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Mid Century Romanticism 6: The Neo-Ruralists in war and peace

The spikey dreaminess of John Craxton’s 1943 work above evidences contrasting emotions illuminated by Palmeresque hills and sickle moon in the background. Craxton and his fellow gay artist, John Minton, for me the leading lights of the post war ruralist scene, certainly showed at least in their early work that Palmer was not forgotten as is evidenced below in the delightful 1944 work by Minton, Landscape with harvester resting.

John Minton - Palmeresque

Motifs beloved of their early hero are self evident, with themes of harvest and nature, although the monochrome palette employed is not without incipient melancholy, and the whole with overtones of abstraction. We hope to have loaned examples of Craxton’s work in our 2020 show as well as Minton, Keith Vaughan and others. This phase of introspection did not persist for ever, and the late 1940s and 1950s saw a warming of their palette, and a more positive Mediterranean light appear as in this 1947 Craxton work.

Craxton Greece

This escape to a foreign idyll from a war ravaged and bombed home landscape and a time of post war rationing was a surprising pervasive theme of the period, expressed in craft as well as art of the 5os and 60s.  We hope that our Mid Century Romanticism show for next May/June will capture in some small way, something of these themes.

Mid Century Romanticism 5: Pastoralist Art of the 20s and 30s

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.

GS PASTORAL 1930

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.

Mid Century Romanticism : 4 Artistic Design for Advertising

DSCF4316

Alongside the comparative explosion of creativity in artistic book design (see earlier blog) was the appearance of well printed commercially originated art sponsored by the Oil major, Shell, and others. Working with a number of top artists of the 50s and 60s such as Rowland Hilder (above – Kent) they produced a number of educational as well as promotional work for schools, such as their large and wall hung Key to the Countryside posters, some of which will be on display at the Archive Collection in 2020. These featured commissioned, somewhat romanticised, landscapes of the County concerned.

DSCF4317

Also included were a paragraph or two of background information on the County, together with a map with key, and it appears that the posters were circulated around schools by the Local Education Authority concerned.  The quailty of reproduction suggests that they were lithographically printed with a good colour accuracy, and were charming in their detail, including objects of local interest such as in this image of Inverness-Shire by Leonard Rosoman.

DSCF4318

Mid Century Romanticism : 3 Ceramics

This quite charming sculptural work of the period by William Newland is typical of the work of William and his circle of creative friends which included Margaret Hine (see immediately below), later his wife. A group of these ceramics of the 50s and 60s to be very kindly lent by the family, will feature in our 2020 exhibition.

PICASSOETTES b

Newland’s circle rose to strong artistic prominence in the colourful and modernistic coffee bar society of the time, eclipsing the predominantly brown pots and ‘Sung Standard’ of the Leachian tradition. Leach somewhat vituperatively nicknamed the group ‘the Picassoettes’ in a reference to the colourful works produced by Pablo at Vallauris. So fashionable were the Newland coterie that they were chosen in preference to those of the Asian born Bernard in a major British design promotional show of the time that travelled to the USA.

William is also interesting for his espousal of classical and Mediterranean themes in his output, again evocative of the New Look in design of the period. A typical example is shown below.

PICASSOETTES c

Mid Century Romanticism : 2 Book design

The post WW2 period saw both a democratisation of overseas (air) travel, and perhaps in hand with this, an internationalisation in design, cuisine and taste generally. Probably the most famous cookery writer of the day, Elizabeth David, was the leading standard bearer for the cookery and recipes of the continent and the Mediterranean. It is notable that the designer chosen to illustrate her books was the neo-romatic artist, John Minton. Probably his best known book design features above.

Minton was one of a group of metropolitan based artists, several of whom were homosexual, who emerged from a briefly tortured aesthetic in their art during the war (see later art blog) to the sunlit uplands of the Mediterranean. Minton is particularly interesting for me in his prolific contribution to book design in the late 1940s and 1950s which represented a democratisation of design for the wider public.

Minton will feature in a talk on post war book design to take place here in June 2020, to be given by Professor Martin Salisbury, who teaches at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and has two recent publications on the subject. Also under consideration will be a peer of Minton, John Craxton, who was the subject of a major show the other year at Pallant House, Chichester.  Probably his best known book design, for a travel book by Patrick Leigh-Fermour, is shown below. Art by both Minton and Craxton will feature in 2020.

a time of gifts

Mid Century Romanticism : 1 Textiles

This is the first in a short series of blogs about our main show for 2020, Mid Century Romanticism (1930-1970) which looks at what happened to the 1930s Pastoral and Romantic trends in art and design after WW2. The current plan is to show a representative display of original and print art, complimented by design in textiles, book illustration, ceramics and furniture of the 1950s and 1960s.

