IN ENGLAND’S GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND – I

Milan, 10 March 2019

I recently came across a wonderful website, Art UK. It is the fruit of a long effort to digitize absolutely every single painting, watercolour, etching, and drawing being held by public bodies in the UK. And I mean every such piece of art, from the products of the most exalted artists to those of the humblest, from pieces in a perfect state of repair to pieces which are dirty, discolored, scratched and peeling. And I mean every public body. Why, we are talking of as humble a body as the Goole Museum (I challenge anyone to tell me where that is without looking it up on Google Maps or some such). In this way, the website is able to make available 222,572 artworks. The purpose of the exercise is to give every UK citizen access to that body of art which in theory they own but which in practice is often locked away in physically inaccessible parts of public buildings or in store rooms. And of course, through the worldwide net they have made this a gift to the whole world. This exercise democratizes art not only by making it more accessible but also by taking away the filters imposed on it by an artistic elite who decide what is worth seeing and what should be hidden away from view in store rooms. Art UK has now turned its attention to all the sculptures being held by these same public bodies. I wait with bated breath for the result!

As readers can easily appreciate, it would be impossible to enjoy these 220,000-plus works of art without having the ability to use filters to extract from the site’s database some manageable subset of artworks. And indeed the website gives its users the tools to do this. So I have been spending my spare moments in the last couple of weeks doing just that, extracting works of art which fit a particular theme close to my heart: the depiction in art of industry. Allow me to explain.

I have spent my entire career at the interface between industry and the environment, trying to minimize the impacts of the former upon the latter. As readers can imagine, this has left me with a somewhat jaundiced view of industry. Although tangential to my areas of expertise, I have also seen close up how industry can impact the health, safety, and the general well-being of its workers, which has increased my jaundiced view of industry. Nevertheless, I also have to recognize that many workers have found in their industrial work a reason for pride in their skills and a comforting communal solidarity. It is also true to say that industry has created many well-paying jobs and has contributed significantly to general economic well-being – or at least it did so in the industrialized countries until the deindustrialization of the 1980s and 1990s wiped out whole swathes of industry and ripped out the fabric of many communities, a collective harm from which they have not yet recovered.

Now these are my own, very personal views of industry. How, I have been asking myself for many years, have artists been reacting to this phenomenon which has transformed our economies and our societies over the last 200 years, both for better and for worse? As readers can imagine, most mainstream museums show very few, if any, pieces of art about industry.

Art UK has finally offered me a wonderful way of checking how artists have been tracking the phenomenon of industrialization – and deindustrialization – in the UK, the country where the industrial revolution started some 200 years ago. Using search terms like “factory”, “industry”, “industrial”, “mill”, “mine”, “worker”, “union”, and “strike” I have been drilling down through the database. To do justice to all the artwork I have unearthed, I have prepared several posts, each on a different thread which I found running through the paintings. This post will look at the theme of industry in the landscape.

I start with the earliest painting I could find in this genre, from 1810, which places it in the first decades of the UK’s Industrial Revolution. In this landscape, which has figures dressed in Regency style in the foreground, we see the English town of Halifax. Industry has a very modest presence in this landscape, in the form of those three-storey mills close to the bridge.

North-West View of Halifax (c. 1810) by Nathan Fielding (1747-c. 1814). Photo Credit: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council

In this next painting, from some twenty years later, we have a typical landscape painting: old, gnarled trees in the foreground, some rustics working at something among the trees to the left, the city of Bristol in the background. A black plume of smoke – that instant marker of industrial activity – signals the presence of some factory in the city. The industrial presence still seems modest.

View of Bristol (1827) by Patrick Nasmyth (1787-1831). Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

In Rotherham in the same period, industry is much more present in the landscape. The tall cathedral spire is matched by several tall industrial chimneys belching their black smoke, while figures in the foreground carry on with what still seems to be a bucolic life.

View of Rotherham, South Yorkshire (c. 1830) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Rotherham Heritage Services

And what could be more English than this, playing cricket while a factory chimney emits its smoke discreetly in the background?

Cricket Match at Edenside, Carlisle (c. 1844) by Samuel Bough (1822-1878). Photo credit: Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

By the late 1830s, industry has become very much more present in what were to become major hubs of industry in the UK, like this view of Sheffield from 1838.

View of Sheffield from Shrewsbury Road (1838) by William Cowen (1791-1864). Photo credit: Museums Sheffield

The next two paintings, painted within a few years of each other, were painted about twenty years later. They are views of Manchester, and they too show this city, which was to be at the heart of the UK’s industrial revolution, with the same array of chimneys spouting black smoke.

View of Manchester from Kersal (1856) by John Barton Waddington (1835-1918). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery
Manchester from Belle Vue (1861) by George Danson (1799-1881). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-ND licence

In this painting of 1861, the traditional rural past of the UK still takes pride of place, although the future, in the form of a forest of smoking chimneys, lurks in the background. As we will see in a minute, that future will eventually engulf everything.

