Stringer, George P (2018) Tilly Kettle’s portraiture and the art of identity in eighteenth-century Britain and India. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

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This thesis examines the work of Tilly Kettle (1735-1786), the first professional British artist to work in India, and focuses on his portraiture in a quarter-century that saw Britain defeat European rivals during the Seven Years’ War, gain India, and lose America. One of an emergent group of artists responsible for creating a British school of portraiture, Kettle has never received a great deal of credit for his achievement, especially from art historians. Aside from J.D. Milner’s monograph in 1927, there has been no biographical appraisal of Kettle, who left no known writings but was a prolific artist, working in nonmetropolitan locations that have also received limited scholarly attention. This study uses Kettle’s paintings, primary evidence and newly discovered material to show how personal, artistic or national identities were being unsettled, reformed or re-framed during his day, and contends that portraiture reflected and impelled these changes, with social and cultural attitudes co-policed by empirical observation and aesthetic distinction. My analysis of Kettle’s artworks, the circumstances of their creation, and what can be inferred of his experience will relate him to these processes of identity formation, showing that he helped to shape debates as well as being controlled by them. In particular, I examine how his work influenced or echoed the motives behind national and imperial expansion. Kettle’s identity is seen as a three-part social construct: as a self-reflexive individual, as a national subject, and as a professional artist. My study timeframe allows a parallel view of history from Kettle’s perspective, connecting his key portraits with issues and events, from miraculous victories in 1759 to shock after American triumph in 1783. I conclude that Kettle’s art and career reflect an unfinished artistic self, patriotic but defensive, driven by the vagaries of taste, ambition and progress, and the futility of empire.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Embargo on access until 1 July 2023.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Contributors: Seager, NP (Thesis advisor)
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 01 Aug 2018 13:48
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2023 01:30

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