History in brief

In England the greatest of arts has always been literature. English literature has had a continuous history since the Middle Ages, while in the pictorial arts England's achievements have been concentrated in two widely separated periods:
1. The Middle Ages
2. The 18-19th centuries
The first of these periods was the Middle Ages and for about 400 years the work of English artists was as fine as any in Europe. Although not many works of that period were preserved, we have reasons to believe that the quality of the paintings, especially in the 13th century, was very high. Possibly the best known work of that period is the so-called Wilton Diptych. But in the early 15th century the English tradition in painting came to an end. For the next 300 years pictorial art in England was determined by the continental influence. All leading painters were foreigners by origin and training. It was only in the first part of the 18th century that the native tradition was reborn and the second period in the history of English painting began.
The most significant contribution of the English to painting was during the three of the following periods of the European culture:
- the Age of Reason,
- the Age of Classicism,
- the Romantic Movement.
It was not surprising that English painting was so high because each of these three periods put forward some qualities linked with English character.
l. The Age of Reason proclaimed clarity as the aim of arts It was the time of bourgeois revolution which changed English society setting up a sort of bridge between classes Net in painting these changes were not obvious because in the arts aristocracy continued to set the tone. The most developed branch of painting was the portrait. The central figure of the period was Van Dyck (1599-1641), who in spite of his being a foreigner was the first to revive English national traditions in painting. He also made popular the type of portrait in a landscape background. This feature distinguished English portraits from continental practice.
2. The Age of Classicism of the second part of the 18th century reflected English love for elegance and beauty of line. Portraiture was still essentially a social art The aim of it was not to explain individual psychology but to depict a character and glorify national achievements The theoretician of English Classicism was Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). He put forward the three principles of English Classicism in painting:
1) historical painting is the highest form of arts,
2) nature should be represented in painting in its idealized form,
3) the artist must model his works on the works of masters of the past.
Reynolds may be considered the head of typical English classicists. But English classicism contained many schools and tendencies Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). for instance, was a prominent portraitist and landscape painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) was famous for his portraits and at the same time he distinguished himself in genre painting, depicting scenes of everyday life.
3. The Age of Romanticism. The Romantic movement of the 19th century revealed the passion of the English for nature and sentiments It was the period when for the first time landscape became more important for painters, than portraiture. During the Romantic period the attitude of the artists towards nature became at once more exact and more imaginative. The best representatives of romantic painters in England were Joseph Turner (1775-1851) and John Constable (1776- 1837). They both treated nature in a spirit of almost scientific curiosity They knew perfectly well physical aspects of weather effects (fogs and mists), they knew the anatomy of human body, they knew the anatomy of the tree Yet their art was not over detailed or pedantic. On the contrary, the romantic painters worked with a new freedom of style. They regarded nature as something in a continuous change.
The Pre-Raphaelites. This group of painters was founded in 1848 They were John Millais (1829-1896), William Hunt (1827-1910), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) It introduced some valuable qualities into English painting, for example, an interest in primitive Italian painting, pre-Rafael. They also paid attention to sharp detail and brilliant colours.

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