British Art is the art of the island of Britain. The term normally includes British artists as well as expatriates settled in Britain.
Later Middle ages
British art in the later middle ages was part of the International style and often as such its painting and art in that period is not distinctive to much of other northern European art. An outstanding example of this period is The Wilton Diptych.
A notable event in British art history is the adoption of Protestantism by Henry VIII of England in 1536 and the subsequent seizure of property belonging to the Catholic church by the state (See Dissolution of the Monasteries). This resulted in the destruction of much of England and Wales' art tradition, which had previously been under the patronage of the church. Another result was isolation from the trends of catholic Europe, including many of those at the centre of the Renaissance. While there was a political motive for the seizing and destruction of church property, there was also the religious motive of iconoclasm, which continued in fits and burst until the late 17th century.
18th century: The English School
Beginning in the 18th century, the English school of painting is believed by some to be the first distinctly British style of painting. It is notable for its portraits and landscapes. Amoung the artists of this period are Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), George Stubbs 1724–1806), and Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788).
Late 18th century – early 19th century
Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway
JMW Turner (1844).
The late 18th century and the early 19th century was perhaps the most radical period in British art, producing William Blake (1757–1827), John Constable (1776?–1837) and Turner (1775–1851), the later two being arguably the most internationally influential of all British artists. Turner was noted for his wild, almost abstract, landscapes that explored the effects of light and was a profound influence on the later impressionists, as well as being admired by abstract impressionists such as Mark Rothko. Constable too, was a landscape painter who was also to have an influence on the impressionists, but is more accessible than Turner, and is noted rather for his imprecise brush strokes and elevation of 'mundane' subject matter then Turners almost visionary presaging of the future.
1840 to 20th century
From the 1840s onwards, British painting was dominated by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a movement whose paintings concentrated on religious, literary, and genre subjects executed in a colorful and minutely detailed style. While praised and encouraged at the time by leading critic John Ruskin, subsequent generations of critics have disapproved of its themes, which they don’t believe are representative of their times; and of their philosophical aims, which they believe to be self-contradictory.
Associated with this movement was designer William Morris (1834–1896), who eschewed the tawdry industrial manufacture of decorative arts and architecture, favouring a return to hand-craftsmanship. His efforts to make beautiful objects affordable (or even free) for everyone led to his wallpaper and tile designs defining the Victorian aesthetic.
Contemporary British art
The Young British Artists movement, which includes Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracy Emin, is perhaps the most prominent group of visual artists to come from Britain since the Pre-Raphaelites. Their work is largely conceptual art, and is frequently controversial, many say sensationalist.
List of British artists