The small but valuable collection in the Hermitage enables us to trace the major lines of development in English art, which reached its highest peak in the eighteenth century.
Room 298. 17th – early 18th century art. During this period the main genre in English painting was the portrait. Of the seventeenth century artists represented in the exhibition, Robert Walker (Portrait of Oliver Cromwell) and Peter Lely (Portrait of an English Lady) continued the tradition of the formal portraits of Van Dyck. Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723) showed greater individuality in his painting; his works include the Portrait of John Locke and Portrait of the Sculptor Grinltng Gibbons. The display includes an excellent collection of seventeenth and eighteenth century English silverware, and there is also in the room the large tapestry The Wonderful Catch woven from a cartoon by Raphael at the Mort-lake Works in the first half of the seventeenth century.
Room 299. 18th century art. The most outstanding English painter of the eighteenth century was Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), first president of the Royal Academy in London, art theoretician, and a celebrated painter of portraits and history pictures. His large-scale canvas The Infant Heracles Strangling the Serpents, commissioned by Catherine II and painted between 1786 and 1788, is an allegorical representation of Russia vanquishing her enemies. Cupid Untying the Zone of Venus, also painted by Reynolds, is an example of the mythological portrait, which at that time was very common. Under Reynolds’s influence developed the work of George Romney (1734-1802), a portrait painter popular among London high society (see his Portrait of Mrs Greer).
Room 300. Reynolds’s great contemporary Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), a painter of lyrical landscapes and a distinguished portrait artist, is represented in the Soviet Union by one delightful painting, known as the Portrait of the Duchess of Beaufort, painted in the 1770s. The delicate bluish range of colours in which the picture was painted emphasizes the refined, exalted beauty of the model. John Hoppner (Portrait of Sheridan) and the Scot Henry Raeburn (Portrait of Eleanor Bethune) were among the best known portrait painters of the eighteenth century. In his Approaching Storm, George Morland (1763-1804) created a typical eighteenth century English landscape, imbued with a keen perception of nature and enveloped in a mood of romanticism. Also by Morland are the small genre scenes Gypsies, Peasant at a Window and The Fish Seller.
The Hermitage possesses an unusually large collection of English ceramics, the appearance of which is associated with the name of Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795). The articles produced in the factory he founded, a new type of unglazed pottery in pale blue, violet and black with white, classical-style relief designs, became widely known in Europe. The Green Frog service, made at the Wedgwood factory in 1774 for Catherine II, is unique. The service consists of nine hundred and fifty-two pieces ornamented with English landscape scenes. The small shield containing the representation of a green frog painted on each piece gave the service its name.
Room 301. 19th century art. The English painting of the first half of the nineteenth century is illustrated by the work of such important portrait painters as Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and George Dawe (1781 -1829). Some idea of the success of realist trends in nineteenth century English landscape painting may be obtained from the small picture entitled Boats at a Shore by the talented Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828) and Landscape, painted by an unknown artist from the circle of John Constable.
Room 302. The last room of the English exhibition contains individual examples of the art of the second half of the nineteenth century. One item of interest is the large tapestry The Adoration of the Magi made from a drawing by Edward Burne-Jones (1823- 1898), who belonged to the pre-Raphaelite movement which sprang up in England in the 1840s.