A Picture of Britain

A Picture of Britain is a celebration of the British landscape as seen through the eyes of artists, writers and composers.

From the breathtaking mountains of the Scottish Highlands and North Wales to the intimate hamlets of Sussex and Gloucestershire, generations of artists have been captivated by Britain’s countryside and, in turn, their images and words have influenced our impressions and love of the British landscape.

A landmark six-part BBC ONE TV series presented by David Dimbleby, a major exhibition at Tate Britain, and other BBC programmes journey through Britain to explore the connections between landscape, art and identity.

 

  1. THE ROMANTIC NORTH

The stunning scenery of the romantic North of England, birthplace of landscape art, has inspired some of Britain’s most renowned painters and writers – from JMW Turner, Thomas Girtin and James Ward to Emily Bronte, Wordsworth and Coleridge. David Dimbleby travels to Lindisfarne, the Lake District, and Northumberland and on to Yorkshire for this week’s episode of A Picture of Britain. Our journey includes Lindisfarne – one of the most mysterious and remote places in the country. Joined to the mainland by the narrowest of causeways, twice a day the island is cut off by the tide. The drama of this landscape has inspired two of Britain’s most acclaimed artists at the start of their careers, Thomas Girtin and JMW Turner. Incredibly, 250 years ago the Lake District was seen as an ugly and inhospitable wilderness. Since then it has inspired some of Britain’s most revered artists. At Grasmere, David learns that Wordsworth spent his most productive years here, composing British treasures such as The Prelude and The Daffodils. JMW Turner also took inspiration from the natural beauty of the Lake District, composing fine works such as Morning on the Coniston Fells. Moving on to Yorkshire, David visits Gordale Scar, nature at its most sublime. No artist before James Ward had attempted to contain such vastness on a canvas, but in 1812 the artist succeeded by creating his monumental Gordale Scar (12 foot by 14 foot). No trip to the romantic North would be complete without a visit to the rugged landscape which inspired Wuthering Heights. Haworth Moor, the setting for Emily Bronte’s tragic love story, is David’s final stop.


 

5. THE HOME FRONT

David Dimbleby ventures to the stunning South East for this week’s episode of A Picture of Britain. From the magnificent white cliffs of Dover and the rural idyll of Kent, to bustling Brighton and the South Downs, David explores the area of Britain that has always been the most at risk from enemy invaders and has captivated artists for centuries. Julius Caesar first set foot here. William the Conqueror claimed this land for the Normans. And in 1940, the last great battle for Britain’s survival was played out in the skies here. David learns how JMW Turner, more than any other artist, realised that the sea defined Britain and the British character just as much as any landscape. With paintings such as The Shipwreck and Snowstorm – Steam Boat Off a Harbour’s Mouth, he captured the crashing drama of the sea. David travels onwards to the little village of Felpham. Here, in his only break from living in London, William Blake was inspired to write his iconic hymn Jerusalem. Next, David arrives at the South Downs and Arundel Castle. This Norman stronghold built in 1067 has been painted by scores of artists over the years including Constable and JMW Turner. Constable came to Arundel ten years after Turner and was in ill health. He found great comfort in the awe-inspiring beauty of this area, and painted his very last work here before he died: Arundel Mill and Castle. In the 1920s, the composer John Ireland adopted the South Downs as his spiritual home. David visits Chanctonbury Ring, a great Iron Age hill fort crowned with a circle of beech trees, which was the inspiration for Ireland’s haunting work, Legend. Brighton is the next stop. Today this vibrant seaside destination is a haven for artists and tourists alike, but it wasn’t always considered a beautiful spot for painting. Constable painted nostalgic and restrained views of the area but it was William Frith’s Life at the Seaside that really captured the crowds and energy of Brighton for the first time. David reaches Kipling country – a little corner of East Sussex – and considers Kipling’s poem, If, before travelling to Kent and the Garden of England. Here, he discovers how artist Helen Allingham created the quintessential image of Kent as the garden of England. Onward to Chartwell, where Churchill’s love of painting is considered before David explores the paintings of Paul Nash. Commissioned to be a war artist, Nash created acclaimed works such as Battle of Britain. With the mighty white cliffs of Dover as a backdrop, David meets Dame Vera Lynn to discuss her song, White Cliffs of Dover, the tune that in Britain’s darkest hour during the Second World War became a beacon of hope across the world.

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