Perplexed Aritro Das,a reader from Kolkata,asks: Do the British have any art of their own? One had to stop the eyebrows from rising and instead dedicate this column to the much maligned Brits. Perhaps names like Joseph Turner,William Constable,William Blake and Thomas Gainsborough do not ring a bell,since the Brits may have got subsumed into the greater pantheon of Romantic painters who hailed from all over Europe.
But believe it or not,Britons have a rich history of art that dates back to prehistory.
The tableaux of stones,at the famous Stonehenge,are a historic,established by the Neolithic tribes in 2600 BC. This mysterious monument is apparently of astronomical and religious significance. The Celtic age is marked by fine metal work and gold ornaments while the Anglo Saxons brought in the Germanic metal work of Sutton Hoo.
This was followed by the 15th Century Middle Ages that were also known as the Dark Age. Very few paintings were done or survive from this era.
It is true that Britain was fairly isolated from the rest of Europe during the Age of Reason,the
Renaissance that flourished. In the ensuing years,right up to the 17th century,an age of iconoclasm ensued with the rule of Henry the VIII. The lands of the church were ceased and the patronage of art that flourished during the 15th Century. The Renaissance in Briton was late and was not the great explosion of creativity that it was in the rest of Europe. King Charles imported art from the Dutch. Painters like Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Van Dyck were hired to execute Royal portraits.
It was only in the 18th Century that painters like Gainsborough,George Stubbs,Blake,Constable and Turner flourished. While Blake was noted for his metaphorical paintings,which dealt mainly with God and the book of Genesis,Constable established himself as a landscape painter par excellence in the league with other Romantics.
Turner was known for his wild,slightly abstract seascapes and Gainsborough for his courtly portraiture. It is this era of British art that has affected much of the
Indian sensibility. Several cheap reproductions of Constables Hay Wain exist in doctors clinics restaurants and beauty salons.
But,unfortunately it was not distinct as British since it reflected what concerned Europe as a whole. Britains revolutionary painter Francis Bacon deserves a whole segment dedicated to his art,which if you watch this space,we will dwell upon next time.
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