20th Century British Art

Twentieth Century British Art News

8 July 2018
Mayfair Jewellers celebrate RA250 with art collaboration

Dorothy Mahoney (1902-1984), Walled Garden Amongst Kentish Orchards, early 1950s

Dorothy Mahoney (1902-1984),
Walled Garden Amongst Kentish Orchards, early 1950s.

A Hanging Garden

The Royal Academy of Art is celebrating its 250th Anniversary and to commemorate this, Susannah Lovis Jewellers and Liss Llewellyn are collaborating upon an exhibition of their respective floral collections. This display, entitled ‘A Hanging Garden’, will showcase works by Modern British Artists alongside the Mayfair jewellers stunning collection of antique pieces. The exhibition will run from the 22nd June – 31st August 2018, and shall also work in parallel with Mathilde Nivet’s summer installation in the Burlington Arcade, based around the theme of an English garden.

The art on display will range from formal arrangements in oil through to preparatory studies for larger compositions, and will feature the work of figures such as Winifred Knights, Evelyn Dunbar, Charles Mahoney, as well as former President of the Royal Academy, Sir Thomas Monnington. From the loose, bravura application of paint through to examples of acute scientific scrutiny, this display will feature a mere sample of the great variety of style and technique that can be found within this branch of twentieth-century British art. Supporting this will be a selection of botanically inspired jewellery from throughout the ages; remarkable examples of craftsmanship that continue to stand the test of time. From a 1950s hand-crafted gold pierced openwork onyx brooch to a Victorian floral diamond necklace – the trends and styles of different eras are inherently reflected in the design of all the jewellery at Susannah Lovis.

Owner Susannah Lovis stated: “We are absolutely thrilled to be supporting Liss Llewellyn Fine Arts in this exhibition. The stunning works on display will serve as a perfect blend of modern and vintage; acting as a fine balance to our antique Jewellery collection.”

29 June 2018
Young collectors focus on lesser known British artists

Barbara Jones (1912-1978), Hot Air Balloon

Barbara Jones (1912-1978), Hot Air Balloon.

The Times
A New Focus on Great British Art

By Carol Lewis

Investors in their thirties and forties are pushing up the prices of works of lesser known 20th century British artists.

At a recent Cheffins auction in Cambridge a painting by Winifred Nicholson, a colourist who died in 1981, sold for £44,000 - more than twice its estimate. Brett Tryner, a valuer at the auction house, says: “In the past we have looked to Europe for contemporary art investment, to Picasso, Monet and Renoir. Apart from a few artists such as Francis Bacon, Barbara Hepworth or David Hockney, Bristish artists have been relatively neglected. Now we are getting more people who want to invest in paintings. Modern art appeals, but they can’t afford a Hepworth. They have £2,000 or £5,000 so they are spending it on other contemporary Britons.”

The artists chosen include those featured in the V&A’s Recording Britain project, set up to record lives and landscapes during the Second World War. Enid Marx, a painter and textile designer, and Barbara Jones, who painted Hot Air Balloon (right), were part of the scheme.

“In 2016 we sold a lithograph by Enid Marx for £650. Last year an identical one from the same series sold for £4,400,” Mr Tryner says.

Young collectors also favour artists featured at the popular shows such as the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, including the painter Ken Howard, or the likes of Winifred Knights and Dora Carrington, who featured at smaller galleries. Evelyn Dunbar, the artist and illustrator, became popular after an expert on the BBC’s Antique Roadshow described one of her unknown works as a masterpiece. “There has been a snowball effect,” Mr Tryner says.

8 April 2018
Albert de Belleroche Collection in Orange, France

Le Musée d’Art et d’Histoire d’Orange, France, has restored its collection of pictures by Albert de Belleroche and renovated the galleries in which they hang..

Albert de Belleroche collection in Orange, France

The last two rooms on the second floor of the museum present paintings and prints by Albert de Belleroche and Frank Brangwyn donated to the museum by his son, Count William de Belleroche, in 1940. The collection consists of over 500 works by the two artists.

Albert de Belleroche was born in 1864 and entered Carolus Duran’s studio in 1882. It was here that he met the painter John Sargent Singer. De Belleroche frequented the Parisian cafés where he met Emile Zola, Oscar Wilde, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. In 1900 he discovered the medium of lithography which was to become an essential means of expression for him.

