Bold & Beautiful British Folk Art at The Tate

The Tate Britain is currently exhibiting a collaboration of genres and medias from the 17th to the mid 20th century considered as ‘folk art’. The curators of the exhibition define the pieces as all sitting outside or at the margin of what is considered to be fine art. The exhibition itself is very bold, beautiful and elusive, much like folk art itself. However, the curators attempt to stay clear of defining 'folk art’ itself and instead offer us the opportunity to meet a series of folklore objects that have artistic interest.

At the beginning we are reminded of the days before literacy was widespread, also known as the 'golden age’ of trade signs. In this 'golden age’ boots were hung outside cobblers stores whilst locksmiths used oversized padlocks to promote their work to the public. 

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Trade Signs

With the rise of literacy level, trade signs became a thing of the past and text was used to convey meaning in work, a tool not often used in academic painting. John Vile’s 'The Fat Pigs’ is a prime example of this. Vile was in fact considered a disabled artist as his arms were too short to paint. Nevertheless he paints here an advertisement of three fat pigs, which includes a thorough description of the animals.

James Williams’ patchwork bedcover can be considered as a classic piece of folk art, a handcrafted multi-coloured quilt. The extremely detailed bedcover that consists of 4525 pieces took the Wrexham tailor 10 years to complete. James William completed the piece by recycling varieties of woollen cloth, all hand-stitched in a mosaic style. Stitching carries on as the luxurious needle paintings of Mary Linwood are exhibited. 

                James Williams of Wrexham, The Tailor’s Coverlet 1842-52

'Lion Emerging From A Cave’ Embroidery, Mary Linwood. Part of the Leicester Arts & Museums Service collection

The stylistic diversity of the exhibition continues when you are greeted with a mammoth figurehead which was constructed for the HMS Calcutta in Mumbai in 1831. The vibrant and colourful piece has been greatly restored since its last sail.  

figurehead for HMS Calcutta, Mumbai 1831

The mix of work provided by the curators creates a truly engaging and unmissable exhibition. Head down to the Tate before the end of August!