ADDRESSES: Offıce—Department of the History of Art, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Art historian, educator, and author. University of Warwick, History of Art Department, professor. National Gallery, Washington, DC, curator of major exhibition of the works of Thomas Gainsborough, 2003.
(With Robert McPherson) Constable's Country: ALoan Exhibition at Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, Suffolk 5-27th June 1976, Gainsborough's House (Sudbury, Suffolk, England), 1976.
Hogarth, Jupiter Books (London, England), 1980.
British Landscape Painting, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1982.
Constable, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Katharine Baetjer) Glorious Nature: BritishLandscape Painting, 1750-1850 (catalogue), Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 1993.
The Art of Thomas Gainsborough: "A Little Business for the Eye," Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1999.
(Editor, with Martin Myrone and Rica Jones) Gainsborough, Tate (London, England), 2002.
Also contributor to books, including Double Vision: Art Histories and Colonial Histories in the Pacific, edited by N. Thomas and D. Losche, Cambridge University Press, 1999; and Heads of the People: A Portrait of Colonial Australia, edited by T. Bonyhady and A. Sayer, National Gallery of Australia (Canberra, Australia), 2000.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Articles and a book about early colonial art in Australia.
SIDELIGHTS: An expert on British social and cultural history, particularly of the eighteenth century, Michael Rosenthal has written several books on eighteenth-century art. In British Landscape Painting, for one, Rosenthal provides a brief, scholarly survey of Britain's landscape painting from the Restoration to the Victorian era and beyond, complete with 177 illustrations. "Michael Rosenthal is concerned with the meaning of landscape painting and the conventions through which artists achieved their ends," wrote Richard Shone in the Spectator. For example, Rosenthal discusses landscape painting as an inventory of the land, houses, livestock, and acreage owned by a family. Other artists were also concerned with providing a social critique of rural life. While Rosenthal focuses on the purpose and meanings behind many of the paintings, Shone pointed out that he "is not insensible to the purely pictorial attributes of landscape painting." Writing in Choice, a reviewer noted, "The text is accurate if brief and unexciting." However, the reviewer added, "This book fulfills a need and will be useful." In his review, Shone commented that he found the complete book "unsatisfactory" because its theory of landscape painting did not "encompass the worlds of the imagination, of spiritual release, of psychological motivation." Nevertheless, Shone recommended the book "in its earlier pages, for the questions it airs and sometimes answers, and for its refreshing comments on some of the sacred cows of recent historical rehabilitation."
In Constable: The Painter and His Landscape, Rosenthal provides an analysis of the early nineteenth-century English painter John Constable. The son of a prosperous mill owner who owned and managed large tracts of land, Constable developed a unique style of painting, focusing on a landscape with which he was intimately familiar from his youth. As noted by John Spurling in the New Statesman, Constable saw landscape "the way a late eighteenth-century farmer liked to see it, as a picture of industry and contentment, endorsing the society and constitution of a happy, unrevolutionary England." Writing in the Kenyon Review, Barry Weller commented that Rosenthal portrays Contstable's work as a type of "georgic," that is, a poem dealing with agriculture. Weller added, "The topic is not novel, but the wealth of sociological, biographical, historical and ideological items with which Rosenthal enlarges his theme gives this fundamentally literary mode unusual density." In the London Review of Books, Nicholas Penny noted that Rosenthal supplies the reader "with fascinating material concerning the design of ploughs, useful references to the Constable family's commercial interests culled from the local newspapers, and an enclosure map." The reviewer also commented that Rosenthal "expounds expertly the religious and patriotic sentiments so strikingly mingled with materialist pride in the pastoral poetry of this period."
Rosenthal served as the coeditor of Prospects for the Nation: Recent Essays in British Landscape, 1750-1880. This collection of fourteen essays with an introduction by Rosenthal provides "the general reader a snapshot of the state of art-historical landscape studies in the mid 1990s," noted Robert J. Mayhew in the Journal of Historical Geography. In his introduction, Rosenthal notes, "These essays confirm that landscape painting, aesthetics and politics in Britain are not only indissolubly linked but also demanding of scrupulous and sophisticated analysis." Writing in Albion, Susan P. Casteras said, "The Introduction does an excellent job surveying the state of the field in the past twenty years."
Rosenthal turned his eye to the life and prodigious output of English artist Thomas Gainsborough in The Art of Thomas Gainsborough: "A Little Business for the Eye." Born in 1727, Gainsborough was nearly illiterate. Nevertheless, by the time he died in 1888, Gainsborough had gained worldwide renown as a genius who not only used outrageous techniques but was adept at viewing his art as a business and was able to successfully market it for his financial gain. As noted by Jenny Uglow in the Sunday Times, Gainsborough's techniques supposedly included using huge brushes that could be up to six-feet long and modeling "his landscapes using mirrors for lakes, coal for rocks and broccoli for trees." Gainsborough also painted with his fingers, sponges, and even sugar tongs.
In the first half of The Art of Thomas Gainsborough, Rosenthal focuses on Gainsborough's efforts to establish his career in painting, from his studies as a student in London to his studies of portraiture in Sudbury to his return to London and his ultimate success. The second half of the book discusses the various thematic influences in Gainsborough's career and the artist's painting techniques. The reader also learns "how his practice developed in response to the changing art market and the new exhibition spaces of the 1760s," noted Uglow. The reviewer went on to comment, "Rosenthal's fine study allows us to appreciate both the beauty and complexity of his art and its enduring modernity." In the International Journal of Art & Design, reviewer Kate Retford noted that the book was sometimes repetitive and that other books might be more rewarding in providing "an easily digestible potted history of the life and work of the author." However, the reviewer praised the illustrations and noted that "as a book on the eighteenth-century art world and the problems and challenges faced by artists in that period, it is exemplary." Jack Perry Brown, writing in the Library Journal, called the book on Gainsborough "an accessible, thorough, and generously illustrated look at his life and art and their context."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Rosenthal, Michael, Christiana Payne, and Scott Wilcox, editors, Prospects for the Nation: Recent Essays in British Landscape, 1750-1880, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1997.
Albion, fall, 1998, Susan P. Casteras, review of Prospects for the Nation, pp. 529-530.
Art Book, June, 1998, Judith Bumpus, review of Prospects for the Nation, pp. 8-10.
Choice, October, 1982, review of British LandscapePainting, p. 256; May, 1994, T. J. McCormick, review of Glorious Nature: British Landscape Painting, 1750-1850, p. 1424.
International Journal of Art & Design, October, 2000, Kate Retford, review of The Art of Thomas Gainsborough: "A Little Business for the Eye," pp. 364-365.
Journal of Historical Geography, July, 1999, Robert J. Mayhew, review of Prospects for the Nation, pp. 409-411.
Kenyon Review, winter, 1985, Barry Weller, review of Constable: The Painter and His Landscape, pp. 114-119.
Library Journal, March 15, 2000, Jack Perry Brown, review of The Art of Thomas Gainsborough, p. 80; June 1, 2001, Sandra Rothenberg, review of Thomas Gainsborough, p. 112.
London Review of Books, November 3, 1983, Nicholas Penny, review of Constable, p. 22.
New Statesman, September 23, 1983, John Spurling, review of Constable, p. 32.
Spectator, July 24, 1982, Richard Shone, review of Constable, pp. 21-22.
Sunday Times (London, England), November 21, 1999, Jenny Uglow, review of The Art of Thomas Gainsborough, p. 44.
University of Warwick,http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/ (February 1, 2003), "Professor Michael Rosenthal."*