27 March 2018
Gilbert Spencer Estate

Hilda Carline, Portrait of Gilbert Spencer

Hilda Carline (1889–1950), Portrait of Gilbert Spencer, c.1927.

are delighted to announce that
we now represent the estate of Gilbert Spencer.

Gilbert Spencer was a British painter, muralist, illustrator, teacher and writer, whose career spanned more than six-decades. He was appreciated during his own lifetime as one of the leading artists of his generation, and counted among his patrons some of the most influential art collectors of his day, including Lady Ottoline Morrell, Sir Joseph Duveen, Vita Sackville-West and Henry Lamb. His reputation, however, has since suffered from neglect, largely as a result of being overshadowed by his more famous brother, Stanley Spencer. Through their communal up bringing and Slade School training, the work of the two brothers is clearly united by a common thread – manifest in their devotion to accurate observation, intense sincerity and impeccable technique. Less interested than Stanley in the drama of human passion, however, the novelty of Gilbert’s work lies in his fascination with landscape, and in the incidents of everyday life in rural England. He was an accomplished portraitist, painting prominent figures, rural and urban workers as well as family and friends. He also produced some of the most poignant artistic images to come out of the two world wars.

4 February 2018
Edward Bawden’s The English Pub loaned to new V&A Dundee Museum

V&A Dundee

Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, will feature permanent galleries of Scottish design, as well as an ambitious international programme of changing exhibitions showcasing the very best of design from around the world.

V&A Dundee


V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, will open to the public on Saturday, 15 September 2018.

It will be the only V&A museum in the world outside London: an international centre for design, a place of inspiration, discovery and learning. Visitors to V&A Dundee will experience the remarkable story of design past, present and future, and the vital contribution design makes to all our lives.

Designed by internationally acclaimed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, V&A Dundee stands at the centre of the £1 billion transformation of the Dundee waterfront, once part of the city’s docklands. With its complex geometry, inspired by the dramatic cliffs along the east coast of Scotland, it stretches out into the River Tay – a new landmark reconnecting the city with its historic waterfront, and a major new cultural development for Scotland and the UK.

The new museum will feature permanent galleries of Scottish design, as well as an ambitious international programme of changing exhibitions showcasing the very best of design from around the world, new design commissions, fast-changing installations by emerging designers and creative projects developed through our learning programme for all our audiences.

The new museum enables V&A’s most ambitious exhibitions to be shared more widely across the UK. The opening exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and investment managers Baillie Gifford, will explore the designs behind a mode of transport that came to represent the status of nations and the aspirations of millions. The show, organised by the V&A and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is the first to explore the design and cultural impact of the ocean liner on an international scale. It will re-imagine the golden age of ocean travel and explore all aspects of ship design from the remarkable engineering, architecture and interiors to the opulent fashion and lifestyle on board. Further exhibition announcements will be made ahead of the museum’s opening.

* * *

‘The high point of Edward Bawden’s career as a muralist was achieved in the series of three murals – two for the Orient Line and one for the Festival of Britain – painted in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when his skill, wit and sheer inventiveness were at their peak. These three murals – English Garden Delights, The English Pub and English Country Life – were united not only by their format but also by subject matter; both Colin Anderson and the organisers of the Festival set out to celebrate Britishness and to rejoice unashamedly in the fact that despite the depredations of war the country was once again reasserting its historic virtues, life and culture.’ (Petyon Skipwith, British Murals & Decorative Painting 1920-1960, Sansom & Co, p. 245).

Edward Bawden, The English Pub Mural for the SS Oronsay, 1949-51,
Oil on 11 panels, 69 ¼ x 212 ¼ in. (176 x 539 cm).
© The Estate of Edward Bawden. Reproduced courtesy Neil Jennings Fine Art and Liss Llewellyn Fine Art.

1 February 2018
Book on Winifred Knights takes top art history prize

William MB Berger Prize for British Art History

Christopher Le Brun, President of the Royal Academy of Arts, presents Sacha Llewellyn with the £5000 William MB Berger Prize for British Art History. Winifred Knights: 1899-1947 was published by Lund Humphries in association with the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2016.

Antiques Trade Gazette
By Frances Allitt

The artist Winifred Knights (1899-1947) was once all but forgotten but a recent book about her life and work has won this year’s William MB Berger Prize for British Art History.

