In shows at the Archive Collection in 2017 and 2018 we traced something of the origins and development of the Pastoral tradition in British art through exhibitions of the school of Samuel Palmer, the Palmeresque early print output of Graham Sutherland and the ruralist etchings of Robin Tanner. The Village (above), a 1925 etching by Sutherland typical of the period, is enthused with a traditionalist vision of the English (in this case Kentish) rural idyll.
Sutherland was not alone in espousing this aesthetic, and his fellow Goldsmiths College, London graduate, Paul Drury, also reflected in his output a somewhat ‘rose tinted’ vision of rural life. This did not reflect reality in the countryside of the period, afflicted by the Great Depression and rural decay, and was in this way a romantic vision of country escapism.
In significant contrast is Sutherland’s etching of 1930, Pastoral (below) which has more than a touch of the ‘blasted heath’ in its tortured inspiration. Some commentators believe that this change of spirit was a reflection of adverse personal circumstance with the loss of his only child during his wife’s pregnancy. Financial realities would also have been affecting Sutherland’s mood, with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 greatly diminishing the print market both here and the important US market.
Whatever the reason for this artistic step change, it was also part of a move towards increasing abstraction in Sutherland’s output and the wider art market of the 1930s. And inevitably, as emotional beings, artists could not help but be influenced by outside events both personal and in society in general, as may be seen in the linked blog on the Neo-Ruralists that follows.