Early 20th Century British Art - The Rise of Modernism

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Moving Against Tradition


At the turn of the 20th Century a wide range British artists began to react against the restrictive standards and conventions of the Royal Academy and working in response to the new model of Impressionist painting in France. They were mainly centred around London, where there was a constantly shifting scene of art and artists. This is illustrated in the painting by Richard Carline of artists who met regularly at the Carline household in Hampstead. It includes the well know independent artist Stanley Spencer and his future wife Hilda Carline.

The Royal Academy and France


However the Royal Academy continued to exert a strong influence on art practice over the Edwardian period at the start of the century, with classic portraiture continuing to engage artists such as J. Byam Shaw and W. Strang. There were also artists using portraiture within domestic narrative scenes with a moral or sentimental message reminiscent of Victorian painting in works such as 'Memories' by Walter Langley and the 'Wedding Dress' by Fred Elwell.

Frank Brangwyn was an example of an independently trained artist who learned his craft from Pre-Raphaelite and medievalist artists in the Arts and Crafts studio of William Morris, from which he developed his own style as a popular and prolific muralist and printmaker. Whistler was also a rising star in the independent art world of Paris and London at this time, and inspired pupils and younger artists such as Walter Sickert and Gwen John working in an impressionist style.

Impressionism in Britain


The collective response French Impressionism among British artists, was the formation of a range of independent groups around the country to enable the free expression and experiment that they were unable to practice within academic institutions. One was founded in Newlyn, Cornwall by the artist Stanhope Forbes in 1884, with a similar artistic centre in Staithes on the Yorkshire coast, which included the painter Laura Knight.

In London the main body for the display of Impressionist inspired works was the New English Art Club founded in 1886 by leading artists such as P.W. Steer, J. Lavery, G. Clausen, H. La Thangue and A. Stanhope-Forbes. These artists had been strongly affected by their travel and work in France where they came into contact with the new ideas and techniques of Impressionism. The young Walter Sickert also joined the exhibiting society after training with E. Degas in France. The rapid adoption of the latest developments from Paris, led to the formation of the Fitzroy Street group by W. Sickert and other radical young artists in 1907. They painted urban landscapes and interiors, which concentrated on the effects of light and colour on living subjects.