‘Oh, England! My Lionheart’: Englishness and the Countryside in Art Between the Wars
This dissertation explores the interwar work of Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), Cecil Beaton (1904-80), and Eric Ravilious (1903-42) in relation to their representations of the English countryside and what they meant to notions of national identity. It will move chronologically through the period and examine how the work of these three disparate artists intersected with national, social, and aesthetic concerns that lay at the heart of the question of what sort of country England was in relation to its rural landscapes. The argument will begin with Stanley Spencer, examining the legacies of First World War propaganda that positioned the countryside as the spiritual home of the English and how the physical legacy of the war dead problematised and transformed this concept. I will then turn to Cecil Beaton’s interior decoration of his country house, Ashcombe, as a case study for exploring how the generation that succeeded Spencer’s reckoned with the patriotic and moralistic notion of Englishness they inherited. The argument will finally centre on a cycle of paintings of chalk figures in the English landscape that Eric Ravilious painted at the outset of the Second World War to demonstrate how ancient symbols of the English countryside became re-politicised to combat the impending threat to the stability of national identity.