The influence of continental symbolism, impressionism and post-impressionism on British writers and painters
Between derivativeness and originality
The multifarious ways in which Continental and especially French literary and artistic movements affected British writers and painters at the turn of the twentieth century testify that they may have lagged behind their European peers. In this respect, however, a distinction between British Impressionism and Symbolism in visual arts and in literature is conspicuous: whereas the former were partly derivative in their technique, the latter did not merely copy a Continental style of writing. In other words, the concepts reminiscent of Impressionism and Symbolism had been immanent in English tradition, traced back to the beginnings of Romanticism and the anticipation of Aestheticism. Moreover, it is even a moot point whether the influence was unilateral or, on the contrary, mutual. As a matter of fact, such writers as Oscar Wilde or W.B. Yeats were inspired not only by French Symbolist poets or Impressionist painters, but also by the national heritage established by William Blake, S.T. Coleridge, John Keats, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s artistic ideas or the work and criticism of Edgar Allan Poe (himself influenced by the aforementioned English poets), who, in turn, had a powerful impact on French Symbolist poets. At the same time, it is necessary to do justice to Aubrey Beardsley, James Whistler, Alfred Sisley, Walter Sickert or Roger Fry who were, admittedly, determined by the Impressionist techniques, but who also managed to fashion their own recognisable and highly idiosyncratic style of painting.
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