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A Different Light: British Neo-Romanticism

[ Exhibition )

Painting by John Craxton depicting a building in landscape with trees and dark clouds.

John Craxton, Dark Landscape, c.1942, Ink and wax resist, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (On Loan from a Private Collection, 2013) © Estate of John Craxton

British Neo-Romanticism refers to the lyrical, mystical and often poetic work of a group of young artists during and just after the Second World War.

This exhibition explored the personal and artistic journeys taken by Jankel Adler, Prunella Clough, Robert Colquhoun, John Craxton, Leslie Hurry, Robert MacBryde, Paul Nash, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Keith Vaughan. The display drew on our permanent collection of 20th century Modern British art and coincided with a major exhibition on John Minton, a contemporary and friend to many of these artists.

During the long, culturally isolated years of the Second World War, these artists drew inspiration from a romantic spirit found within British art, from earlier visionaries such as William Blake and Samuel Palmer. John Piper described it as ‘a vision that can see in these things something significant beyond ordinary significance.’

A resurgence of a romantic and wistful sensibility found expression in many aspects of British culture including the theatre, ballet, poetry and the visual arts. Nash, Piper, Sutherland and Henry Moore became leading figures in the Neo-Romantic style at this time, especially through the work they produced for the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC) of landscapes, workers and bomb damaged buildings. Their innovative techniques and clarity of vision provided a point of departure in the early to mid-1940s for a younger generation of painters.

By the mid-1950s the inward-looking nostalgia of Neo-Romanticism no longer reflected the values and concerns of the post-war world. A new cultural climate, influenced by the Cold War and the rise of consumerism, was reflected by the international movements of Pop Art and American Abstract-Expressionism.

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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