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England's Greatest Artists
England's Most Famous Artists


Who were England's greatest artists? Of course there different kinds of artists poets, playwrights, musical artists, and visual artists like painters, sculptors and engravers so I have separated my choices into categories. Perhaps the most interesting thing about my rankings is the fact that William Blake places so highly in multiple categories. And Blake may have been England's greatest prophet and its greatest heretic as well! Please note that I have not included the great Scottish poets Robert Burns and William Dunbar, the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, or the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats. I have limited my selections to artists primarily associated with England. And for that reason I have included poets like Lord Byron, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Oscar Wilde, who are more associated with England than with their native countries.

complied by Michael R. Burch

Top Ten English Painters and Visual Artists

(#1) William Blake (his innovations not only influenced legions of painters and poets, but also musicians and the creators of graphic novels, comics and movies)
(#2) Dante Gabriel Rossetti (especially for his dramatic paintings of the first supermodels: Elizabeth Siddal, Jane Morris and Fanny Cornforth)
(#3) John Singer Sargent
(#4) J. M. W. Turner (Joseph Mallord William Turner)
(#5) John Constable
(#6) J. W. Waterhouse (John William Waterhouse)
(#7) John Everett Millais
(#8) Joseph Wright of Derby
(#9) John Martin and Thomas Lawrence
(#10) Banksy and George Romney (especially for his portraits of Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Lord Nelson)

High Honorable Mention: Edward Burne-Jones, Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Girtin, William Hogarth, William Holman Hunt, William Powell Frith, Edwin Landseer, Elizabeth Magill, Joshua Reynolds, John Ruskin, Elizabeth Siddal, George Stubbs, James Whistler

Dark Horses: Francis Bacon, Leonora Carrington, Winston Churchill, John Sell Cotman, David Cox, John Robert Cozens, John Crome, Richard Dadd, William Dyce, Augustus Egg, Tracey Emin, William Etty, Meredith Frampton, Lucian Freud, Anne Hardy, Nicholas Hilliard, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin, Arthur Hopkins (the brother of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins), Gwen John, Peter Lanyon, Wyndham Lewis, Charles Robert Leslie, Evelyn De Morgan, William Morris, Sir Alfred Munnings, Paul Nash, Walter Sickert, Marie Spartali Stillman, Thomas Stothard, John Varley, James Ward

Connections: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was originally founded by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt. The initial seven-member brotherhood also included William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner. Associated artists would include William Morris, Elizabeth Siddal, Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, Evelyn De Morgan, Charles Allston Collins, Marie Spartali Stillman, Alexander Munro, Thomas Tupper, Aubrey Beardsley and John William Waterhouse. One of the PRB's goals was to "link" the visual arts to Romantic poetry. For instance, Hunt's "The Eve of St. Agnes" was inspired by the famous John Keats poem. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister Christiana became celebrated poets, while their brother William was a literary critic and poet. Collinson and Woolner also wrote poetry. For a short period of time the PRB published a literary journal, The Germ, which was edited by William Michael Rossetti and featured poems by its members. Today the poets are known simply as the Pre-Raphaelites since there have been female artists associated with the movement. John Ruskin praised the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Millais and Hunt, and even provided funds to encourage Elizabeth Siddal in her progress from model to painter.

Influence: William Blake may be the most influential artist of all time. He was the first of the great Romantics and probably the first modernist as well, since modernism was essentially an "acceleration" of the Romantic movement. Blake's "The Tyger" is the most-anthologized poem in the English language. His poem "Jerusalem" has been turned into a classic hymn and inspired the title of the movie "Chariots of Fire." How influential has Blake been? Well, when the Beatles met Bob Dylan the first time, they broke the ice by discussing Blake. (The "beat" in Beatles allegedly derives from the Beat poets, and the most famous Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, was a huge Blake fan who helped break the ice by bringing up his work at that initially icy meeting.) The Doors were named after Blake's "doors of perception." Walt Whitman, the father of modern free verse, modeled his crypt after Blake's engraving "Death's Door." Blake was the first artist to graphically depict the cruelties of slavery and his poem "The Little Black Boy" was perhaps the first well-known poem to call for racial equality. Blake was worlds ahead of his time in calling for equality of the races and sexes. He was also a proponent of free love long before the hippies became gleams in their parents' eyes. Blake's influence on graphic novels and the darker comics has been monumental. Major artists influenced by Blake include Walt Whitman, William Butler Yeats, Alan Ginsberg, e. e. cummings, Pablo Neruda, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Kris Kristofferson, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen and Bono. 

