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Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present

Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present


The rural idyll occupies a deeply rooted place in the collective imagination. This highly original and vibrant study examines how key moments in art history have shaped our understanding of the British countryside and how contemporary artists continue to access and often challenge this concept.


From High Art to propaganda, garden centres to air fresheners, contemporary art to computer games – a constellation of powerful images and ideas contribute to our understandings of the rural. This publication offers new ways of thinking about how ideas of the countryside have been formed and how they are reflected in contemporary culture, through the innovative integration of historic works by artists including Constable, Gainsborough and Stubbs, works of modern British art, together with contemporary responses to rural life and landscape by artists such as Mat Collishaw, Grayson Perry, Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp. Crucially, this volume enters this rich array of artworks into a productive dialogue with a range of visual cultures that populate everyday life, exploring how the imagery of the rural idyll is re-enacted, adapted and used today.


Creating the Countryside features new writing from a variety of disciplines, encompassing the spheres of art history, rural history, literature and contemporary art. Interspersed throughout the publication are series of interviews with artists who are working with the rural in innovative ways, offering a stimulating range of new perspectives on the role and importance of the countryside in contemporary culture.


The publication features artists whose work spanns nearly four centuries, including Helen Allingham, William Blake, Edward Burra, Rebecca Chesney, George Clausen, William Collins, Mat Collishaw, John Constable, Evelyn Dunbar, Anna Fox, Thomas Gainsborough, James Guthrie, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Josef Herman, Paul Hill, Sigrid Holmwood, Horockses, Hilary Jack, Peter Kennard, Delaine Le Bas, Clare Leighton, Claude Lorrain, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Jean-François Millet, MyVillages, Frank Newbould, Samuel Palmer, Grayson Perry, John Pettie, John Piper, Ingrid Pollard, Paul Reas, John Robertson Reid, Andy Sewell, Jo Spence, Stanley Spencer, George Stubbs, Graham Sutherland, Homer Sykes, Edward Arthur Walton and John Wyndham.

  • Edited by Rosemary Shirley & Verity Elison

    March 2017

    Paperback, 260 x 216 mm
    120 pages, 60 colour illus.
    ISBN: 978 1 911300 10 6

  • Exhibition

    Compton Verney, Warwickshire,
    18 March – 18 June 2017

  • In the press

    "A stand-alone book rather than an exhibition catalogue … wide-ranging and provocative, and, despite a focus on the distinctly un-idyllic aspects of rural life, often very funny." —Times Literary Supplement 


    "Intriguing … a rich subject for an exhibition" —Telegraph


    "UK countryside takes sinister twist" —Guardian 


    Kirsty Patricia Lang tours Creating the Countryside with Rosemary Shirley and Verity Elson for BBC Radio 4


    ★★★★"Enchanting views of country life" —Daily Mail


    "A modern take on a classic subject." —Black + White Photography Magazine 

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