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Brotherhood of Ruralists

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A group of seven British painters formed in 1975 when all the members were living in the predominantly rural west of England (their definition of ‘ruralist’ being ‘someone who is from the city who moves to the country’). They were Ann Arnold (1936– ) and her husband, Graham Arnold (1932– ), Peter Blake, the American-born Jann Haworth (1942– ), who was married to Blake, 1963–81, David Inshaw (1943– ), Annie Ovenden (1945– ), and her husband, Graham Ovenden (1943– ).

The Ruralists first exhibited as a group at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1976 and last showed together (minus Haworth) at Blake's retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1983. In between they had several other group exhibitions, took working holidays together, and divided among themselves a commission to design the covers for the 37–volume New Arden edition of Shakespeare's plays. However, they shared ideals rather than a common style. They attracted a good deal of attention (a BBC film ‘Summer with the Brotherhood’ was broadcast in 1977). Many critics found their paintings insufferably twee and self-conscious, especially those involving fairies—one review of a 1981 touring exhibition was headed ‘Tinkerbell lives’.

Apart from Blake, the best known of the members of the Brotherhood are probably David Inshaw and Graham Ovenden. Inshaw specializes in tightly handled enigmatic landscapes with figures, such as Our Days were a Joy and our Paths through Flowers (1971–2, City Art Gallery, Bristol). Ovenden is best known for pictures of prepubescent girls, which have sometimes been attacked as pornographic. In 1977 he published a book called Nymphets and Fairies, and in 1979 he wrote: ‘My work is the celebration of youth and spring—the fecundity of nature and our relationship to it. This is why the subject-matter of my work tends towards the girl child (more often than not at the point of budding forth) and the English landscape in all its richness and mystery.’

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