In the popular imagination English landscape painting from the 18th century
Salisbury cathedral by John Constable
onwards typifies English art, inspired largely from the love of the pastoral and mirroring as it does the development of larger country houses set in a pastoral rural landscape. It was developed initially by Dutch and Flemish artists, from the late 17th century onwards.
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
Crossing the Brook by J. M. W. Turner
Being a coastal and seafaring 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.
In 1910 an exhibition arranged by the critic Roger Fry introduced English artists to post-Impressionism and fauvism. The Camden Town Group was formed in 1911 to encourage artists who were bringing a new sense of form and colour to the depiction of scenes of everyday London life. Walter Sickert, Charles Ginner, and Harold Gilman (1876–1919) were its leading figures. Artists of the Bloomsbury Group, such as Duncan Grant, Dora Carrington, and Vanessa Bell, were more adventurous in their development of the same influences.
Just before World War I Vorticism, the one specifically English art movement, was created by Wyndham Lewis, one of the few artists to be directly influenced by cubism and Futurism. Paintings by David Bomberg and sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Jacob Epstein are among the movement's main achievements.
Between the world wars, artists began to reflect a wide range of styles and intentions. Matthew Smith worked in a fauvist style; Christopher Wood (1901–1930), Cecil Collins (1908–1989), and L S Lowry developed a childlike naivety. Using a finely detailed realism, Stanley Spencer sought to express a visionary apprehension of everyday life. Ben Nicholson evolved an entirely abstract art; Paul Nash, Ceri Richards (1903–1979), and Graham Sutherland responded to surrealism. Surrealism was also an influence on the sculptor who dominated English art of the 20th century, Henry Moore. Other important sculptors to emerge at this time were Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson (both abstract), and Jacob Epstein (who soon outgrew Vorticism), Eric Gill, and Frank Dobson (all figurative).
After World War II English art became increasingly pluralistic. A strong figurative tradition was continued, in very different styles, by Francis Bacon (whose nightmarish visions are some of the most forceful expressions of contemporary spiritual despair), Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, John Bratby, Keith Vaughan (1912–1976), Carel Weight (1908– ), and (all in varying degrees associated with pop art) Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, David Hockney, and R B Kitaj. Abstract painting, which has never had a strong following in England, was practised by Victor Pasmore, Patrick Heron, William Turnbull, and Bridget Riley, the leading figure in op art. Outstanding among sculptors – who also have explored a range of creative possibilities – are Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Kenneth Armitage, Anthony Caro, Elizabeth Frink, Eduardo Paolozzi, and (more recently) Richard Long, Antony Gormley, and Damien Hirst. Performance artists include Gilbert and George (who styled themselves ‘living sculptures’) and Bruce McLean (1944 ). The Turner Prize, an award established in 1984 for British artists under 50, helped publicize a number of conceptual artists.
While many 21st-century English artists continue to use a variety of media, incorporating technological advances, many have also returned to more traditional forms. The Stuckist movement, for example, cofounded in 1999 by English artists Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, supports figurative art and opposes the conceptual art celebrated by the Turner Prize. Art appeared outside the traditional canvas and space, for example street paintings by the English graffiti artist Banksy, and ‘pop-up’ galleries.