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Artists' Letters: Leonardo da Vinci to David Hockney

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Four artists – Hughie O‘Donoghue RA, Maggi Hambling, Ishbel Myerscough and Mali Morris RA – describe works that resonate with them in our upcoming exhibition ‘Gauguin and the Impressionists’. He shared confidential information about RA elections 57 and asked Stephens to make announcements for him and thus spare him correspondence over matters that presumably piqued the public, such as a picture Leighton had withdrawn from the RA. The artwork features 48 kilometers (roughly 30 miles) of yarn in the colors purple, red and black, spelling out “TIGER TIME” on one wall and “UNMATTERING” on the opposite wall.

These letters were informed by a highly charged, though often friendly and amenable, discourse that could affect an artist’s very livelihood and public image. Letters reveal artworld networks, the complex intertwined social and professional ties among all artworld players, as artists attempted to be successful in both the canon and the market, sites often incompatible with one another and thus requiring different rhetorical tactics. Rome et l’Europe 1750–1850’ investigates the changing contours of the European art world through the correspondences of the artists living and working in Rome in the period spanning from 1750 to 1850.As Yinka Shonibare RA prepares to wrap the Academy’s Burlington Gardens façade in his bold designs, Fiona Maddocks visits the sculptor at his warehouse studio in east London. forms of capital (cultural, social honorific, symbolic) generally do overlap: ‘It is convenient to think of holdings in these four kinds of capital as spiritual resources; combined with economic resources they form a personal patrimony’.

But many artists wrote letters to those in the same town (letters were delivered several times a day in Victorian London), indicating that letters had other functions and that meeting with their addressees was not a substitute for letter writing. I shall easily be able to sell it however so these sums be added to our [italics mine] prospective total’.Through letters, artists and critics revealed their reciprocal authority and agency and did not simply reflect the artworld but shaped that world. Here is a good example of the required rhetorical gymnastics of artists’ letters to critics: the need to express a view, and even a vulnerability to remind the critic of the effects of criticism, and then softening that reminder to maintain much-needed goodwill with the critic.

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