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Entries in British Painting (6)


Henry Moore: “Truth to Materials”

Henry Moore - Reclining Figure - 1935-36 - Elmwood - h. 19; l. 35; d. 15 in. - Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo (click photo for larger image)Henry Moore (1898-1986) is widely regarded as the most important British sculptor of the 20th century, and the most popular and internationally celebrated sculptor of the post-war period. He is best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures, which are located around the world as public works of art. Moore also produced many drawings, including a series depicting Londoners sheltering from the Blitz during the Second World War, along with other graphic works on paper.

Non-Western art was crucial in shaping his early work. He often used abstract form to draw analogies between the human body and the landscape. 

The foundation of Moore's approach was direct carving, something he derived not only from European modernism, but also from non-Western art. At one point in his career, he abandoned the process of modeling (often in clay or plaster) and casting (often in bronze) that had been the basis of his art education, and instead worked on materials directly. He believed in the ethic of “truth to materials”—the idea that the sculptor should respect the intrinsic properties of media, letting them show through in the finished piece.

His forms are usually abstractions of the human figure, typically depicting mother-and-child or reclining figures. Moore's works are usually suggestive of the female body, apart from a phase in the 1950s when he sculpted family groups. His forms are generally pierced or contain hollow spaces. Many interpreters liken the undulating form of his reclining figures to the landscape and hills of his birthplace, Yorkshire.


Edward Burne-Jones: Elusive and Imaginary

Sir Edward Burne-Jones - The Summons: Study for the Head of Gawaine - 1893 - Fabricated black crayon on paper - 15 x 9 in. (38.1 x 22.8 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkBritish Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) came from extremely humble beginnings. Born Ned Jones, he was the son of a struggling picture framer. His mother died in childbirth.

Despite financial difficulties, “Burne-Jones enrolled at Oxford in 1853, only to leave two years later to train under the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriele Rossetti. Burne-Jones was soon recognized as a leading artist in his own right. Toward the end of his career, the Australian mining engineer William Knox d’Arcy commissioned him to design a set of tapestries depicting the legend of the Quest for the Holy Grail. This drawing is a preparatory study for the figure of Gawaine in the tapestry, The Summons.” (Metropolitan Museum of Art)


Lord Frederic Leighton and Victorian Classicism

Lord Frederic Leighton - Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna - 1853-1855 - The National Gallery, London (click photo for larger image)Victorian Classicism was a British form of historical painting inspired by the art and architecture of Classical Greece and Rome. In the 19th century, an increasing number of Western Europeans made the Grand Tour to Mediterranean lands. There was a great popular interest in the region's lost civilizations and exotic cultures, and this fascination fueled the rise of Classicism in Britain, and Orientalism. Orientalism, which was primarily centered in continental Europe, refers to the imitation or depiction of aspects in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian cultures.

The Classicists were closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, and artists in each movement were influenced by both styles, to some degree. Both movements were highly romantic and were inspired by similar historical and mythological themes. The key distinction is that the Classicists epitomized the rigid academic standards of painting, while the Pre-Raphaelites were initially formed as a rebellion against those same standards.

English painter and sculptor Lord Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) was one of the leading Classicists, and in his lifetime was considered by many to be among the finest painter of his generation. Leighton was a great admirer of Italian Renaissance painting (which hearkened back to the classical era) and showed, for his time, an advanced appreciation of the early Italian painters, including Cimabue and Giotto (both discussed elsewhere on What About Art?). He drew heavily on 15th- and 16th-century sources when working on Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna (featured here). Ironically, the altarpiece shown by Leighton (now in the Uffizi) is today recognized to have be done by the artist Duccio (also discussed on What About Art?), not Cimabue.


Sir George Clausen: Working in Multiple Media

George Clausen - The Mowers - 1892 - Oil on canvas, 97 x 76 cm - Usher Gallery, London (click photo for larger image)From the 1880s on, Britain's rural plein-air naturalism was tightened by the example of Bastien-Lepage and the Barbizon school. In 1883, British painter, Sir George Clausen (1852-1944), was in Paris for several months, working under Bouguereau at the Académie Julian. He met Bastien-Lepage, and then followed his own predilection for simple, rustic scenes. Rural subjects remained to the fore in his work, and from the 1890s on he expressed them in his own version of Impressionist techniques. His post-Millet view of nature and farm work can be seen in The Mowers, featured here, which also exhibits effects of color and light reminiscent of Monet. Clausen was proficient in oil and watercolor, etching, mezzotint, dry point and, occasionally, lithography. He was knighted in 1927.


Meredith Frampton

Meredith Frampton - Still-life, 1932 - Oil on canvas, 1230 X 819 X 25 mm, Royal Academy of Arts, LondonBritish Art Deco painter Meredith Frampton (1894-1984) (  ) created highly finished portraits and still life works, sometimes with slightly Surrealist overtones.