University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
The Art in Great Britain
The definition of art is controversial in contemporary philosophy. The very idea of art has also been a matter of controversy. The philosophical usefulness of a definition of art has also been debated on. Contemporary definitions are of two main sorts. One distinctively modern, conventionalist, sort of definition focuses on art’s institutional features, emphasizing the way in which art changes over time, modern works that appear to break radically with all traditional art, and the relational properties of artworks that depend on the works’ relations to art history, art genres, etc. The less conventionalist sort of contemporary definition makes use of a broader, more traditional concept of aesthetic properties that includes more than art-relational ones, and focuses on art’s pan-cultural and trans-historical characteristics.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, painting is the expression of ideas and emotions, with the creation of certain aesthetic qualities, in a two dimensional visual language. The elements of this language —its shapes, lines, colours, tones, and textures—are used in various ways to produce sensations of volume, space, movement, and light on a flat surface.
”The oldest art in England can be dated to the Neolithic period, including the large ritual landscapes such as Stonehenge from c. 2600 BC. From around 2150 BC, the Beaker people learned how to make bronze, and use both tin and gold. They became skilled in metal refining and works of art placed in graves or sacrificial pits have survived. In the Iron Age, a new art style arrived as Celtic culture spread across the British isles. Though metalwork, especially gold ornaments, was still important, stone and most likely wood was also used. This style continued into the Roman period, beginning in the 1st century BC, and would find a renaissance in the Medieval period. The arrival of the Romans brought the Classical style of which many monuments have survived, especially funerary monuments, statues and busts. They also brought glasswork and mosaics. In the 4th century, a new element was introduced as the first Christian art was made in Britain. Several mosaics with Christian symbols and pictures have been preserved.
The style of Romano-British art follows that of the continent, there are some local specialities, influenced by Celtic art; the Staffordshire Moorlands Pan is one example.”( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_art#Earliest_art) The Romantic period (in the second half of the 18th century in Europe) produced the very diverse talents of William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, John Constable and Samuel Palmer. The Victorian period saw a great diversity of art, and a far larger quantity created than before. In the 19th century publicly displayed religious art once again became popular, after a virtual absence since the Reformation ( the English Reformation was the series of events in 16th-century England by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church).
„What happens to the imagination in a society that distrusts images? What do artists do when their work has been outlawed? In the immediate aftermath of the Reformation painters and sculptors became refugees. Their main employer, the Church had dispensed with their services and their visions of dread and consolation had been exorcized. Now they would have to put the imagination to other uses and find other places in which to express it. They would have to adapt to new circumstances and find new opportunities if their skills and their capacity for dreming were to persist. Looking at British art of this period is like watching a house at night.
Lights go out in some rooms and come on in others, sometimes where you least expect them.” ( A History of British Art, Andrew Graham-Dixon, published by BBC Worldwide Limited, 1999). The British contribution to early Modernist art (from the 1860s to the 1970s), was relatively small, but since World War II British artists have made a considerable impact on Contemporary art (art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II), especially with figurative work, and Britain remains a key centre of an increasingly globalized art world.
1. English Art over time:
• The Medieval period (10th–15th centuries)
The painting and sculpture of this period was religious and sometimes had an international rather than distinctively national character. The Middle Ages and their legacy:
“It is usual to regard English painting as beginning with the Tudor period and for this there are several reasons. When Henry VIII abolished Papal authority in England in 1534 and ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536 he automatically brought to an end the tradition of religious art as it had been practiced in the Middle Ages and in monastic centres. The break was so complete that painting before and after seem entirely different things, in subject, style and medium.”(A Concise History of English Painting, William Gaunt, Thames and Hudson, London, 1964). Painting was practised in England for many hundreds of years before the first Tudor came to the throne. “The development of linear design in which English artists have always excelled can be traced back to the earliest illuminations, which witness a great flowering of Christian art in the British Isles.
It may be called an Anglo-Hibernian art, brilliantly evolved in Irish monastic centres and brought to Northumbria in the seventh century. The linear style took its way southwards. It was practised in the scriptoria of monastic studios of York, St. Albans, Glastonbury, Winchester, Canterbury. There was always a sort of influence between England and the Continent. England in the Anglo-Saxon period was influenced by a style of free outline drawing, ultimately derived from classical models. The Carolingian Utrecht Psalter of the early ninth century, once kept at Canterbury Cathedral, with its freely sketched pen groups became a model for English artists, especially of those of Winchester, long a principal seat of Anglo-Saxon and later of Gothic art.” (A Concise History of English Painting, William Gaunt, Thames and Hudson, London, 1964).
In the development of Gothic painting, from the thirteen century, England and France came so close together that it is possible to speak of an “English Channel” School. In that period there was a tendency in wall paintings, in cathedrals such St. Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster, Eton College Chapel, the Norwich Cathedral. Portraiture was another element used in the Middle ages. It was especially in the form of royal iconography. A good example is the portrait of Richard II in Westminster Abbey by an unknown artist, still impressive in design though it has been much repainted.