Sacha Llewellyn, an independent researcher, curator and co-founder of dealership Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, wrote the book which was published by Lund Humphries in May 2016 in association with The Dulwich Picture Gallery. Winifred Knights: 1899-1947 brings together a selection of previously unpublished material including letters, diaries, sketchbooks and photographs.

Its release coincided with the first major exhibition of Knights’ work at Dulwich Picture Gallery, which Llewellyn also curated.

The publication provides the first full account of Knights’ life and work. She rose to critical acclaim during the four years she attended the Slade School and was the first British woman to win the Rome Scholarship in decorative painting. Her large work The Deluge (1920) is in the Tate collection. However, she fell out of the public eye in the 1930s as she struggled with commissions, mental health, personal tragedy and the outbreak of war.

“There could not be a better example of how to re-establish a reputation that urgently needed it,” the judges of the Berger Prize in a statement about Llewellyn’s work, adding that it is “a triumph of rehabilitation that will open up a whole group of neglected artists for future study”.

Christopher Le Brun, president of the Royal Academy of Arts, presented the prize at a reception in London on November 30.

Winifred Knights was a promising artist in her youth but her works had fallen out of the public eye until a new book on her life and work was published last year. Photo cour-tesy of the Estate of Winifred Knights.

The Marriage at Cana, 1923, in the Collection of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

Edge of Abruzzi, Boat with Three People on a Lake, (1924-30), private collection.

30 December 2017
Annual Newsletter
In 2017 LLFA were delighted to sell the Fortunoff Collection of Modern British Art. Sacha Llewellyn contributed the main catalogue essay to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s True to Life and won the 2017 Berger Prize for Winifred Knights (1899-1947). ANNUAL SALE: 4 - 21 January 2018. Starts Thursday 4 January 2018, 9 AM

We are delighted that George Richards has joined LLFA as our inaugural International Relations and Development Manager.
Having previously occupied curatorial roles in museum and university art collections, George will support our exhibition
programme and strengthen our ability to find new means and markets for championing Modern British Art.

30 November 2017
William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2017

William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2017

WINNER: Winifred Knights (1899-1947) by Sacha Llewellyn

Published by Lund Humphries in association with Dulwich Picture Gallery
ISBN 978-1-848221772 (HB) / ISBN 978-1-898519348 (PB)

‘There could not be a better example of how to re-establish a reputation that will open up a whole group of neglected artists for future study and a tradition that has been “written out”’. ‘ Extraordinary research from scratch.’

Every year the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History is awarded to a scholarly publication that demonstrates outstanding achievement in the field of British Art History. Awarded jointly by The British Art Journal and the Berger Collection Educational Trust, the Berger prize is recognized as the most prestigious award in its field.

William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2017 Short List

Elizabeth Einberg 
William Hogarth: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings
Yale University Press 
for The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
ISBN 9780300221749

Clare Browne, Glyn Davies and MA Michael, eds, 
with the assistance of Michaela Zöschg
English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum
Yale University Press 
in association with The Victoria & Albert Museum
ISBN 978-0-300222005

James Stourton
Kenneth Clark: Life, Art & Civilisation
William Collins
ISBN 978-0-007493418

Susan Rather
The American School: Artists and Status in the Late Colonial 
and Early National Era
Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre
ISBN 978-0-300214611

Sacha Llewellyn
Winifred Knights 1899–1947
Lund Humphries in association with Dulwich Picture Gallery
ISBN 978-1-848221772 (HB) 978-1-898519348 (PB)

David Fraser Jenkins and Hugh Fowler Wright 
The Art of John Piper
Co-published by Unicorn and Portland Gallery
ISBN 978-1-910787052

21 November 2017
Irish painter John Luke featured this month

John Luke, Judith and Holofernes

John Luke, Judith and Holofernes, 1928, oil on board, 19 ½ x 24 in. (50 x 60.5 cm). Armagh County Museum, Northern Ireland.

John Luke (1906-1975)

By Dickon Hall

It is well known that John Luke produced a very small number of paintings throughout his life, but his drawings are also comparatively rare. This group is drawn from a unique archive of working drawings which had remained for decades within the artist’s family. It covers almost his entire career as an artist, from preparatory works for his earliest mature paintings to some of the tempera paintings and commissions that dominated the later part of his life.

