(Blogpost) Isn’t it (Neo) Romantic?

John Piper, Pistyll Maes-Glasau, 1940

Well hello there! Welcome to the Art on Tour blog and, more specifically, welcome to number four in a series of blogposts telling a fascinating story of Modern British art! So far, we’ve looked at some of the new and exciting artistic developments of the early 20th Century, including the geometric abstraction of the machine-loving Vorticists, and the liberal-minded boundary-breaking Bloomsbury group.

But what about artists who looked backwards as well as forwards? Those who wanted a bit of tradition mixed in with their modernism?

In the 1930s, Neo-Romantic artists sought a return to the traditional subject matter of landscape painting, but transformed it through their understanding of modern art and the threat of conflict. The movement continued throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, when artists including John Nash, John Piper and Graham Sutherland responded to the scarred landscapes and cityscapes left behind by the Second World War.

These artists conveyed emotion through heightened imagery in a similar vein to Romantic landscape painters of the 19th century. The likes of JMW Turner and Samuel Palmer had transformed the genre by focusing on the sublime power of nature and its ability to stir emotion in the viewer. Like the early Romantics, the neo-Romantics looked to transform landscape painting once again, but used modern artistic languages to ground their work in their own context.

Through his striking landscapes, John Piper aimed to evoke the spirit of a place, and the way it is experienced through its weather, season or location. Pistyll Maes-Glasau depicts a waterfall with a 600 foot drop, and was painted when Piper visited Gwynedd (Wales) in 1940.

Piper captured the height and energy of the waterfall by emphasising its brightness, and as a result it almost looks like a flash of lighting against the dark and foreboding cliffs. Through the contrast between light and dark, and the expressive manner with which he has captured the scene, Piper has not just given us a landscape, but a moving and awe-inspiring experience.

Graham Sutherland, Dark Hill – Landscape with Hedges and Fields, 1940

Graham Sutherland’s Dark Hill – Landscape with Hedges and Fields is another great example of a neo-Romantic style. It was painted during the first years of World War II. The dark tone and foreboding structure evoke an oppressive presence which reflects the tragedy and turmoil of the years to come. Along with Piper, Sutherland would go on to create some of the most affecting images of war-torn British urban landscapes.

That’s all for today – Thanks for reading! If you’re keen to know more about the history of modern British art, check out our online exhibition Modern British Art: A Story right here, or follow this blog to be the first to know when we publish a new post. Next up – ‘Realism or Sur-realism?’

Blogpost by Katie Ackrill (Engagement Officer, Art on Tour)

2 thoughts on “(Blogpost) Isn’t it (Neo) Romantic?

  1. It was lovely to see these, reminiscent of the Pipers and Sutherlands in the WW2 room of the Kenneth Clark exhibition, Looking for Civilisation, at Tate Britain, 2014 which moved me to tears, though Simon thought the romantic in these paintings had overtaken the devastation of war, unlike Paul Nash. Visual judgement so much depends what the viewer brings to the painting. Am now enjoying catching up with your blogposts after having to keep them on hold recently. Thank you,


  2. Hi Juliet, Thank you for your fascinating insights, which add something really interesting to the blogpost. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog, and hope you enjoyed the online exhibition too! It’s refreshing to know people are out there reading and responding positively! Katie


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