British Romantic Art and the Second World War by Stuart Sillars

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By Stuart Sillars

An exam of the ways that the artists and writers of the Nineteen Forties constructed and prolonged techniques from previous English romanticism to supply an instantaneous and compassionate reaction to the truth of latest destruction.

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This is less than literal reality since it is no photograph; it is more than literal reality since it attempts to re-create the whole experience of the moment. In this, despite the stylistic differences and the greater psychological awareness of the later period, we are set firmly in the stance of the high Romantics. Myfanwy Evans' introduction makes clear the use to which external reality, now expanded from landscape to everyday life, should be put by the artist. Jo A little further on she talks of Picasso, in Guernica, 'purging into formality'3 1 his experience and feeling at the devastation of the Basque capital.

We had always been warned against 'over biting'. 112 What we have here is a fascination with the technical embodiment of the transforming power of the imaginative vision: it is not simply the fact that spirituality alters external reality that strikes Sutherland, but the technical methods by which such imagery can be made real. This is worth stressing because it shows a concern to make Palmer's technical quality a real presence in his own work, instead of either a vague influence of what is generally and loosely called the 'visionary' quality of that artist's work or a direct stylistic impetus.

Cray Fields115 is striking in this respect. A very low sun, encircled by rays of light, shines through a group of hop poles above heavily textured earth. A plough lies at the right foreground, balanced to the left by ears of com circling across to echo the curve of the plough's handles. In the middle ground at the left two figures are reaping; in the distance may be seen a cottage and some apple trees. Above them a very literal, child-like star of David sheds rays which imitate palely those of the sun.

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