This year has seen the rise of proposals to slow or even halt migration in Europe and America. This is seen as a recent phenomenon which some claim to be destroying societies and our economies. It appears likely that, in the near future, several governments will be using enhanced powers to stop the movement of people across borders.
For anyone who knows anything about art (or science, or a good many other fields of human endeavour), free movement has long been essential. This article looks at just a small selection of painters who have come to the UK and left it a culturally richer place.
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was born in what is now Germany, after his Flemish family had fled there because of religious persecution. He moved back to Antwerp as a child, then lived intermittently in London from 1627, mainly on diplomatic missions. King Charles I knighted him in 1630.
Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) (1697–1768) was born in Venice. When work there fell off as a result of the War of the Austrian Succession, he moved to London in 1746, and painted there until returning to Venice in 1755.
Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) was born in Switzerland and brought up in Austria. When she was travelling in Italy, she was invited by the British ambassador’s wife to come to London, where she arrived in about 1765. She was one of only two women among the founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768, and was a hugely popular portraitist and painter of history.
Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) was born as Johann Heinrich Füssli in Zürich, Switzerland. He fled from Switzerland after helping to expose an unjust magistrate, arriving in England in 1765. He became a full member of the Royal Academy in 1790, was appointed professor of painting there in 1799, and Keeper in 1803.
Philip Hermogenes Calderon (1833–1898) was born in Poitiers, France, the son of a former Spanish Roman Catholic priest, who converted to Anglicanism and became a professor of Spanish literature at King’s College, London. His mother was French. He studied in London at first, then went to Paris as a pupil in the studio of François-Edouard Picot from 1851. He painted for the rest of his career in London, and in 1887 was appointed Keeper at the Royal Academy, a senior role in the British art establishment.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, and moved with his family to Saint Petersburg in Russia in 1843. In 1859, he moved from Paris to London, which remained his adopted home until he returned to Paris in 1892.
Claude Monet (1840–1926) was born in Paris, and moved to Le Havre. When the Franco-Prussian War started in 1870, Monet and his family fled to London, where they saw the works of Constable and Turner. He submitted paintings for the Royal Academy exhibition in early 1871, but they were refused. He left London for Zaandam in the Netherlands, returning to France later that year.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was born on the then Danish island of Saint Thomas, in the West Indies. His father was French, of Portugese Jewish origins. He moved to Paris in 1855. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, he fled with his family to live in Norwood, then a village outside London. He returned to France in 1871, but visited England again in 1890, 1892, and 1897.
James (Jacques Joseph) Tissot (1836-1902) was born in Nantes, France. His life changed dramatically with the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He served in the National Guard in the defence of Paris, following which he may have become involved in the Commune, perhaps to protect his own property. When the Commune was suppressed, Tissot fled to London, where he arrived in June 1871 with just a hundred francs to his name. When his partner Kathleen Newton died of tuberculosis in late 1882, Tissot quickly abandoned London and returned to Paris.
Giuseppe De Nittis (1846–1884) was born in Barletta, Italy, and studied in Naples. He travelled to London to paint there between 1871 and 1875, when he was based in Paris.
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) was born in Dronrijp, in the north of the Netherlands. Following the death of his wife from smallpox in 1869, his own health faltered, and visited London for further medical opinion. With the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Alma-Tadema fled to London, where he enjoyed great success. In 1873 Queen Victoria made him an official ‘Denizen’, which gave him most of the rights of citizenship, and he was later knighted.
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and trained in New York. He became more reclusive during the 1870s, and travelled to the UK to spend 1881-2 in the coastal village of Cullercoats, Tyne and Wear, in the north-east of England. There his subjects were the people in the local community and their lives in relationship with the sea, including the local fishing industry.
Tom (Thomas William) Roberts (1856-1931) emigrated as a child from England to Australia. He returned to study at the Royal Academy Schools in London between 1881-5, afterwards going back to become a major painter in Australia.
Anna Massey Lea Merritt (1844–1930) was born and brought up in Philadelphia. When she was just twenty, she moved with her family to Europe, and by 1870 they were living in London. There she met and married Henry Merritt (1822-1877), a minor painter, restorer, and writer on art, who died three months after their wedding, leaving her to make her own living as a painter.
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was an American who was born in Florence, whilst his family were travelling in Europe. Following training in France, he enjoyed a successful career as a portraitist in France, then moved to London in 1886, where he was based until his death. He was the most sought-after portrait painter in Britain during the later years of the nineteenth century. During the First World War, he was commissioned as an official War Artist by the British government.
Marianne Preindlsberger, better known as Marianne Stokes (1855-1927) was born in Graz, Austria and met Johann Strauss, who dedicated a polka-mazurka, Licht und Schatten (Light and Shadow), to her in 1875. Following her marriage to Adrian Stokes, she moved in 1886 to London, then undertook long painting tours with her husband in Hungary in 1905, 1907, 1908.
Émile Claus (1849-1924) was born and brought up in a village in West Flanders, Belgium. He fled to London when the First World War broke out, and painted there until returning to Belgium in 1918.
There were also very many painters from Britain, America, and other countries who travelled to the European continent to undertake some or all of their training. A few, such as Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), remained working in Europe for the rest of their careers. I mention just two British examples from the nineteenth century.
Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) was born in Paris to British parents, his father being in the silk trade. He studied business in London between 1857-1861, but returned to Paris to study painting. He lived and worked in France for almost all his career, but made several trips to England, where he painted very British scenes. He finally married in Cardiff, Wales, just two years before his wife and he died.
Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830–1896) was a bastion of the arts establishment in the UK in the late nineteenth century, being the President of the Royal Academy from 1878 to 1896. He trained under the Austrian history painter Eduard von Steinle, Giovanni (Nino) Costa, a Roman member of the Macchiaioli, at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, and then lived in Paris from 1855-1859, before returning to the UK.
I am sure that you can think of many more examples too.
Art knows no boundaries. To prevent the migration of people is to stifle society, our arts, and our culture.