At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, a new generation of painters led by the precociously talented David Wilkie took London's art world by storm. Their vel approach to the depiction of everyday life marked the beginning a trajectory that links the art of the Age of Revolution with the postmodern culture of today. What emerged from the imagery of Wilkie and other early 19th-century British genre painters-among them William Mulready, Edward Bird, and the controversial watercolorist Thomas Heaphy-was a sense that common people were increasingly bound up with the exceptional events of history, that traditional boundaries between country and city were melting away, and that a more regularized and dynamic present was everywhere encroaching upon the customary patterns of the past.
David H. Solkin is professor of the social history of art, Courtauld Institute of Art. He is the author of Painting for Money: The Visual Arts and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century England and editor of Art on The Line: The Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836, both published by Yale.