An Introduction to Neo-Romanticism

23 February 2017

Our current exhibition 'John Minton and the Romantic Tradition' explores the works of British artist Minton and his contemporaries in the Neo-Romantic movement, in particular looking at the inspiration they took from the Romantic era. But just what is Neo-Romanticism? In this blog post, we give you the rundown.

The term ‘Neo-Romanticism’ is used to describe a school of painting that emerged in 1930s and 1940s Britain. Under this umbrella term, you can expect to see paintings inspired by British landscapes, often interpreted and portrayed in a surreal or abstract style.


John Minton (1917-1957) The Kite, 1940 © The Estate of John Minton and Royal College of Art

Reacting to the despair and drabness of life in Britain since WW2, Neo-Romantic paintings can have intense and moody atmospheres, lonely figures, and sombre, abstract scenes. If that doesn't sound too upbeat, it's because the artists were dealing with the psychological consequences felt by everyone across the country - namely destruction of homes and cities, emotional loss, feelings of threat and paranoia - and expressing it through their art.

Neo-Romantic artists reimagined a nostalgic and romantic vision of the British landscape, with John Piper and Graham Sutherland leading the way. They influenced John Minton, John Craxton and Keith Vaughan (amongst others) who infused their figures and landscapes with an emotional, personal charge.


John Craxton (1922-2009) Yellow Estuary Landscape 1943 © The Ingram Collection and DACS

Neo-Romanticism might be a movement in British art, but it combined Romantic themes from the past with European trends in Modern Art such as Expressionism, Surrealism and Abstraction. You can see influence from Samuel Palmer in the landscapes, but at the same time you can see elements of Picasso's Cubism in the shapes and depictions. 


John Minton (1917-1957), Two Fishermen, 1949 © The John Minton Estate and Royal College of Art

Unlike other art movements the Neo-Romantics were not a purposefully unified group. The term itself was invented well after the style emerged, and it was a wide movement which encompassed quite a variety of styles. The key British artists now considered to be Neo-Romantics never came together to exhibit or collaborate as a group, unlike the Camden Town Group, for example.

Having started in the 1930s and continued to the early 1950s, Neo-Romanticism's popularity with artists, critics and the public alike waned with Pop Art's loud arrival on the scene. Nowadays there is a renewed appreciation for the artists, with an unearthed John Minton painting recently selling for nearly £300,000 at auction

Discover the Neo-Romantics for yourself at John Minton and the Romantic Tradition until 9 March 2017.
£5 Annual Pass or £3 Day Pass | Under 18s Free

Works in John Minton and the Romantic Tradition are drawn from The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art.

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