English art

English art

English art is the body of visual arts originating from the nation of England, in the form of a continuous tradition. Following historical surveys such as "Creative Art In England" by William Johnstone (1936 and 1950), Nikolaus Pevsner attempted a definition in his 1956 book "The Englishness of English Art", as did Sir Roy Strong in his 2000 book "The Spirit of Britain: A narrative history of the arts", and Peter Ackroyd in his 2002 book "The Origins of the English Imagination".

Although medieval English painting, mostly religious, had a strong national tradition and was at times influential on the rest of Europe, this was in decline from the 15th century and the Protestant Reformation not only brought the tradition to an abrupt stop but resulted in the destruction of almost all wall-paintings. Only illuminated manuscripts now survive in good numbers.

ixteenth and Seventeenth centuries

From the Renaissance until the early 18th century the best painters working in England were imported, often from Flanders. These included Hans Holbein the Younger, Van Dyck, Rubens, Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter Artemesia, Sir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller. An exception must be made for the portrait miniature, where a strong English tradition began with the Elizabethan Nicholas Hilliard, who had learnt from Continental artists, and continued with Isaac Oliver and many other artists. By the following century a number of significant English painters of fullsize portraits began to emerge, and towards the end of the century the other great English specialism, of landscape painting, also began to be practiced by natives. Both were heavily influenced by Anthony Van Dyck in particular, although he does not seem to have trained any English painters himself. During the 17th century the English nobility also became important collectors of European art, led by King Charles I and Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel in the first half of the century. By the end of the century the Grand Tour had become established for wealthy young Englishmen.

18th century

In the 18th century, English painting finally developed a distinct style and tradition again, still concentrating on portraits and landscapes, but also attempting to find a successful approach to history painting, regarded as the highest of the hierarchy of genres.

Sir James Thornhill's paintings were executed in the Baroque style of the European Continent and William Hogarth may be called the first English artist — English in habits, disposition, and temperament, as well as by birth. His satirical works, full of black humor, are originally English, pointing out to contemporary society the deformities, weaknesses and vices of London life.

Leading portraitists were Thomas Gainsborough; Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy of Arts; George Romney; and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Joseph Wright of Derby was well known for his minute candlelight pictures, George Stubbs for his animal paintings.

19th century

The early 19th century also saw the emergence of the Norwich school of painters. Influenced by Dutch landscape painting and the landscape of Norfolk, the Norwich School were the first provincial art-movement outside of London. Short-lived due to sparse patronage and internal faction prominent members include 'founding father' John Crome, John Sell Cotman notable for his water-colours in particular and the promising but short-lived maritime painter Joseph Stannard.

Paul Sandby was called the father of English watercolour painting. Other notable 18th and 19th-century landscape painters include Richard Wilson; George Morland; John Robert Cozens; Thomas Girtin; John Constable; J. M. W. Turner; and John Linnell.

The Pre-Raphaelite movement, established in the 1840s, dominated English art in the second half of the 19th century. Its members — William Holman Hunt; Dante Gabriel Rossetti; John Everett Millais and others — concentrated on religious, literary, and genre works executed in a colorful and minutely detailed almost photographic style.


Its earliest known developed form, one that continues to the present-day, is arguably the decorative surface pattern work exemplified by the Lindisfarne Gospels and the exterior carving of Anglo-Saxon churches and monuments. Ackroyd argues that the concern for a light and delicate outline, for surface pattern for its own sake, and for patterns and borders that threaten to overwhelm the portrayal of figures, have all been long-standing characteristics of a continuous English art. Other elements Ackroyd sees as inherited from the early Celtic church are a concern to portray the essence of animals, a tendency to understatement, and a concern for repeating structures that extends from Celtic knotwork to church organ music to Staffordshire ceramic-ware to stained glass windows and to the wallpapers of William Morris. Strong agrees with Ackroyd on all these points.

English anti-intellectualism has led them to easily mingle fiction with observed facts, in order to invent 'traditions', but this has often given fresh life to traditions that would otherwise have gone stale. Pevsner noted, in the context of a consummate arts professionalism, a detachment and self-effacement among artists that often led them to belittle the act of creation, and to be willing to give away their ideas to be re-used by other artists.

Royal collection

Charles I of England built up a great royal collection of art. This was largely saved for the nation, due to a combination of Cromwell's own inventory of the royal collection and the English Commonwealth's bureaucratic interia. So little had been sold by the time that Charles II was restored, that Charles was able to restore much of his late father's collection. [Brotton, Jerry. "The Sale of the Late King's Goods: Charles I and His Art Collection"]


It is popularly considered that English landscape painting typifies English art, inspired largely from the love of the pastoral arising from the poetry of Edmund Spenser, and mirroring as it does the development of larger country houses set in a pastoral rural landscape. Although it should be noted that English art lies equally in the tendency toward melancholia, often expressed as a love of the continuity of the past with the present, and a love of ghosts, and marvelous or gothic ruins.

As the population of England grew during the industrial revolution, a concern for privacy and smaller gardens becomes more notable in English art. There was also a new found appreciation of the open landscapes of romantic wilderness, and a concern for the ancient folk arts. William Morris is particularly associated with this latter trend, as were the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Another important influence, from about 1890 until 1926, was the growing knowledge about the visual art of Japan.

Being a coastal and sea-faring island nation, English art has often portrayed the coast and the sea. Being a nation of four distinct seasons, and changeable weather, weather effects have often been portrayed in English art. Weather and light effects on the English landscape have been a pre-eminent aspect of modern British landscape photography.

ee also

* Insular art
* List of British painters
* "The Analysis of Beauty" by William Hogarth (1753)
*Museums in England
*British art
*British photography
*English underground
*Arts Council England

Museums exhibiting English art

* British Museum
* Victoria and Albert Museum
* National Portrait Gallery
* National Gallery
* Tate Britain

Noted artists of the English style

*J. M. W. Turner
*William Hogarth
*William Blake
*Samuel Palmer
*Paul Nash
*Stanley Spencer
*Thomas Gainsborough
*John Constable
*L. S. Lowry
*Fay Godwin

Further reading

*Ellis Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain, 1530-1790", 4th Edn, 1978, Penguin Books (now Yale History of Art series)
*Nikolaus Pevsner, "The Englishness of English Art" (London, 1956)
*William Gaunt, "The Great Century of British Painting: Hogarth to Turner" (London, 1971)
*Joseph Burke, "English Art, 1714–1800" (Oxford, 1976)
*David Bindman (ed.), "The Thames and Hudson Encyclopaedia of British Art" (London, 1985)
*William Vaughan, "British Painting: The Golden Age from Hogarth to Turner" (London, 1999)


External links

* [http://ml.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/citation/I/4/359?ck=nck Article] by Philip Hagreen
* [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0027-4224(192007)1%3A3%3C269%3ATESOPI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-J JSTOR copy of article]

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