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The military in British art, 1815-1914

In an age when engraving and photography were making artistic images available to a much wider public, artists were able to influence public attitudes more powerfully than ever before. This book examines works of art on military themes in relation to ruling-class ideologies about the army, war and the empire. The first part of the book is devoted to a chronological survey of battle painting, integrated with a study of contemporary military and political history. The chapters link the debate over the status and importance of battle painting to contemporary debates over the role of the army and its function at home and abroad. The second part discusses the intersection of ideologies about the army and military art, but is concerned with an examination of genre representations of soldiers. Another important theme which runs through the book is the relation of English to French military art. During the first eighty years of the period under review France was the cynosure of military artists, the school against which British critics measured their own, and the place from which innovations were imported and modified. In every generation after Waterloo battle painters visited France and often trained there. The book shows that military art, or the 'absence' of it, was one of the ways in which nationalist commentators articulated Britain's moral superiority. The final theme which underlies much of the book is the shifts which took place in the perception of heroes and hero-worship.

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J.W.M. Hichberger

pervasive myth of British anti-militarism. Almost all nineteenth-century writers on the army and the State, prior to the Boer War at least, agreed that Britain was not a military nation. The belief was reiterated even in the face of the phenomenon of ‘jingoism’. The term was coined in 1878, but the reality was discernible much earlier, before the Crimean campaign in 1854. The feverish desire for war was attributed by such

in Images of the army
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J.W.M. Hichberger

The Crimean war, as we have seen, was used as evidence of the aristocracy’s ‘unfitness’ to rule the army. The middle classes increasingly claimed the right to a voice in its administration, and the system of purchase once more came under attack. It was the ranks which were the chief focus of middle-class agitation. The daily life of the common soldier was examined in a

in Images of the army
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J.W.M. Hichberger

The period 1885–1914 was the most prolific time for the production of battle paintings and other celebrations of the military glory of the empire. Despite the preoccupation of the middle classes with army and empire, it is perhaps not enough to speak of the pictures as merely ‘celebratory’. It was rather a time in which battle paintings showed a redefinition or hardening

in Images of the army
J.W.M. Hichberger

relationships. It is intended here to separate out some of those meanings and to suggest the ways in which they can be considered in relation to ideologies of the army held by the ruling class. An examination of the representation of the military and civilians in Academy painting in the nineteenth century again reveals a marked difference between works produced either side of the dividing era

in Images of the army
J.W.M. Hichberger

examined in the context of contemporary ideologies of the army and military-civil relations. Recruitment Paintings of this subject appeared only rarely in the Royal Academy exhibitions of the period 1815–1914. The genre had a wider currency, however, and appeared frequently in other exhibitions and in the form of engraving and popular prints. The four pictures discussed below

in Images of the army
J.W.M. Hichberger

endorsed the view of the bourgeois media during the campaign that the aristocrats who commanded the army had failed their country and that only the heroism of the ordinary soldiers had won the war. 6 As we have seen, this mythology had played an important part on the emergent middle classes claim to control of the army which culminated in the Cardwell reforms. The army of 1874, whose senior ranks were to

in Images of the army
J.W.M. Hichberger

a permanent pension and consigned in theory to the care of relatives or friends. The size of the award depended on the nature and extent of his afflictions. The inadequacies of Army pensions and the fact that after several years military service many had no friends or relatives upon whom to depend led them to destitution or the workhouse. 1

in Images of the army
J.W.M. Hichberger

achievement with national glory. The equation would scarcely have been popular with those politicians who saw a standing army as an anti-democratic instrument of repression. In the early 1840s the army’s popularity with the bourgeoisie was low. In 1840 the first of a number of attempts to reduce aristocratic influence over the army was launched in a move to abolish promotion by the purchase of commissions. In

in Images of the army
J.W.M. Hichberger

exactness suggestive incidents in the byways of a campaign; but the great battles that decide the fate of armies and of great empires are now almost always left without record. 1 This quotation from the journal Art and Letters was written in 1881 – 82. The author has obviously identified what he/she believes to be a radically

in Images of the army