A History of Art in England (1): Introduction – Travels with John Rothenstein

Rambling 0

John Rothenstein wrote “An Introduction to English Painting” over fifty years ago. It’s a narrative account taking us from the illuminated manuscripts of the Lindisfarne Gospels through to the art and artists of the 1950s. A lot has changed since then, socially and culturally; our ways of seeing are necessarily different.

Nevertheless, I thought that in this “time of lockdown”, it might be interesting to follow Rothenstein’s path – a gentle research project, meandering off now and then – using his book as a map and rummaging in the Internet for related images, articles and so on.


The Common Viewer

aims to create, from whatever odds and ends, some kind of whole – a portrait of the artist, the sketch of an age, some stories of art – albeit rickety and ramshackle

(a ‘mis/translation’ of The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf, 1929)


John Rothenstein was Director of Leeds City Art Gallery and then the Tate.
He was the son of actress Alice Knewstub and artist William Rothenstein who portrayed the two-year-old John with his mother in “Mother and Child” (1903; Tate)

Mother and Child 1903 by Sir William Rothenstein 1872-1945


(As a young man Rothenstein Sr. spent time in Paris with Toulouse-Lautrec and Charles Conder:
https://thecommonviewer.wordpress.com/2019/01/12/toulouse-lautrec-the-englishmen-at-the-moulin-rouge/ )

There are several portraits of the adult John Rothenstein at the National Portrait Gallery https://www.npg.org.uk/ , including a fabulous 1927 painting by Jacques-Emile Blanche:

Rambling 3

John was married to illustrator and fellow-writer Elizabeth (nee Smith) whose work includes an insightful biography of Stanley Spencer, sadly out of print.

Already we digress, but that is very much the point of this ramble: to wander off via books, pictures and especially, given our state of isolation, websites of interest.

And it is very much a conversation,

do please add in anything else you find along the way!

I will be including a PayPal option on each of the posts that follow. Please, if you are able to ‘donate’ – even occasionally – I would be sincerely grateful.

Thank you in advance – and I hope you enjoy the ramble! 


About TheCommonViewer

Independent Researcher: gently exploring the art and artists of early 20th century Britain (with forays elsewhere, in particular Russian Art History); the Art, Books & History Group meets monthly in Southend-on-Sea Twitter: @TheCommonViewer

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