Romantic Realism: the Rheads, the Brocks, Pocock, and Wyeth.


    If the phrase "romantic realism" seems self-contradictory, it is because the realism of the artists who emerged in the early twentieth century was grounded in their conception of nature as a force almost, but not quite superior to man. Louis and Frederick Rhead (1857-1926 and 1856-1929) identified Tobago as the island on which Crusoe is marooned, though Defoe himself did not indicate what island on Herman Moll's map he was thinking of, and never saw Tobago. The Rheads boasted that they had "decorated the book from sketches made especially in the West Indies for that purpose." Their emphasis on the vegetation that overshadows Crusoe is romantic in its rendition of his terror and claustrophobia, while realistic in its depiction of tropical flora and fauna. C. E. Brock (1870-1938) and H. M. Brock (1875-1960) romanticized the eighteenth century, recalling its interest in natural man, while Charles Copeland (1858-1945) revisited eighteenth-century pictorialism, in which Crusoe observes at the same time he inhabits a landscape. Noel Pocock (1880-?) set Crusoe on an island of vivid colors and threateningly abstract shapes. The natural landscape achieves its ultimate expression in the magnificent panoramas of N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945), in which Crusoe is often dwarfed by the sun, the sky, or the rocks; in the preface, Wyeth described his interest in celebrating both nature and "a lone man's conquest over what seems to be inexorable Fate."


The Rhead Brothers' Crusoe works in the garden


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