In anticipation of holding this show, we have acquired designer textiles of the period published by Sanderson and Heals, who employed top artists and designers of the day. The top image is of part of a pair of screen printed curtains using the ‘Stones of Bath’ design created by John Piper. This was one of a number of commissioned works that marked the anniversary of Arthur Sanderson and Co in 1960.

Sandersons are perhaps now better known for their range of arts and crafts themed William Morris and Morris & Co designs, but also as can be seen dipped their toes into the contemporary art market after the war. The abstract quality of this Piper creation is very evocative of his moody often architectural landscapes produced in prints and paintings at the time.

As a corruscating contrast is the bold design of Teasels by Jane Daniels (below), used in a curtain fabic published by Heals at around the same time.  It has that freshness of aesthetic that characterised the post Festival of Britain scene in interiors, furnishings and ceramics of a time that saw the nascence of Scandinavian design influence in both imported goods and the response of English manufacturers and makers. It will feature in a period interiors display as part of the 2020 exhibition.

Teasel - square

So it is this emergence from the years of wartime austerity and rationing, and blossoming of colour and contemporary design, that we intend to encapsulate in some small way in our exhibits next May/June. So objects both made in and influenced by Mediterranean and international design will feature, including ceramics made by Michael Cardew by that time inspired by village traditions under an African sun in Ghana and Nigeria.

Focus on : David Jones

This superb and lively woodcut is part of a group of ten wood engravings by the artist and calligrapher David Jones, who in his early career worked in Ditchling alongside Eric Gill. Made to illustrate a publication of the letterpress publisher, the Golden Cockerel Press, for a 1927 book, they feature the story of Noah and the Deluge both before and after the event.

They will be on show at our forthcoming exhibition, All Critters Great and Small, which opens on Saturday 9th November 2019 at 9am, and features the use of animals in art and craft, both in antique and folk work, and in 20th century art and design. Jones was an exceptional artist craftsman, and employed a shallow intaglio technique in his wood engraving. The result is a sharpness of line that creates timeless and strong images.

The story of Noahs Ark has been a ready source of creative expression over hundreds of years, and we are using it as a core theme this autumn show, uniting as it does both land and sea. So we will be populating our displays with a suitable menagerie in ceramic, wood and paper, and including in it delightful folk work such as the childrens toy below.

NOAHS ARK 1

Focus on : CF Tunnicliffe

This recently acquired early etching by Charles Tunnicliffe, The Harvesters (1925) which features in our forthcoming November show, All Critters Great and Small (animals in art & craft), will surprise many who primarily know him by his later bird and animal illustrations. It dates from the time of the great neo-pastoral revival in England in the wake of a major contemporary London exhibition on Samuel Palmer.

Critics believe this work to have been contextually influenced by the continental 19th c artist Boehle. For me it has a distinctly Italianate quality, although it also compares with some of the rural output of Durer. Whatever the source of inspiration, it shows an exceptional eye for detail by a young artist at the start of his career.

Tunnicliffe’s early prints are of a particular interest to us as they show a strong ruralist vein not out of keeping with the 1920s output of Sutherland, Drury and subsequently, Tanner. They date from a time when Charles was still living on his family’s farm in Cheshire which evidently provided him with a wealth of subject matter.

Indeed, it is very likely that the subjects were known to him, possibly working as labourers on his parent’s farm. The very distinctive dappled Percheron draught horses also feature in a number of his works of the 1920s.

ERIC RAVILIOUS – MODERNIST OR ROMANTIC

In May and June 2020 we will be continuing our review of English romanticism in the 20th century in the guise of a new show Mid Century Romanticism (1930-1970). We had originally intended to concentrate on the post WW2 scene, but a long term loan of the 1st edition of the Ravilious illustrated High Street published by Country Life in 1938 has led to a review and rescheduling.

Our good friends at the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden use the term Rural Modernists in relation to the Bardfield group in which they specialise. However, whilst this classic ER title is broadly 30s in style, its spirit depicted in beautiful lithographs such as that below appears to me truly romantic.

RAV 3

Certainly some of the businesses depicted and their shop fronts bear little relation to a typical retail outlet of the period seen in period photographs or that I have experienced in my lifetime. Not a criticism in the slightest, but a grateful appreciation of a delightful flight of fancy, almost escapist at a time when the storm clouds were already gathering in Europe.

RAV 2

And Ravilious was not alone in his confection of  a delightful demi world of the imagination; Rex Whistler, also sadly a casualty of conflict during WW2 depicted a neo-classical revival in his style far away from contemporary life. So it is our intention to include an (illustrated) bookish element in our brief overview in Summer 2020.

 

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