October 26th, 2010

life on mars


Samuel Palmer, Tate

A little treat on television on Sunday evening, and I don’t mean Downton Abbey. On Channel 4’s The Genius of British Art Roy Strong, upon whom I totally dote, talked about British (really, English) landscape and pastoral art. I’ve never found that literary criticism has increased my enjoyment of anything I’ve read but when it comes to art, I’m happy to have things pointed out to me that I wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. Constable’s The Hay Wain as revolutionary art? Yes, if you believe Sir Roy. Through Constable, Turner, Samuel Palmer, Paul Nash, John Piper and David Hockney we saw different interpretations of British landscapes. According to Sir Roy, the love of pastoral is most developed in times of trouble. So, in wartime, with foreign travel impossible, people look to the beauties of their own country. As the majority of the population came to live in smoky Victorian cities, so there was a need for the chocolate box rural idylls of Helen Allingham. I love strongly expressed, personal opinions (see Jonathan Meades, David Starkey) and Roy Strong didn’t disappoint on that score, even taking us into his own, beautiful garden. Because, he maintains, the English have a special relationship with land, even if it’s only a little strip at the back of the house. Now we are living in hard times again, will it be back to pastoral? See Mark Wallinger’s white horse.