Saturday, May 1, 2010

(Social) Realism: United Kingdom

William Hogarth (1697–1764)

William Hogarth (10 November 1697 – 26 October 1764) was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects". Much of his work poked fun at contemporary politics and customs; illustrations in such style are often referred to as "Hogarthian".

Four stages of cruelty

A Rake's Progress (Engravings)

William Bell Scott (1811 – 1890)
William Bell Scott (12 September 1811 – 22 November 1890), British poet and artist, son of Robert Scott (1777–1841), the engraver, and brother of David Scott, the painter, was born in Edinburgh. While a young man he studied art and assisted his father, and he published verses in the Scottish magazines. In 1837 he went to London, where he became sufficiently well known as an artist to be appointed in 1844 master of the government school of design at Newcastle-on-Tyne. He held the post for twenty years, and did good work in organizing art-teaching and examining under the Science and Art Department.

Ford Madox Brown (1821 – 1893)
Ford Madox Brown (16 April 1821 – 6 October 1893) was an English painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic and often Hogarthian version of the Pre-Raphaelite style. Brown's most important painting was Work (1852–1865), commissioned by Thomas Plint and which he showed at a special exhibition. It attempted to depict the totality of the mid-Victorian social experience in a single image, depicting 'navvies' digging up a road, Heath Street in Hampstead, London, and disrupting the old social hierarchies as they did so. The image erupts into proliferating details from the dynamic centre of the action, as the workers tear a hole in the road – and, symbolically, in the social fabric. Each character represents a particular social class and role in the modern urban environment.

John Kay inventor of the Fly Shuttle,
by Ford Madox Brown,
depicting the inventor John Kay fleeing
a mob intent on destroying his mechanical loom.

Walter Howell Deverell (1827–1854)

Walter Howell Deverell (1827–1854) was an English artist, born in the United States of America, who was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Deverell was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, into an English family who moved back to Britain when Walter was only two years old. He studied art at the Royal Academy schools, where he met Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He and Rossetti shared a studio in 1851. The Pre-Raphaelites had been founded in 1848, and under Rossetti's influence Deverell's work began to show the influence of the movement, while still retaining features more characteristic of earlier genre painters like Charles Robert Leslie. [...] Deverell completed very few important works, exhibiting only four paintings at the R.A. before his early death from Bright's disease at the age of twenty-seven.

The Irish Beggars

Henry Wallis (1830 - 1916)
Henry Wallis (1830 - 1916) was an English Pre-Raphaelite painter, writer and collector. Born in London on 21 February 1830, his father's name and occupation are unknown. When in 1845 his mother, Mary Anne Thomas, married Andrew Wallis, a prosperous London architect, Henry took his stepfather's surname. His artistic training was thorough and influential. He was admitted as a probationer to the RA and enrolled in the Painting School in March 1848. He also studied in Paris at Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre's atelier and at the Academie des Beaux Arts, sometime between 1849 and 1853.

The Stone Breaker

Frederick Walker (1840 - 1875)
Frederick Walker (26 May 1840, 90 Great Titchfield Street, London - 4 June 1875, St Fillans on Loch Earn) was an English Social Realist painter and illustrator in watercolours and oils. After early promise and painting trips to Paris, Venice, Algiers and Scotland, he died at only 35. He had been elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1871. He is buried in Cookham churchyard in Berkshire.

The Vagrants

Sir Samuel Luke Fildes RA (1843 – 1927)
Sir Samuel Luke Fildes RA (October 3, 1843 – February 28, 1927) was an English painter and illustrator born at Liverpool and trained in the South Kensington and Royal Academy schools.
At the age of seventeen Luke Fildes became a student at the Warrington School of Art. Fildes moved to the South Kensington Art school where he met Hubert von Herkomer and Frank Holl. All three men became influenced by the work of Frederick Walker, the leader of the social realist movement in Britain.

Sir Samuel Luke Fildes Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward 1874

Frank Holl (1845 – 1888)
Frank Holl (July 4, 1845 – July 31, 1888), English painter, was born in London, and was educated chiefly at University College School.

Frank Holl Newgate, Committed for Trial

Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849 – 1914)
Sir Hubert von Herkomer (26 May 1849 – 31 March 1914), British painter of German descent. He was also a pioneering film-director and a composer. Herkomer was born at Waal, in Bavaria. Lorenz Herkomer, his father and a wood-carver of great ability, left Bavaria in 1851 with his wife and child for the United States, settling in Cleveland, Ohio, for a while, but returned to Europe and settled in Southampton in 1857. He lived for some time at Southampton and in the school of art there began his art training; he visited Bavaria with his father in 1865 and briefly studied at the Munich academy, but in 1866 he entered upon a more serious course of study at the South Kensington Schools, and in 1869 exhibited for the first time at the Royal Academy.

