So, why is a "language" learning website using art rather than stock images of happy students?
Well, these images are products of their times, representing things that, even today, have a key impact on Anglo-American culture - the Protestant work ethic, the Agrarian Revolution, the Industrial Revolution..., all of which drive the way people THINK and the assumptions even beliefs that are critical to the way native speakers communicate in English.
Thus a manager in any Anglo-American company will have expectations of HOW things should be done which are almost invariably unsaid and never taught as a part of language but if you understand her or his (her deliberately first) cultural background you can start to understand the non-verbals parts of communication any native speaker understands without even thinking about it, almost like how to breath.
Art is useful as a code, a way of representing and understanding those key moments and cultural drivers of communication.
As an introduction we include the images you will find in this website
The Fighting Temeraire (1839) by JMW Turner
Our home page could only have been the Fighting Temeraire. Without question the painting most beloved by the British and Turner himself, who refused to sell it or even lend it, despite being offered exorbitant sums of money. The painting was bequeathed to the nation on his death and it is possible to admire it at the National Gallery in London.
HMS Temeraire is, along with HMS Victory, the symbol of the Battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Nelson and beyond that, of the invincibility of the Royal Navy, as well as its military, economic and political power.
This power was the result of the birth of the Bank of England during the reign of William of Orange (1689-1702). The primary purpose of the bank was the rebuilding of the Royal Navy, which became an expression of the country’s naval dominance. By doing this, the Bank catalysed Britain’s status as the global power.
Through the magic formula of debt financing, in just 12 days, the Bank raised £1.2 million, half of which was used to rebuild the Royal Navy. The consequence of this was the complete transformation of Britain’s industry and agriculture to create the biggest Navy in the world and feed and supply it, which made possible its ascent to become the global power through tremendous feats of organisation.
The Temeraire was manned by 750 sailors and equipped with 98 cannons. She had, along with the Victory, a vital role in the Battle of Trafalgar. The heroics of the ship’s sailors and her Captain, Sir Eliab Harvey, forced two French ships, the Redoutable and the Fougueux, to surrender. The story of the Temeraire was so ingrained in the collective mind and consciousness of the British people that the House of Commons passed a special vote of thanks to three men: Nelson, Captain Collingwood of the Royal Sovereign and Harvey.
The Temeraire remained in service until 1838, when the decision was taken to decommission and break her up, to make way for new steam-engined ships. Turner shows the moment when the ship is pulled along the quiet waters of the river Thames in a fiery sunset, a symbol and reminder of the casualties of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Subtle white brushstrokes, spread over the blues, the oranges and the reds, make the reflections of the water and the light of the sky more transparent; the contours and contrasts are not precise or sharp but hazy and softened in a veil made of light, fog, reflections, making possible the evocation of feelings and emotions full of nostalgia for a past that’s fading.
It is a sublime and dignified journey towards death, in which the Temeraire appears to us white, almost a ghost with touches of gold, reminiscent of her heroic past. The steam tug, depicted as a dark mass, is the "future", it is the new technology that marks the end of the glorious sailing tradition. Thus, past and future both reflect themselves in the tranquil and transparent waters of the Thames, both telling us the history of a nation and her people.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough 1750
Thomas Gainsborough was hugely successful as a portraitist but in reality far preferred landscape painting – which paid less well.
This early painting though is highly unusual in mixing the two forms, showing the newly married Andrews in their estate and presenting them as modern landlords: their wheat cultivated efficiently using Jethro Tull’s seed drills, which produced wheat in neat rows - notably increasing productivity.
It was the agrarian revolution that reduced the cost of production of staple foods, taking productivity to world-leading levels and freeing up (even forcing) labour to work in industry. British agriculture has remained among the most efficient in Europe - a cause of difficulty in the relationship with the EU where agricultural subsidies have been targeted at the small farmer, that virtually ceased to exist more than a century ago in the UK.
The agrarian revolution also required large scale organisation - it is no accident that current project management certifications such as PMP/Prince2 or Quality certifications (ISO9001) evolved in the Anglo-American business world.
Mr and Mrs Andrews can be seen at the National Gallery in London.
An Iron Forge (1772) - Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97)
Joseph Wright of Derby was in many ways the first professional artist to paint the industrial revolution.
This painting is a classic example of Wright's work, showing the proud Iron-Founder with his family, representing the growing confidence of the middle classes. He stands there calmly supervising, dressed quite fashionably, with his new water-powered forge which has certainly lightened his workload. His physique and the happy family also reinforce the middle class idea of hard work producing domestic bliss - a representation of the "Protestant Work Ethic" that even now affects the culture of the UK, USA & Northern Europe.
Wright was significant for bringing the Industrial revolution into art, not surprisingly given he painted mainly in Derby in Northern England, one of the towns central to the revolution.
This picture is on display at the Tate Britain at Millbank, close to the Houses of Parliament in London.
The Heart of the Empire, Niels Moeller Lund, 1904
Niels Moeller Lund although Danish was brought up in the Industrial North East of England in Newcastle.
The Heart of the Empire is perhaps his most famous work, capturing the centre of the British Empire at its zenith with a view of St. Pauls and "the Old Lady of Threadneedle street" - the Bank of England - which was responsible for the rapid growth in the use of debt finance, which was so essential to the growth of commerce and the empire.
The picture can be seen at the Guildhall Gallery in the City of London.
Photo by Stephen C Dickson
Ponte Nomentano, Rome. Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97)
This picture, only recently attributed to Wright, was a product of his two year (1773-75) visit to Italy to study and practice art. Unusually Wright was already an established artist not on the Grand Tour.
For us this picture represents the benefit of Travel as a way of understanding a people and the underlying culture that acts as the bedrock for communication. English for instance has many nautical idioms such as
To know the ropes.
To show someone the ropes
Take the wind out of someone's sails
A loose cannon
A shot across the bows.
All fruit of a rich maritime experience and then there's very common Bridge idioms such as
A bridge too far
To build bridges
Ponte Nomentano can be found in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery
The Strand, Derby, Derbyshire DE1 1BS England.
There's a very good YouTube video of the uncovering, restoration and attribution of this picture to Jospeh Wright featuring the well known Art Historian/Art Detective Bendor Grosvenor.