St Ives and British Modernism: The George and Ann Dannatt CollectionSt Ives and British Modernism: The George and Ann Dannatt Collection

Neo-Romantic Landscapes

In the 1920s there was a revival of interest in the visionary art of William Blake and Samuel Palmer. Artists such as Paul Nash sought to emulate their poetic sensibility in images that present a retreat into the English landscape following the devastation of the First World War. For Nash the sea wall at Dymchurch offered a naturally abstract form, which he depicted in several works in the early 1920s.

During the Second World War there was a resurgence of romanticism in British art and literature, in response to the violence of the war. This art was given the label ‘Neo-Romantic' by art critics such as Robin Ironside and Raymond Mortimer, who wrote of how: ‘The appeal of their art is to mystics and particularly to pantheists who feel a fraternity, or even a unity, with all living things, to those with the sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused. Their work can be considered the expression of an identification with nature.'

In their early works John Craxton and Alan Reynolds depicted the landscape as a pastoral idyll, nostalgic for the England of Blake and Palmer. Craxton was also greatly influenced by the work of European modern artists such as Picasso and Matisse, and from 1946 onwards was a frequent visitor to Greece, where he saw exotic and angular vegetal forms that began to appear in his work. Keith Vaughan similarly moved towards European influences in the later 1950s and 60s, particularly after seeing the abstract forms in the paintings of the French-Russian painter Nicholas de Staël.