Hard Times

On Strike

Sir James Guthrie (1859 – 1930)
Sir James Guthrie (June 10, 1859 – September 6, 1930) was a Scottish painter. He was best known in his own lifetime for his portraiture, although today he is more generally as a painter of Scottish Realism. Born in Greenock, Guthrie, the son of a clergyman, originally enrolled at Glasgow University to study law, but abandoned this in favour of painting in 1877. Unlike many of his contemporaries he did not study in Paris, being mostly self-taught, although he was mentored for a short time by James Drummond in Glasgow and then John Pettie in London. He lived most of his life in the Scottish Borders, most notably in Cockburnspath, Berwickshire, where he painted some of his most important works, including A Hind's Daughter (1883), and Schoolmates. He was strongly influenced by the French Realists, especially Jules Bastien-Lepage, and was associated with the Glasgow Boys.

A Fairground at Night

A Highland Funeral

A Hind's Daughter

The Gypsy Fires are Burning

The Stonebreaker

Joseph Crawhall (1861 – 1913)
Joseph Crawhall (1861 – 24 May 1913) was an English artist born in Morpeth, Northumberland. He was the fourth child and second son of Joseph Crawhall II and Margaret Boyd. Crawhall specialised in painting animals and birds. In the 1880s and 1890s, his work became associated with the Glasgow Boys. He was strongly influenced by the Impressionists, and, like them, his work was rejected by the Establishment, in his case in the form of the Royal Scottish Academy.

Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887 – 1976)
Laurence Stephen Lowry (1 November 1887 – 23 February 1976) was an English artist born in Barrett Street, Stretford, Lancashire. Many of his drawings and paintings depict nearby Salford and surrounding areas, including Pendlebury, where he lived and worked for over 40 years at 117 Station Road (B5231), opposite St. Mark's RC Church. Lowry is famous for painting scenes of life in the industrial districts of Northern England during the early 20th century. He had a distinctive style of painting and is best known for urban landscapes peopled with human figures often referred to as "matchstick men".

Cliff Rowe (1904 - 1989)

Rowe was a major artist of the 1930s, his work reflected his concern to represent industry and working life. The People's History Museum holds the major part of Cliff Rowe's work. The National Railway Museum, York, the Science Museum, London, and the Tate Gallery, London, hold others.

Born in Wimbledon, Rowe studied at Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal College of Art. By 1931, he was making designs for Communist Party publications. Following eighteen months of travel and design work in the Soviet Union, Rowe returned to England and in 1934 helped establish the Artists' International Association, which eventually grew to about 900 strong. Its work included helping refugees from Hitler's Germany and providing medical aid to the British International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

From 1945, Rowe's work included publicity commissions from the Attlee Labour government and trade unions, designs for the 1951 Festival of Britain, commercial mural design, exhibition design and text book illustration. The major part of Rowe's work however consists of large oil paintings, and the Tolpuddle Martyrs and General Strike murals commissioned by the Electrical Trades Union, then led by Communists. Large scale and powerful, his oils are icons to the worker and stress the social value of labour, whilst his murals depict key struggles in the history of organized labour.

John Granville Coldoys Keane (1954)
John Granville Coldoys Keane (born 12 September 1954) is a British artist, whose paintings have contemporary political and social themes. John Keane was born in Hertfordshire, England. He was educated at Wellington College (1968–72) and Camberwell School of Art (1972–76). He is a political painter, whose subjects often concern contentious political, social and military issues. In 1990, the Imperial War Museum commissioned him as an official war artist in the Gulf War. 2001–02, he exhibited paintings which were derived from an expedition with Greenpeace during their campaign in the Amazon against illegal logging. In 2002, he painted Mo Mowlam, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The original idea was to represent her with other major figures in the Good Friday Agreement (Gerry Adams, John Hume and David Trimble), but four years of talks as to where the individuals should be placed ended with Trimble's withdrawal and the plan was abandoned.

In 2004, he toured his show, The Inconvenience of History, internationally. This was based on trips in liaison with Christian Aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He also worked on paintings about the 2002 Moscow Theatre siege, using documentary footage as a source: "The process has continued my methods of developing the imagery with the aid of a computer, prior to committing paint to canvas in works both large and small scale." In 2006, 57 Hours in the House of Culture was a show at Flowers East gallery, London, and Sakharov Museum, Moscow, about the Chechen War. More recent work, Guantanamerica, bases paintings about "issues of representation and dehumanisation of detainees at Guantanemo Bay" on low resolution internet files.

World (Social) Realist Art (Index of Countries)
This blog page is part of an ongoing project by artist and part-time lecturer Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin ( to explore Realist / Social Realist art from around the world. The term Realism is used in its broadest sense to include 19th century Realism and Naturalism as well as 20th century Impressionism (which after all was following in the path of Courbet and Millet). Social Realism covers art that seeks to examine the living and working conditions of ordinary people (examples include German Expressionism, American Ashcan School and the Mexican Muralists).

Click here for (Social) Realist Art Definitions, World (Social) Realism and Global Solidarity, Art and Politics, Social Realism in history and Country Index.

Suggestions for appropriate artists from around the world welcome to

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