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British Art: Ancient Landscapes

British Art: Ancient Landscapes


Presenting the best and most imaginative creative responses by artists to the British prehistoric landscape over the last 250 years. This is the first significant publication to range over the entire field – including images of Stonehenge, Avebury, the Uffington White Horse and other prehistoric landmarks – by the likes of Turner, Constable, Blake, Nash, Ravilious, Piper, Hepworth, Moore, Inshaw, Jarman, Deller and Long.


Published to accompany an exhibition at the Salisbury Museum, British Art: Ancient Landscapes explores the most significant works of art engaged with prehistoric monuments across Britain from the 18th century to the 21st. While some of the works in the earlier period may be familiar to readers – especially Turner’s and Constable’s famous watercolours of Stonehenge – the varied responses to British Antiquity since 1900 are much less well known.


In this volume Sam Smiles shows the significance of antiquity not just for 19th-century artists but for 20th-century artists, demonstrating how they responded to the observable features of prehistoric Britain and exploited their potential for imaginative re-interpretation. The classic phase of modernist interest in these sites and monuments was the 1930s, but a number of artists working after WWII developed this legacy or were stimulated to explore that landscape in new ways. Indeed, it continues to stimulate responses and the book concludes with an examination of works made within the last few years.


An introductory essay looks at the changing artistic approach to British prehistoric remains over the last 250 years, emphasizing the artistic significance of this body of work and examining the very different contexts that brought it into being. The cultural intersections between the prehistoric landscape, its representation by fine artists and the emergence of its most famous sites as familiar locations in public consciousness will also be examined. For example, engraved topographical illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries and Shell advertising posters from the 20th century are considered.


Artists represented include: JMW Turner, John Constable, Thomas Hearne, William Blake, Samuel Prout, William Geller, Richard Tongue, John William Inchbold, George Shepherd, William Andrews Nesfield, Copley Fielding, Yoshijiro (Mokuchu) Urushibara, Alan Sorrell, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Frank Dobson, Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious, John Piper, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ithell Colquhoun, Gertrude Hermes, Norman Stevens, Bill Brandt, Derek Jarman, Richard Long, Joe Tilson, David Inshaw and Jeremy Deller.

  • By Sam Smiles

    April 2017

    Paperback, 280 x 218 mm
    120 pages, 60 colour illus.
    ISBN: 978 1 911300 14 4


    Sam Smiles is the author of The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination (1994), Flight and the Artistic Imagination (2012) and West Country to World’s End: The South West in the Tudor Age (2013).

  • Exhibition

    Salisbury Museum

    8 April to 3 September 2017

  • In the press

    "Engaging … This beautifully illustrated book allows us to catch artists in the act of negotiating ancient monuments." —Spectator


    "Some of the greatest names in British art from the past 250 years ... [a] vantage point from which to look again at Britain’s ancient monuments: to notice, to ponder, to be mystified and to be inspired by them." —Minerva Magazine


    "Sam Smiles puts into sharp focus how artists over the last 250 years have responded to the UK's mysterious prehistoric landscape." —Black + White Photography Magazine  


    "A fascinating reflection on our connection with these landscapes and how the past continues to occupy the present." —Art Quarterly 


    "Much to stimulate and delight" —Country Life 


    "As British Art: Ancient Landscapes shows, the diversity of works produced over nearly three centuries in a variety of media and for a variety of purposes reflects the richness of Britain’s prehistoric archaeology … beautifully illustrated accompanying catalogue." —Current Archaeology  


    "Stunning" —Outdoor Photography Magazine

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