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Rediscovering British art


J.M.W. Turner, Staffa, Fingal’s Cave, 1831–32, oil on canvas
Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art

Jonathan Jones reports in the Guardian that the French are rediscovering, buying, and exhibiting British art,

Set British art of the 18th century and the Napoleonic age alongside that of other European countries, and it looks pretty good. Hogarth, Gainsborough, Stubbs, Gillray - amazing. What's more, 18th-century Britain was at the heart of the Enlightenment, an inspiration to French thinkers such as Voltaire. Unique creations such as Blake's illuminated books contributed to a dynamic visual culture.

Jones also reminded us of the Yale Center for British Art, “one of the most comprehensive representations of the visual arts of a single culture ever assembled.” Paul Mellon, an American who studied at Yale and Cambridge, and was awarded four Bronze stars during World War II, appreciated British art and had the money to collect it.

The Center celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this spring and the centennial of the birth of its founder, Paul Mellon, with an exhibit that will feature more than 250 drawings and watercolors by William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson, William Blake, and J.M.W. Turner, as well as splendid manuscripts and rare books, including colorplate books, maps and atlases, travel guides, and drawing manuals. The exhibition will highlight themes in British culture – early exploration, architecture, sport, travel, fashion, and the natural world. It opens April 18 in New Haven and runs through July 29, 2007.

Note on painting: Staffa is a small uninhabited island in the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. The place is famous for its caves and strange, columnlike formations of purple-gray basalt. The paddle-steamer is taking tourists to see Fingal, the most spectacular of the caves. It was discovered by chance by Joseph Banks, an extremely energetic naturalist, botanist and science patron who took part in Captain Cook's first great voyage to the Pacific and Australia.