Author(s): Alexandra Harris
Year published: 2010
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Publisher Location: London
Total Pages: 320
Illustrations: 80 Illustrations, 65 in colour
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Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper.
Guardian first book award winner 2010.
England has had a bad press from disciples of a high-speed future.
While the battles for modern art and society were being fought in France and Spain, it has seemed a betrayal that John Betjeman and John Piper were in love with a provincial world of old churches and tea-shops.
Alexandra Harris tells a different story. In the 1930s and 1940s, artists and writers explored what it meant to be alive in England. Eclectically, passionately, wittily, they showed that ‘the modern’ need not be at war with the past. Constructivists and conservatives could work together, and even the Bauhaus émigré, László Moholy-Nagy, was beguiled into taking photographs for Betjeman’s nostalgic Oxford University Chest.
This modern English renaissance was shared by writers, painters, gardeners, architects, critics, tourists and composers. John Piper, Virginia Woolf, Florence White, Christopher Tunnard, Evelyn Waugh, E. M. Forster and the Sitwells are part of the story, along with Bill Brandt, Graham Sutherland, Eric Ravilious and Cecil Beaton.
Through all their work runs a celebration of locality and often of the mischievous English climate. But most powerful of all is their fascination with finding – or imagining – possible homes.