Luke’s evident natural talent led to the award of a scholarship to study in London at the Slade School in 1927 and the life drawings exhibited here probably date from these years. The skills of draughtsmanship that Luke developed under Henry Tonks were to provide the basis of the exceptional technical achievements that typified his paintings at every stage.

The exhibition includes a number of studies towards Judith and Holofernes, 1929, arguably one of Luke’s most powerful and revealing paintings, for which he was awarded second prize in the Slade School’s annual Summer Prize Competition. Luke used his sister, Sadie, and one of his brothers as models for the painting.

Luke’s return to Ulster in 1931, after a short time living in Paris, marked a move back to landscape painting, with the influence of Cézanne still evident in Ballysillan Road (c.1933). While this work and other landscapes of the time, such as MacArt’s Fort (a landmark on Cavehill, on the edge of Belfast), were painted in oil, Luke was beginning to experiment with tempera, which has become the defining aspect of his work.

Landscape Composition, the working study for which is exhibited here, was the first of these tempera paintings, a commission from the poet and curator John Hewitt. The style of Luke’s drawing was influenced by the development of this technique; the study for the Portrait of Alexander Irvine describes exactly how the tempera will be applied. Several of the drawings actually include colour notes for the planned painting.

This group of drawings covers almost every aspect of Luke’s work, representing working studies for elements within paintings, such as the statuette for Daffodils or the baby in The Rehearsal, the apparently lost painting Mother and Child commissioned by the NSPCC, murals that were carried out for the 1938 Glasgow Empire Exhibition representing Northern Irish industry, and even a tender drawing of his own nephew as a baby.

The fascination of this archive is in its breadth of mood, style and period as well as its consistent demonstration of technical skill and imaginative power. It allows an intimate view of Luke at work, experimenting with ideas and thoughts, producing portraits of friends and quick watercolours of places that he loved, as well as allowing insight into the design and preparation of many of his most famous and complex works.

See all works by John Luke

28 October 2017
True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s

Willam Strang (1859–1921), The Opera Cloak

Willam Strang (1859–1921), The Opera Cloak, 1913.

Fine Art Connoisseur


By Peyton Skipwith

“Realism” is a virtually meaningless term as far as art criticism goes. Primitive man in the caves at Lascaux was striving for realism, as were Holbein and Dürer in the 16th century, and Ingres and the Pre-Raphaelites in the 19th. Each period has its own nuanced approach as to what constitutes reality and how to interpret it.

This year British museum visitors have enjoyed extraordinary encounters with 1920s and 1930s realism. First came America After the Fall, with great works by Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, and others, including Grant Wood’s masterpiece, American Gothic. It was presented at London’s Royal Academy of Art, as was Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932, while Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933, which included a major showing of works by Otto Dix, appeared at Tate Liverpool. These three exhibitions provided an international context in which to view, and assess, True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s & 1930s, the exhibition mounted by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for this summer’s Edinburgh Festival. This ambitious show included nearly 100 works by 58 artists, many of whom have largely been ignored by scholars and critics, and whose names are virtually unknown.

The coincidence of these four exhibitions is symptomatic not only of a general reappraisal of 20th-century realist painting, but also of an underlying questioning of the too-long-accepted linear progression of art and design pioneered in London by Roger Fry with his 1910 exhibition Manet and the Post Impressionists, then reinforced by the 1913 Armory Show in New York, Chicago, and Boston. In his Pioneers of Modern Design, first published in 1936, Nikolaus Pevsner added weight to this linear concept of history, presenting it in Old Testament terms of “so and so begat so and so, who begat...” This further marginalized artists who stood outside what he regarded as the inexorable march of history, in the process rendering realism irrelevant to the 20th century.

To be fair, by the 1960s Pevsner, as chairman of the Victorian Society, had modified the rigidity of his earlier thesis, if not its historical validity, but for realist painters of the inter-war years, it was too late: the damage had been done and many suffered years of neglect. It has taken decades, and a new generation of art historians, to establish that there are more ways than one of being modern; during the 1920s and ’30s, not all of them were abstract. Today it is widely accepted that American Gothic (1930) is as much an icon of its time as Picasso’s Guernica (1937).


