Brotherhood of Ruralists

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In 1975, Peter Blake, Graham and Annie Ovenden, Graham and Ann Arnold, together with David Inshaw and Jann Haworth formed the Brotherhood of Ruralists. They left their urban lives behind for the sanctity of the West Country; a cathartic retreat which mirrored the romantic dream of their Pre-Raphaelite fore-fathers. Each group had sought solace and inspiration from an unspoilt time or place. Each held within their hearts Ruskin’s plea to young artists in the close of Modern Painters: go to Nature… rejecting nothing, selecting nothing and scorning nothing. The traditions they idolised were romantic and mystical, with strong literary associations. The Brotherhood of Ruralists instinctively acknowledged the common ethos between their fellowship and that of the Pre-Raphaelites. Both groups were seven young artists, spiritually bound by shared ideals and dreams which they had found themselves unable to cultivate in a climate of rigid academic institution and banal criticism.

In 1976, the Ruralists’ inaugural exhibition was held at the Royal Academy, where a century before Dante Gabriel Rossetti had first laid eyes on Holman Hunt’s Eve of St. Agnes: the spark that led to the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In the Ruralist exhibition, Graham Ovenden showed his Portrait of Peter and Juliette Blake, a labour of love and his homage to the Ruralists’ vision. Behind the sitters, beyond the brick wall can be glimpsed the magical sweeping hills and fresh spring skies of their ‘mystic arcadia’. Peter’s daughter, Juliette, personifies the ‘girl-child’, which Graham describes as a part of nature, an organic part of nature, and therefore has the same validity as a growing tree. The Ruralists, like the Pre-Raphaelites, placed as much importance upon their figurative work and portraiture as their studies directly from nature. Crucially, Graham Ovenden explains of his figurative paintings, the portrait is the living human organism within it. The environment is only very secondary to the situation.

The Ruralists’ next groundbreaking exhibition, in 1980, was titled Ophelia, a favourite theme shared with the Pre-Raphaelites. The following year the Brotherhood of Ruralists presented a major groundbreaking exhibition which was supported by the Arts Council and travelled to Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow and London. In 1983, the group worked on a project entitled The Definitive Nude, to compliment Peter Blake’s retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery.

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