Top Ten English Sculptors

(#1) John Gibson
(#2) Edwin Landseer
(#3) Antony Gormley
(#4) Henry Moore and Thomas Woolner
(#5) Peter Randall-Page
(#6) Emily Young
(#7) Stephen Cox
(#8) Harry Bates
(#9) John Dears
(#10) George Frederick Watts

High Honorable Mention: Tony Cragg, John Flaxman, Simon Gudgeon, Alexander Munro

Dark Horses: Anthony Caro, Elizabeth Frink, Eric Gill, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, Barbara Hepworth, Allen Jones, Tim Tolkien, Thomas Woolner

Top Ten English Engravers and Illustrators

(#1) William Blake
(#2) Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(#3) Hablot Knight "Phiz" Browne
(#4) Thomas Bewick and John Bewick
(#5) William Harvey
(#6) Laurence Housman (the brother of the poet A. E. Housman)
(#7) Arthur Hughes
(#8) Thomas Landseer
(#9) Mary Byfield
(#10) Luke Fildes and John Scott

Top Ten English Musical Artists

(#1) The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor, Ronnie Wood)
(#2) Led Zepplin (Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, John Paul Jones)
(#3) The Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr)
(#4) Queen (Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon)
(#5) Pink Floyd (Roger Waters, Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Richard Wright, David Gilmour)
(#6) Elton John
(#7) David Bowie
(#8) Eric Clapton (for his solo work, The Yardbirds, Cream and Derek and the Dominoes)
(#9) Elvis Costello and George Michael (for his solo work and Wham!)
(#10) The Who (Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, John Entwhistle)

High Honorable Mention: Adele, Boy George (Culture Club), Eric Burdon (Animals), Kate Bush, The Clash, Phil Collins (Genesis), The Cure, Ray Davies (Kinks), Deep Purple, Donovan, Duran Duran, Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music), Fleetwood Mac, Peter Gabriel (Genesis), The Hollies, Tom Jones, Van Morrison, Cliff Richard, Sam Smith, Dusty Springfield, Rod Stewart, Sting, Amy Winehouse

Dark Horses: Lily Allen, Gary Barlow (Take That), Petula Clark, Nick Drake, Leona Lewis, Morrissey (The Smiths), Mumford and Sons, Sex Pistols, Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles (Oasis), T-Rex, Robbie Williams (Take That), Thom Yorke (Radiohead), The Zombies (Ron Argent and Colin Blunstone)

Top Ten English Poets

(#1) William Blake (esp. for "The Tyger," "Cradle Song," "Jerusalem" and "London," but for many others as well)
(#2) Thomas Wyatt (esp. for sonnets like "They Flee From Me" and "Whoso List to Hunt")
(#3) John Milton (esp. for "Paradise Lost," the English language's only great epic poem)
(#4) Edmund Spenser (the first English romantic poet, he essentially invented the modern English style of poetry)
(#5) John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley (perhaps still the most romantic of poets, and good friends)
(#6) John Donne (ironically the most sensual of poets became the greatest of English religious poets!)
(#7) William Shakespeare (in my opinion his plays are superior to his sonnets and other lyric poems)
(#8) William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (friends who brought Romanticism to the reading public)
(#9) Thomas Hardy and Alfred Tennyson (major poets who help transport traditional poetry into modern times)
(#10) Geoffrey Chaucer and Gerard Manley Hopkins (two ground-breaking pioneers)

High Honorable Mention: Matthew Arnold, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Lord Byron, John Clare, John Dryden, T. S. Eliot, George Herbert, Robert Herrick, A. E. Housman, Ted Hughes, Ben Jonson, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, Andrew Marvell, Wilfred Owen, Alexander Pope, Ezra Pound, Philip Sidney,

Dark Horses: Robert Bridges, Anne Bronte, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Chatterton, Digby Dolben, Ernest Dowson, Mary Elizabeth Frye, Thomas Gray, Walter de la Mare, Christopher Marlowe, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Thomas, Edmund Waller, Oscar Wilde

Top Ten English Playwrights

(#1) William Shakespeare (no one else is close, esp. for "Hamlet," "King Lear," "Othello," "Macbeth," "The Tempest")
(#2) Christopher Marlowe
(#3) Ben Jonson
(#4) George Bernard Shaw
(#5) Samuel Beckett
(#6) Oscar Wilde
(#7) Aphra Ben
(#8) Noel Coward
(#9) T. S. Eliot (esp. for "Murder in the Cathedral" and the poems that inspired the musical "Cats")
(#10) William Congreve and Oliver Goldsmith

High Honorable Mention: Anthony Burgess, John Dryden (England's first Poet Laureate) , John Fletcher, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Nashe, George Peele, Thomas Middleton, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, John Millington Synge, John Webster

Dark Horses: Caryl Churchill,  Graham Greene, Sara Kane

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