The first room focuses on the local poet William Hayley (1745-1820) who was a friend of artists such as Blake, Romney and Joseph Wright of Derby. Hayley is not well known now and the catalogue quotes a letter from Southey to Coleridge in 1802 – ‘everything about that man is good, except his poetry.’ He does however provide an interesting figure from which to view the links between poetry and painting at the end of the eighteenth century. The highlight in this room is an unusual watercolour by Blake that I don’t recall seeing before (although it is in the Tate) – a pale, unfinished sketch with a hint of Turner about it: Landscape near Felpham (c1800).
The second room is a fascinating display of engravings and etchings, encompassing the familiar pastoral poetry of Blake, Palmer and the Ancients, and their followers in the 1920s: Goldsmiths students Graham Sutherland, Robin Tanner, Paul Drury, their teacher F.L. Griggs, and contemporary Joseph Webb. Sutherland saw his first Palmer etching when a fellow student bought one in a shop on the Charing Cross Road (those were the days!) He, Tanner and Drury made a pilgrimage to Shoreham and ‘even wore cloaks in imitation of the Ancients’.
The third room includes Neo-Romantic artists like Sutherland, John Piper and Paul Nash, with particular reference again to their links with poetry, through book illustration and work for Horizon, Penguin New Writing and Poetry London. There is Geoffrey Grigson’s The Poet’s Eye, for example, with illustrations by John Craxton: the first in a series of seven anthologies, New Excursions into English Poetry, whose general editors were Sheila Shannon and Walter James Turner. Other volumes included English, Scottish and Welsh Landscape, illustrated by Piper with verse chosen by John Betjeman and Geoffrey Taylor, and Sea Poems chosen by Myfanwy Piper and illustrated by Mona Moore. Walter James Turner was the general editor of Britain in Pictures, a series covering various aspects of Britishness, including Romanticism: John Piper’s British Romantic Art traced the tradition from Wilson, Blake and Constable through to Nash and Sutherland. Other volumes included Grigson’s English Landscape, Betjeman’s English Churches, Vita Sackville-West’s English Country houses, Lord David Cecil’s English Poets and Stephen Bone’s British Weather.