Saturday, November 17, 2007

British vision

British Vision is an exhibition that traces back two centuries of British art by gathering more than 300 works in 14 rooms, each dealing with a different step of its evolution. It begins in the middle of the 18th century,
which is a period of great change marked by the emerging modern society. The industrial revolution and the social changes that took place at that time also influenced the way in which artists painted. Indeed, they began to portray people from the middle class, and not only people from the higher classes anymore. The consequences of the industrial revolution were also reflected in art, with the painters representing both the technical progesses it brought, but also its drawbacks. This period is thus marked by a strong social realism: the painter has to observe man and society and render them in a realistic way.
The overview then spans a number of different successive stages, starting with the growing interest for British landscape art. During that period, the technique of water-color was very popular. The artists were at first only interested in spectacular and ideal landscapes, but gradually, their attention turned to the ordinary and familiar environment. They then began to attach great importance to details in their representaion of nature.
The next step is characterized by a confrontation between the “old masters” and modern art which is marked by a visionary outlook. The artists became eccentric in their way of interpreting traditional subjects. The visionary tradition did not only concern paintings, but also involved book illustrations, the creation of books and so on. The key figure here is William Blake, the author of the painting above (Whirlwind of lovers) .
The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century are marked by a fascination for landscape art with once again, a great attention to detail and observation.
The art of the 20th century can be seen as a kind of return to the beginning, with a renewed interest for the observation of the yet modern society. We can thus see the evolution as a kind of cycle. Portraits of everyday life become once again very popular, alongside photographs (which allow a direct and realistic rendering), drawings and illustrations. This interest for realistic rendering of man and the modern society was reinforced after World War II.
This exhibition was particularly interesting and covered these two centuries in a quite complete way. I especially enjoyed the section on detailed landscape painting. It was, in my view, very well done.

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