Elizabeth to Elizabeth
By Valerie Woodgate (14th December 2021)
Valerie Woodgate, a popular speaker at The Arts Society Alton, gave a spirited Zoom presentation to members last month on British Art from Elizabeth to Elizabeth. She covered five hundred years of varying styles of painting from the instantly recognisable work of Hans Holbein, credited with being the father of portrait painting right through to Tracy Emin’s display of her unmade bed which caused so much comment when it was shown in 1998.
Along the way members were reminded of the exquisite work by miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, who trained as a goldsmith, the change of interest from portraits to sporting pictures which featured the work of contemporaries Reynolds and Gainsborough and the pictures of Constable, which were regarded as boring when they first appeared. Turner got a notable mention for his Fighting Temeraire, the nation’s favourite picture, before the work of the Pre-Raphaelites became popular. Inspired by the theories of John Ruskin, who urged artists to ‘go to nature’, they believed in an art of serious subjects treated with maximum realism. Their principal themes were initially religious, but they also used subjects from literature and poetry, particularly those dealing with love and death. They also explored modern social problems.
Genre scenes evolved towards the end of the Victorian period with Luke Fields 1891 picture of The Doctor being particularly popular. Interestingly, the image was chosen by the American Postal Service in 1947 for a stamp to commemorate the centenary of the American Medical Association.
Work of official War Artists such as Paul Nash achieved dominance in the early years of the 20th century before work relating to WWII replaced the drabness of paintings related to childhood of the interwar years. Graham Sutherland and Francis Bacon achieving considerable public awareness at this time. The Festival of Britain brought the work of Henry Moore to the awareness of the public before work by Richard Hamilton, a pre-cursor of what became Pop Art burst upon the scene in the 1960s.There was a recognisable change in the 1970s with the appearance of what became known as the post-Modernism era and the work of Cornelia Parker was featured. Photography became acceptable as an art form and Gillian Wearing achieved public acclaim for her images of 1992-3 entitled Signs that Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say.
Such a broad, ambitious and all encompassing topic contained something for everyone and despite the obvious time constraints, this review of British Art over such a lengthy period of time brought to the attention of the audience the breadth of work and the names involved in their production.