of academic history painting and the rise of a commercial art market in Britain—see Morris Eaves, The Counter-Arts Conspiracy: Art and Industry in the Age of Blake (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992). This is the first important study to recognize the late eighteenth century as the “Boydell” era, in which “the histories of painting and engraving are inextricable one from the other” (1).Google Scholar
  24. 50.
    Richard Altick, The Shows of London (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), 106.Google Scholar
  25. 51.
    C. H. Watelet and P. C. Léveque, Dictionnaire des Arts de Peinture, Sculpture et Gravure (Paris, 1792), 2:109, quoted in Clayton, 282.Google Scholar
  26. 52.
    Classical Literary Criticism, trans. T. S. Dorsch (London: Penguin, 1965), 35.Google Scholar
  27. 54.
    For important background to my discussion of class and taste in the Discourses, see John Barrell, The Political Theory of Painting from Reynolds to Hazlitt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 77.Google Scholar
  28. 56.
    See Thomas E. Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  29. 59.
    Works, 162, quoted in James Northcote, The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds (London: Henry Colburn, 1818), 78.Google Scholar
  30. 61.
    Edward Edwards, Anecdotes of Painters (London, 1808), xxv, quoted in Sir Joshua Reynolds, 5.Google Scholar
  31. 62.
    English Art 1800–1870 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), 21.Google Scholar
  32. 63.
    “William Blake’s Annotation to Reynolds’ Discourses,”Discourses, 304; Marilyn Gaull, English Romanticism: The Human Context, (New York: Norton, 1988), 333.Google Scholar
  33. 64.
    Correspondence and Table-Talk, ed. F. W. Haydon (London: Chatto and Windus, 1876), 1:185.Google Scholar
  34. 70.
    The Diaries of Benjamin Robert Haydon, ed. Walter Bissell Pope (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960), 2:218.Google Scholar
  35. 71.
    Robert Woof et al., Benjamin Robert Haydon (Grasmere: The Wordsworth Trust, 1996), 113–15.Google Scholar
  36. 78.
    “The Barrenness of the Imaginative Faculty in the Productions of Modern Art,” Complete Works and Letters (New York: Modern Library, 1935), 203.Google Scholar
  37. 80.
    The Republic, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Harper Collins, 1961), 285–86.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gillen D’Arcy Wood 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gillen D’Arcy Wood

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations