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Art

Although often characterized as 'philistine' and indifferent to culture, Methodism has in reality enjoyed a steady undercurrent of interaction with the world of the fine arts and there are significant names which can be cited as artists with clear Methodist links.

Many artists have turned their talents to the portrayal of John Wesley and he sat to such important painters of the eighteenth century English School as Hone, Romney and probably Reynolds. He was also sculpted by Enoch Wood. In his later years he took a lively, though puritanical, interest in the works of art as well as the architecture of the country houses he visited in his travels. Charles Wesley was probably more sensitive to the creative life, encouraging John Russell, an early RA. Later on, John Jackson RA (who provided portraits for theWMM) was also prominent and J. Adams-Acton was a noted sculptor. Henry Perlee Parker (from a UMFC background) was a history and scene painter; James Smetham was associated with the Pre-Raphaelites; Burne-Jones and E.J. Poynter married into the Macdonald family; and Van Gogh was briefly associated with Methodism in Richmond, Surrey. Furthermore, the Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art is evidence of the Church's appreciation of the era of modern art.

Methodism's Nonconformist ethos has profoundly influenced the work of artists, some (such as Frank O. Salisbury) setting their faces determinedly against the prevailing artistic movements of their time. Others have felt their creativity compromised by Methodist beliefs (and may indeed have been repressed by or outcast from the Church), rejecting or subordinating their faith in order to pursue their art - although its influence can often be discerned in their work. William Etty (1787-1849), Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) and David Hockney (b. 9 July 1937) all had Methodist upbringings and Eric Gill's (1882-1940) roots were in the Countess of Huntingdon\'s Connexion.

With notable exceptions, such as the efforts of successive WM Book Stewards, Methodism has not had a prominent tradition of patronage of the arts or of artists. Perhaps understandably, more attention has been paid to the architecture and decorative arts of its buildings, including stained glass; but, as in literature, where hymnody may overshadow other poetic achievements, so the existence of fine churches and church furnishings points to deeper and broader interests in the world of the arts.

Sources

  • London Quarterly and Holborn Review, July 1958

Entry written by: PSF
Category: Subject

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