The inspirational genius of Germany

British art and Germanism, 1850-1939

By Matthew Potter

The inspirational genius of Germany

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9375-7
  • Pages: 336
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £22.99
  • Published Date: August 2016
  • BIC Category: ART / History / Modern (late 19th Century to 1945), ART / History / Contemporary (1945-), Germany, The arts / History of art & design styles: from c 1900 -, Art History, Modernism, 20th century, c 1900 to c 1999, History of art


The inspirational genius of Germany explores the neglected issue of the cultural influence of Germany upon Britain between 1850 and 1939. While the impact on Britain of German Romanticism has been extensively mapped, the reception of the more ideologically problematic German culture of the later period has been neither fully explained or explored. After the 1848 revolutions, Germany experienced a period of political and economic growth which not only saw it achieving Unification in 1871 but also challenging the industrial and imperial supremacy of Britain at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Matthew Potter uses images, art criticism, and the public writings and private notes of artists to reconstruct the intellectual history of Germanism during a period of heightened nationalism and political competition. Key case studies explore the changing shape of intellectual engagements with Germany. It examines the German experts who worked on the margins of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, the engagements of Victorian 'academics' including Frederic Leighton, G.F. Watts, Walter Crane and Hubert Herkomer as well as avant-gardists like the Vorticists, the reception of Arnold Böcklin and Wassily Kandinsky by the Britons during the dawn of modern art, and the last gasp of enthusiasm for German art that took place in defiance of the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.


'Potter has succeeded admirably in his stated aim: "to bring to light the true importance of an international tradition that has been neglected in British art history for reasons of historiography and politics". This is a vibrant and engrossing work.'
Richard Scully, University of New England, Reviews in History, 21 September 2013

'Potter's ambitions extend beyond the history of British art and visual culture. Potter's sedulous historical research . reclaims historical territory. It is part of a greater 'writing in' of not only Anglo-German influences but also the importance of theory for British art . Inspirational Genius is a fertile resource for historical detail and a much-needed redress of the programmatic blindness that has adversely affected historical and critical appreciation of the British place in the development of international modernist narratives' [Kate Aspinall, Immediations: The Courtauld Institute of Art Journal of Postgraduate Research 3:2 (2013), 97-8];

'Potter's rigorous monograph examines a series of case studies of English art and aesthetics over nearly 100 years ... [he] effectively retells the story of Victorian art through the lens of its German influences' [Shearer West, University of Oxford, Victorian Studies 57:1 (Autumn 2014), 148-151].
'Potter's work identifies and addresses critical gaps in the existing scholarship on the British reception of German art ... Potter's study is admirable in the subtle and sophisticated ways in which he explores the interactions of the British arts establishment with German aesthetics and aesthetic education ... Potter is at least as interested in the motivations of the art establishment in the nineteenth century as he is in later more avant-garde figures ... when considering moments of Anglo-German cultural transfer over ninety years' [Christian Weikop, The Burlington Magazine, May 2017, 405-6:

'In this rich scholarly monograph, Matthew C. Potter does justice to an enterprise first embarked on by his mentor, the distinguished expert on German Romanticism, William Vaughan, in exploring the complex networks on Anglo-German artistic connections in the nineteenth century.

The earlier chapters on the lesser-known figures Herkomer and Atkinson are especially good, helpfully demonstrating the importance of Atkinson's attempts to widern British engagement with German art.

Potter's study is admirable in the subtle and sophisticated ways in which he explores the interactions of the British arts establishment with German aesthetics and aesthetic education, especially with respect to the ideas of such important cultural figures as Kant, Herder, Hegel, Schiller and Goethe. '

Christian Weikop, The Burlington magazine May 2017


1. A new kind of Germanism: British artistic interest in Germany after Romanticism
2. Pre-Raphaelite Germanism: Ford Madox Brown and his circle
3. The twilight of the Nazarenes: Joseph Beavington Atkinson and British art-critical responses to Germany, 1850-86
4. Lord Leighton: made in Germany?
5. Blutgefühl and Bildung: Hubert Herkomer, Knight of Bavaria and the British empire
6. Germanist Symbolism in Britain: G.F. Watts, Walter Crane and the reception of Arnold Böcklin
7. Germanism repackaged: Kandinsky, Vorticism and the woodcut, 1909-18
8. Art and Germanism in the shadow of the First World War, 1918-39


Matthew C. Potter is Professor of Art and Design History at the University of Northumbria

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