Looking West of St Luke’s Church, Silverdale (1861) by Henry Lark I Pratt (1805-1873). Photo credit: Brampton Museum

By about this period, the traditional landscape painting with industry a minor player in it disappears. I suppose this reflects the reality of what was going on. The small towns which had adopted industry grew rapidly and sucked into them the rural poor, who were to become the industrial proletariat of the future. Now landscapes give way to cityscapes, with industry now embedded in an urban fabric.

The River Derwent from the Great Northern Railway Bridge, Derby by Raymund Dearn (1858-1925). Photo credit: Derby Museums Trust. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA licence.

The countryside disappears to give place to views of the new industrial cities.

View of Camden Town (1915) by D. Connor, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre

The bleakness of these new cities was well captured by L.S. Lowry, who from the late 1910s to the early 1960s was to paint these industrial cityscapes over and over again.

A Manufacturing Town (1922) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Science Museum, London

I add this next Lowry as a counterpoint to the earlier painting of church and industry. Now the church has been completely engulfed by the spread of industry.

A Street Scene (St Simon’s Church) (1928) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © The Lowry Collection, Salford. Photo credit: The Lowry Collection, Salford

Not all industrial landscapes of these years were as bleak as Lowry’s paintings. Here is one from 1932, which gives a more optimistic view of a typical industrial city.

Accrington from My Window (1932) by Charles Frederick Dawson (1863-1949), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

But to my  mind Lowry represents better the soul-destroying element of the UK’s industrial development.

The Bandstand, Peel Park, Salford (1930s?) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit:York Museums Trust

Other painters, while not denying the bleakness of these industrial towns, pick up on the linear geometry of modern life.

Cubist Quayside and Railway Industrial Landscape with Figures (1930s-40s?) by Charles Byrd (1916-2018), © the artist. Photo credit: Cardiff Council

But Lowry continued with his really depressing paintings.

An Industrial Town (1944) by Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), © the estate of L. S. Lowry. All rights reserved, DACS 2019. Photo credit: Birmingham Museums Trust

This next painting shows what the landscape around an industrial town had become: a dirty and torn-up landscape devoid of any life.

From a Back Lane (1949) by Jack Simcock (1929-2012), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Other painters continued to give a sunnier view of industry’s place in the landscape – we are now five years after the Second World War.

Sunlight and Mills (1951) by Harold Hemingway (1908-1976), © the copyright holder. Photo credit:  Salford Museum & Art Gallery

But others continued producing relentlessly dark landscapes – in this painting, cooling towers, which were to displace chimneys as the typical symbol of industry, make their first appearance.

A Leicester Vista (1955) by Norman Ellis (1913-1971), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

Another dark cityscape from the late 1950s.

Coventry (1958) by Jane Sutton, © the copyright holder. Photo credit: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

A sunnier version from the same year. Cooling towers are now very visible.

Walsall, as seen from Peal Street (1958) by Herbert W. Wright (b. 1912), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: The New Art Gallery Walsall

This painting is a return to earlier landscape paintings. It is celebrating the industries of the future, which are leaving behind the bleak, coal-dirty towns of the past (seen in the far distance) and starting afresh in the new industrial zones of the post-War period.

Trostre Works, Llanelli (1959) by Charles Ernest Cundall, © the artist’s estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

This is a slightly more realistic depiction of the huge industrial zones that are still with us today.

Industrial Skyline (1964) by W.D. Staves (active 1964-1965), © the copyright holder. Photo credit: North Lincolnshire Museums Service

This is another throw-back to the landscape paintings of the past, although I suspect that this one is a mourning for what once was. The steel plant in the background was eventually closed down some 15 years after this picture was painted.

Landscape with Consett Steel Works (1972) by Mary Jane Kipling (1912-2004), © the artist’s estate. Photo credit: Durham County Council (Derwentside)

Here we have a bleak vision – not messy and dirty, just alienated – of industry from the 1980s.

Industrial Landscape (c. 1980) by Stephen Meyler (b. 1956), © the artist. Photo credit: Carmarthenshire Museums Service Collection

This one is a commentary on how the beautiful object in the foreground was birthed in the ugliness behind it.

The Ruskin Connection (2000) by Stephen Morris, © the artist. Photo credit: Sandwell Museums Service Collection

And finally, a contemporary vision of industry: still there but much cleared away, leaving  joblessness and broken communities behind.

Slipway (2008) by Frances Ryan (b.1960), © the artist. Photo credit: Northern Ireland Civil Service

Here I have shown paintings where factories were but one of a number of elements in the landscape. The next post will show paintings of factories as the sole element in the landscape.

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All photos taken from the Art UK website.

 

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Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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