Realist artists have always been faced with the dilemma of whether to depict every detail and risk getting swamped, or to be selective, or even to improve. In one of his Discourses – the lectures he delivered at the Royal Academy between 1769 and 1790 – Sir Joshua Reynolds advocated the latter when he commented on the fact that “All the objects which are exhibited to our view by Nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them of weakness, minuteness, or imperfection.” His goal in drawing attention to these imperfections was to put artists on guard so they could correct or eliminate them. A century and a half later, C.R. Ashbee, the British teacher, craftsman, and social idealist, commenting on the portraits of his friend William Strang, noted that “in each of them there is some touch of his sitters’ ugliness revealed in the beauty of his draughtsmanship.” He went on to say that for those, like himself, who had submitted to Strang’s penetrating gaze, his drawings make one “grimly conscious of an unpleasant something in ourselves that we don’t like to mention but that our love of truthfulness would not have us conceal.”

Strang is one of the immediate precursors of the type of hard-edged, unremitting realism that epitomized much British art between the wars. He had trained in the 1870s under Alphonse Legros at the Slade School, part of London University. Its first two professors, Edward Poynter and Legros, were both Paris-trained, so its teaching methods (unlike those at the Royal Academy Schools) were based on French principles. Like Legros, Strang was a superb draughtsman and a prolific etcher, as well as an experimental painter. The Opera Cloak (1913) is a prime example of his austere and rather puritanical approach to portraiture, which had already prompted the Art News to write: “If you like Lavery and Sargent you will hardly care for Mr. Strang. If you are tired of these wonderfully clever artists it is possible Mr. Strang will interest you not a little. He is not slick, he never takes your breath away with one stroke, but his work is always the outcome of a genuine impulse; he is, we feel, more interested in the thing painted than in the actual manner of painting it.”

This concentration on detail over swagger is a distinguishing feature of several of the best portraitists of the ’20s and ’30s: Gerald Brockhurst, James Gunn, Gluck, and (at his best) Gerald Kelly. Yet apart from Meredith Frampton, none was as puritanical in approach as Strang. Frampton’s portraits, particularly those of men, are not only time-warps, they are detailed studies of his subjects, treating them as if embalmed at a precise moment, along with the essential attributes of their lives and careers. Of the others, only Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) begins to approach him: her firmly structured self-portrait has been adorning London this summer as the poster for Tate Britain’s exhibition Queer British Art 1861 – 1967, and her work will be seen again in the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery’s exhibition Gluck: Art & Identity (November 18 – March 11, 2018).

Edward Halliday (1902–1984), Hypnos, 1928
Edward Halliday (1902–1984), Hypnos, 1928

Brockhurst and Gunn tended to veer toward the lush end of portraiture, at least when depicting women. Brockhurst particularly combined an austerity of technique with a Hollywood glamour that is often disconcerting. His famous drypoint, Adolescence, depicts a naked 15-year-old girl absorbed in self-contemplation before her dressing-table mirror, while By the Hills, a portrait of a famous beauty, is so devoid of any hint of brushstrokes that it could have been breathed onto the canvas.


What Ashbee described as Strang’s “lexicographical” approach, his concentration on subject rather than the method of interpretation, was a stylistic harbinger of a principal feature of inter-war realism. Europe had just emerged from four years of bloodshed; guns, machinery, and warfare had been lauded by such Futurist painters as Wyndham Lewis and praised in the Vorticist manifesto BLAST. Theirs was a visual language of chaos and shattering. In the wake of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), however, there was an almost universal desire for peace, calm, and stability, not just in daily life but in the arts as well; artists turned away from visual aggression toward a renewed quest for order and discipline. In this new world, a return to the broad-brush impressionism that had delighted prewar audiences with images of sun-drenched idylls seemed inappropriate. So where, in this aftermath of death and destruction, should they seek a new order?

As Sacha Llewellyn points out in the Scottish National Gallery’s catalogue, artists as diverse as Picasso and Léger re-engaged with tradition while “parallel movements emerged across Europe including De Stijl in Holland, the ‘Valori Plastici’ and Novecento Italiano in Italy, and Neue Sachlichkeit in Germany.” In Britain, though there was no “movement” as such, there was a general yearning for stability, a reassertion of traditional values. There was no wish to turn the clock back, no nostalgia, but a clear-sighted recognition that the war had changed everything. It was now the artist’s job to assess this new world with fresh eyes, recognizing there had been both gains and losses. Despite the devastating fact that virtually every family had suffered bereavement, World War I had swept away the last vestiges of feudalism, and women had been liberated from domesticity to work in offices and factories and were gradually getting the vote, making Britain a more democratic society.

