Monday, April 09, 2007

Dreamer in a Landscape

Malcolm Yorke’s The Spirit of Place: Nine Neo-Romantic Artists and Their Times (1988) discusses the art of Paul Nash, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, John Minton, Michael Ayrton, Robert Colquhoun, Keith Vaughan, Prunella Clough and John Craxton. He begins the book by discussing the label Neo-Romantic, which was already being used in the 1940s, e.g. by Raymond Mortimer (for whom it covered Piper, Sutherland, Henry Moore, Frances Hodgkins and Ivon Hitchens). Yorke writes that a 1983 exhibition, ‘The British Neo-Romantics 1935-1950’, attempted to include Bacon and Freud, both of whom refused to be included. He questions this exhibition’s inclusion of Hitchens, who did paint the English landscape but in a style far removed from the influence of original Romantics like Palmer, and of David Jones, who could be seen as too idiosyncratic to be part of a movement. A later Barbican Art Gallery exhibition, ’A Paradise Lost: The Neo-Romantic Imagination in Britain 1935-1955’, included various minor figures and two more artists that Yorke considers too individual to be part of a movement: Cecil Collins and Ceri Richards (the latter’s ‘explorations of the sexualisation of landscape were rightly given prominence’).

All this goes to show that beyond Piper and Sutherland there is no real consensus as to who was a ‘Neo-Romantic’. Which is why I suppose it is not surprising to find the on-line Encyclopedia of British Neo-Romanticism has such a wide coverage... Although you have to wonder about a site that manages to include under this term Genesis P. Orridge, Vivienne Westwood, J.R.R. Tolkein and Peter Ackroyd. Strange bedfellows!

The Tate site has a definition that is close to Malcolm Yorke’s conception of Neo-Romanticism. They illustrate this with John Craxton’s Dreamer in a Landscape (1942), noting his explanation for including shepherds or poets: 'as projections of myself they derived from Blake and Palmer. They were my means of escape and a sort of self protection. A shepherd is a lone figure, and so is a poet'. This notion of self-protection recalls the point made by Andrew Motion, that English poetic landscapes have a ‘defended’ feel to them.


snarlerson said...

How does the Brotherhood of Ruralists relate to the Neo-Romantics? Its members seem far more romantic to me.

Plinius said...

Far more romantic than the Neo-Romantics? They have quite a good website which explains the background to the group. I've always found their work pretty hard going to be honest.