By the second half of the 18th century, British society portraits by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds were painted on a grand scale in the European manner. George Stubbs’s equivalent representations of heroic racehorses were, however, uniquely British. Other family and group portraits by William Hogarth and Joseph Wright of Derby reflect more traditional preoccupations with mortality.
British painters also developed highly innovative approaches to landscape painting, while always keeping note of a wider European tradition. Gainsborough looked back to Rubens, while Turner drew on his knowledge of Dutch marine painting and of the French painter Claude. Yet both went on to develop free and personal styles of painting, in which the depiction of light was paramount.
Constable’s novel approach to landscape was received with more enthusiasm in France than in England. His large-scale paintings of rural scenes, based on oil sketches, elevated the recording of the immediacy of effects of light and weather to a new plane.