The English school of painting is an expression for English (or British) painters who produced characteristically English paintings.
Generally, the term "school" is used to designate a special collection of traditions and processes, a particular method, a peculiar style in design, and an equally peculiar taste in coloring - all contributing to the representation of a national ideal existing in the minds of native artists at the same time. However, the term cannot be used in this way to characterize English art, because there is an absence of any national tradition that strikes one most forcibly in studying English painting. Each English painter seems to stand by himself - isolated from his brother artists. For the sake of brevity, all these separate manifestations are grouped together under the name of "English school of painting". Therefore, the term, primarily used in late 18th- and early 19th-century artists' biographies, may be called a construction.
Many scholars say there was no English school of painting before the 18th century, as the most important painters who worked in England came from abroad and English art lovers only liked paintings of foreign old masters. In those days the wealthy British nobility visited foreign countries where they acquired a large acquaintance with European, chiefly Italian, art and its many schools. (See also Grand Tour.) As Sir James Thornhill's paintings were executed in the Baroque style of the European Continent, William Hogarth may be called the first genuine English artist - English in habits, disposition, and temperament, as well as by birth. His satirical works, full of black humor, are originally English, pointing out to contemporary society the deformities, weaknesses and vices of London life.
Some other experts are of the opinion that, in the 17th century, the Flemish painter Sir Anthony van Dyck, who came to London in 1732, may be called the founder of an English school of painting, as many English portraitists were his artistic heirs. However, Van Dyck was born in Antwerp. Many other important artists from abroad, such as Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir Peter Lely or Sir Godfrey Kneller, settled for long periods in Britain, where they had a great influence on native painting.
In the 18th and early 19th century, a number of outstanding British artists produced portraits. Among them were Thomas Gainsborough; Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy of Arts; George Romney; Sir Henry Raeburn; and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Joseph Wright of Derby was well known for his minute candlelight pictures, George Stubbs for his animal paintings. Paul Sandby was called the father of English watercolor painting. Notable landscape painters were Richard Wilson; George Morland; John Robert Cozens; Thomas Girtin; John Constable; J.M.W. Turner; and John Linnell. The Pre-Raphaelite movement, established in the 1840s, dominated English art in the second half of the 19th century. Its members - William Holman Hunt; Dante Gabriel Rossetti; John Everett Millais and others - concentrated on religious, literary, and genre subjects executed in a colorful and minutely detailed style.
See also List of British painters