Barely more animated are the English conversation pieces where, if the adults have the stylised hauteur of fish in brilliant livery, the little ones of the family, arrested by the painter in playful or light-hearted moments, suggest the image of darting minnows among the motionless, intent, mature fish. And these aquariums are lighted by the eighteenth century sun which seemed fated never to set.
In 1785, John Adams was appointed the first Ambassador to the Court of Saint James. Adams, questioned by an associate as to whether he had any British relatives, replied: “Neither my father or mother, grandfather or grandmother, great grandfather or great grandmother, nor any other relation that I know of, or care a farthing for, has been in England these one hundred and fifty years; so that you see I have not one drop of blood in my veins but what is American.” Regardless of the characteristic bluntness—some might say surliness—of his answer, Adams’s ambassadorship was a success. During his first meeting with King George III, his former sovereign, he nevertheless described himself as, “more fortunate than all my fellow Citizens in having the distinguished Honor to be the first to stand in your Majesty’s royal Presence in a diplomatic Character.” In his response to Adams the King concluded by saying, “ I will be very frank with you. I was the last to c onsent to the Separation, but the Separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the Friendship of the United States as an independent Power. . . let the Circumstances of Language; Religion and Blood have their natural and full Effect.”
Genieve Figgis’ first exhibition at Almine Rech Gallery stands as an eloquent testimony to the monarch’s prophesy; in All the Light We Cannot See, she rewrites the fashionable mid-eighteenth-century painting genre of “conversation pieces,” in a language of clotted blood and mystical delirium which reconstrues the proposed narrative as one of dissolution suffused in luxury.[…]