English art is the body of visual arts made in England. England has Europe’s earliest and northernmost ice-agecave art.Prehistoric art in England largely corresponds with art made elsewhere in contemporary Britain, but early medieval Anglo-Saxon art saw the development of a distinctly English style, and English art continued thereafter to have a distinct character. English art made after the formation in 1707 of the Kingdom of Great Britain may be regarded in most respects simultaneously as art of the United Kingdom.
Medieval English painting, mainly religious, had a strong national tradition and was influential in Europe. The English Reformation, which was antipathetic to art, not only brought this tradition to an abrupt stop but resulted in the destruction of almost all wall-paintings. Only illuminated manuscripts now survive in good numbers.
There is in the art of the English Renaissance a strong interest in portraiture, and the portrait miniature was more popular in England than anywhere else. English Renaissance sculpture was mainly architectural and for monumental tombs. Interest in English landscape painting had begun to develop by the time of the 1707 Act of Union.
Substantive definitions of English art have been attempted by, among others, art scholar Nikolaus Pevsner (in his 1956 book The Englishness of English Art), art historian Roy Strong (in his 2000 book The Spirit of Britain: A narrative history of the arts) and critic Peter Ackroyd (in his 2002 book Albion).
The earliest English art – also Europe’s earliest and northernmost cave art – is located at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire, estimated at between 13,000 and 15,000 years old. In 2003, more than 80 engravings and bas-reliefs, depicting deer, bison, horses, and what may be birds or bird-headed people were found there. The famous, large ritual landscape of Stonehenge dates from the Neolithic period; around 2600 BC. From around 2150 BC, the Beaker people learned how to make bronze, and used both tin and gold. They became skilled in metal refining and their works of art, placed in graves or sacrificial pits have survived. In the Iron Age, a new art style arrived as Celtic culture and spread across the British isles. Though metalwork, especially gold ornaments, was still important, stone and most likely wood were also used. This style continued into the Roman period, beginning in the 1st century BC, and found a renaissance in the Medieval period. The arrival of the Romans brought the Classical style of which many monuments have survived, especially funerary monuments, statues and busts. They also brought glasswork and mosaics. In the 4th century, a new element was introduced as the first Christian art was made in Britain. Several mosaics with Christian symbols and pictures have been preserved. England boasts some remarkable prehistoric hill figures; a famous example is the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, which “for more than 3,000 years . . . has been jealously guarded as a masterpiece of minimalist art.”