In the late 18th century, as a wave of English nationalism swept the country, the printseller John Boydell set out to create an ambitious exhibition space, one devoted to promoting and fostering a distinctly English style of history painting. With its very name, the Shakespeare Gallery signaled to Londoners that the artworks on display shared an undisputed quality and a national spirit. Exhibiting Englishness explores the responses of key artists of the period to Boydell's venture and sheds new light on the gallery's role in the larger context of British art.
Tracking the shift away from academic and Continental European styles of history painting, the book analyzes the works of such artists as Joshua Reynolds, Henry Fuseli, James Northcote, Robert Smirke, Thomas Banks, and William Hamilton, laying out their diverse ways of expressing notions of individualism, humor, eccentricity, and naturalism. Exhibiting Englishness also argues that Boydell's gallery radically redefined the dynamics of display and cultural aesthetics at that time, shaping both an English school of painting and modern exhibition practices.