Picturing an Englishman: The Art of Sir Henry William Bunbury, 1770-1787
Roche, Karen Marie
Thesis or dissertation
This thesis offers an entirely new perspective on the art of Sir Henry William Bunbury (1750-1811) through a close reading of a selection of his prints published between 1770 and 1787. The thesis suggests that Bunbury’s privileged social position enabled him to become an eloquent and influential visual spokesman for both his class and his generation. This thesis argues that Bunbury created iconic and influential images of ‘the Englishman’ in response to contemporary ideas regarding the Frenchman, the man of fashion, the soldier and performer, the amateur actor and the social and equestrian amateur. This thesis also suggests that Bunbury’s art raises important questions regarding eighteenth century culture, including the nature of visual entertainment, fashionable art and celebrity and the relationship between the amateur and the professional artist. The evaluation of Bunbury’s little-known prints emphasises their visual and cultural complexity and this contributes towards a new reading of the neglected historical period in which he operated. Chapter one analyses the image of the foreign other and examines the demand for images that reinforced a sense of national superiority. It also suggests that Bunbury’s successful graphic format reflected the audience desire to consume images that expressed an appetite for the amalgamation of fantasy with familiar experience. Chapter two explores the idea of social disguise and transformation in the figure of the English Macaroni. An examination of the ‘Promenade’ also suggests that Bunbury’s art capitalised on the audience’s need to view multiple reflections of itself. Chapter three assesses the concentration on visual entertainment as a reaction to impending conflict and concludes that Bunbury configured society in terms of an audience united in the act of spectating. Chapter four analyses the indulgence of all classes in visual escapism and dramatic role play and chapter five extends this discussion into Bunbury’s creation of large scale social and equestrian panoramas. These images reveal his artistic formulation of an inclusive and democratic society, presided over by the figure of the ideal Englishman as a gentleman and a soldier. The conclusion of this thesis is that a study of Bunbury’s neglected art offers a fresh and revealing insight into a period in the eighteenth century that has been consistently sidelined by criticism.
Doctor of Philosophy in English