Reforming pantheons
Political group portraiture and history painting
in Politics personified
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This chapter shows how group portrait paintings could recast political events as part of a celebrated national narrative. It focuses on how portraits could function as aides-memoires to political partisanship or identity. Eminent artists such as Sir George Hayter and Benjamin Robert Haydon sought to capitalise on the popular enthusiasm for reform. Contemporary attitudes towards Hayter's and Haydon's paintings were partially influenced by political feeling. When Haydon's commission was first announced, the Whig Morning Chronicle hailed the commemoration of the new charter of liberty for the people. The problems encountered by Haydon and Hayter provided ample warning about the difficulties of monumental political group portraiture, and pictures on that scale were not attempted again. However, the genre was adaptable, and in the 1840s two of the most important middle-class pressure groups, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (BFASS) and the Anti-Corn Law League, commissioned smaller group portraits.

Politics personified

Portraiture, caricature and visual culture in Britain, c. 1830–80


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