• Tudor and Elizabethan: 15th–16th centuries
The Italian sculptor Torrigiano introduced the Renaissance style in his tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey (1512–18). In Elizabeth’s reign English painters developed a distinctive style in the portrait miniature. Nicholas Hilliard and his pupil Isaac Oliver were the outstanding figures. Portraiture was to become one of English art’s most enduring achievements.
• 17th century:
In this period the English art was once again revitalized by foreign artists, in particular the Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens, who visited England briefly, and Anthony van Dyck, who settled in England to become court painter to Charles I.
• 18th century:
English art at last became robustly independent, with great achievements in portraiture and landscape. Portraiture was transformed by two outstanding figures, Gainsborough and Reynolds. Both brought a new subtlety and refinement to portraits, their images an expression of the wealth and confidence of English society. The Royal Academy was founded in 1768, and as its first president Reynolds was able to promote a classicism based on art of the Italian High Renaissance. Landscape painting was established in England by the work of foreign artists such as Canaletto. The first British artist to excel at landscape was Richard Wilson.
• 19th century:
The Pre-Raphaelite movement, which was established in the 1840s, dominated English art for the rest of the century. Its members – such as Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Everett Millais – concentrated on religious, literary, and genre subjects, their style was colourful and minutely detailed. By the end of the century English art was being influenced by French artists, in particular Edgar Degas and the Impressionists.
• 20th century:
In 1910 an exhibition arranged by the critic Roger Fry introduced English artists to post-Impressionism (a theory or practice of art originating in France in the last quarter of the 19th century that in revolt against impressionism stresses variously volume, picture structure, or expressionism) and fauvism (a movement in painting typified by the work of Matisse and characterized by vivid colors, free treatment of form, and a resulting vibrant and decorative effect).
Important English Painters:
William Hogarth (10 November 1697 – 26 October 1764) was the first great English-born artist to attract admiration abroad, best known for his moral and satirical engraving and paintings William Hogarth will be remembered as the father of satirical caricatures and moral paintings, a genre which would later develop into cartoons. His determination and stout middle-class values made him one of the most innovative artists of his generation and he brought art to the common man for the first time in history. The artist was heavily influenced by 18th century life, culture and his middle-class upbringing. He believed that art should have moral as well as aesthetic qualities and tried to bring this into all the work he produced. As Hogarth became a prominent figure in the London art scene he was influenced by a number of things. These included politics, art, literature and the theatre. “Hogarth lived and worked during the Rococo period in 18th century London.
The Rococo style was popular in both England and France at this time and was embodied by flowing lines and intricate decoration. The London social scene that features in so much of Hogarth’s work ranged from super-rich aristocrats living flamboyant lifestyles to the incredibly poor working-classes with no money and little hope for a better life.”(The Englishness of English Art-an expanded and annotated version of the Reith Lectures broadcast in October and November 1955, Nikolaus Pevsner, Penguin Art & Architecture). In the 19th century the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood was inspired by Hogarth’s use of symbolism and text to convey a moral message. However it is possibly the biggest testament to the artist’s skill and with that the new medium of the comic strip arose from his work, a genre which is still popular today.
Important paintings: A Rake’s Progress, The Tempest, Captain Coram, Marriage-a-la-mode, The Good Samaritan, The Four Stages of Cruelty. Another important painter was William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) born in London, was an important poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, it took years before historians and critics discovered the importance of his work on the development of printmaking and fine art painting. Although Blake rarely travelled further than a day’s walk outside of London during his lifetime, his paintings and poetry demonstrate a diverse imagination and awareness of the world around him. He is now considered an important figure in the history of both poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.
“Blake was a Londoner and it was London, not some romantic place near a river in the countryside, that was the site of his visions. In his visions, he saw a different London than all those other people that ran through its streets. Blake saw London as a heavenly city; he saw angels, souls, prophets. Hence, to him, London was a “Heavenly London”, a “Jerusalem”, one of his best known poems.” (A Concise History of English Painting, William Gaunt, Thames and Hudson, London, 1964). Famous Blake paintings include: Songs of Innocence and of Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Four Zoas, The Angel of Revelation, The Descent of Christ, Great Red Dragon, The Last Supper.
Edward Kelly (born 1946) is a contemporary English painter. He was born in Liverpool, England in 1946. He studied at Liverpool College of Art between 1963–67, during which time he studied in Italy. Edward Kelly paints from a wealth of knowledge of paint and form. In over 48 years of dedicated practice, study and struggle he has constantly explored new aspects and elements of painting, always pushing forward on the frontiers of painted expression. His techniques are precise from practice and intuitive from experience. He makes art with a passion. The paintings speak for themselves.