Sketching and the Acquisition of Taste: Wordsworth, Reynolds, and Sir George Beaumont

Jessica Fay

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Using evidence from the unpublished correspondence of Sir George Beaumont, this essay establishes that the patronage, friendship, and eventual collaboration between Beaumont and William Wordsworth were rooted in a shared appreciation for the moral and aesthetic principles articulated in Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses on Art. While Beaumont’s commitment to Reynolds’s teaching is known to have guided his patronage and collecting, the influence of Reynolds on Wordsworth has received little sustained attention. The essay argues that central concepts from the Discourses are complexly entwined with Wordsworth’s
thinking about the acquisition of taste. Wordsworth and Reynolds were both committed to the refinement of the nation’s taste and placed ‘mental labour’ at the centre of that process. While Reynolds excluded sketches from this scheme, Wordsworth crafted literary ‘sketches’ that encouraged the exertion of the requisite ‘mental labour’. At a time when William Gilpin’s essays and guidebooks had popularized picturesque sketching, Wordsworth shifted ‘sketching’ away from its associations with dilettantism, easefulness, and levity by (paradoxically) infusing the genre with Reynoldsian dignity and difficulty. As Beaumont
produced paintings to accompany Wordsworth’s poems he began to develop what he called a ‘sketcheresque’ style, which combined his commitment to Reynolds with a new admiration for Wordsworth’s ‘sketches’.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhgx138
Pages (from-to)706-724
Number of pages19
JournalReview of English Studies
Issue number291
Early online date28 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


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