Artists did not shirk from depicting all aspects of this post-war world – from portraits of glamorous women and interiors to scenes of industrial unrest and rural squalor. (Gilbert Spencer and Stanley Lewis, respectively, painted near life-size portraits of rat- and mole-catchers.) Still lifes and landscapes continued to attract, but with a heightened intensity of detail and feeling, while new subjects, particularly those related to leisure and sport, found not only their recorders, but also a ready audience, particularly among curators of provincial museums.

The challenge to this new “realism” came when artists turned to allegorical and Biblical subjects. Could such works be more than just the pictorial equivalent of “Shakespeare in Modern Dress,” or was there something more fundamental to be read into them? The greatest British artist to overcome this challenge was Stanley Spencer; for him there was no dichotomy, as he regarded Cookham, the Thames-side village where he was born and raised, as Heaven. Thus it was perfectly natural that Christ should walk down the high street and preach at Cookham Regatta, and that the Resurrection should take place in Cookham churchyard, where locals, angels, and New Testament figures could mingle freely. Few other artists rose quite so successfully to this challenge apart from Winifred Knights, whose The Deluge, depicting a group of panic-stricken men and women fleeing the rising tide, was her 1920 prize-winning entry for the scholarship to the British School at Rome.


The British School had been expanded, in the wake of the 1911 Rome World’s Fair, to embrace painting, sculpture, and architecture, in addition to its traditional archeological and classical studies. An additional scholarship for engraving was added after the war. The painting scholarship was awarded in a category defined as “Decorative Painting,” with the specific intention of training artists to paint murals, especially in public buildings. The Palace of Westminster and the Bank of England, among other places, were to benefit from this scheme. This training, combined with three years’ study in Rome, played an important role in promotion of the hard-edged realism so distinctive of the 1920s and ’30s. Many of the Rome Scholars were former Slade School students who, like Strang, had already been trained thoroughly in drawing before even touching a paintbrush. By this time Legros was dead and had been superseded by the disciplinarian Henry Tonks, who was both a surgeon and a painter, but for whom drawing was equally paramount. During the war he had combined these two professions, making devastatingly truthful analytical drawings of seriously disfigured servicemen in order to help the pioneering surgeon Harold Gillies and his colleagues at Queen Mary’s Hospital with their task of reconstruction. The Slade’s rival in producing Rome Scholars was the newly renascent Royal College of Art, presided over by William Rothenstein, himself a product of Legros’s Slade.

The possibility of applying for the Rome Scholarship tended to encourage young artists to explore not only figure drawing, but also allegory and mythology. One such was the Royal College student Edward Halliday, who, in his haunting painting Hypnos, tackled the daunting, and not always comfortable, task of marrying allegory with realism, depicting the god of sleep casting his spell over workmen and beasts in the Roman Campagna. In the exhibition True to Life, this scene made an interesting contrast with a not dissimilar composition by the Yorkshire artist Harry Epworth Allen, The Timber Dump, with its strong, carefully orchestrated patterning of felled trees, buildings, and rutted pathways interspersed with loggers and horses. Allen, though largely unknown, is stylistically England’s nearest equivalent to Grant Wood. The Timber Dump and Hypnos can be regarded as representing the “natural” and “supernatural” extremes of inter-war realism, combining both landscape and figure painting. Like many of the finest pictures of the period, both were composed in the studio. One of the ironies of this new realism is that it was best achieved, not by painting en plein air before the subject, but rather by careful distillation from sketches, preliminary drawings, and even photographs. It is not coincidental that the inter-war years were the heyday of the etching revival, and also of wood engraving and direct stone carving – the latter stimulated by the urgent demand for war memorials. Both carving and engraving are disciplines that demand precision, with the result that clear definition, rather than bravura brushstrokes, became a key characteristic of the period.

In tandem with their concentration on modern life subjects, many young painters looked to earlier precedents, particularly such artists as Piero della Francesca, Mantegna, Bruegel, Dürer, and Holbein. These references are especially pertinent to the figure/portrait painters (Brockhurst. Gunn, Frampton, and Cowie); landscapists like McIntosh Patrick and Algernon Newton (though Canaletto was the primary influence on the latter’s cityscapes); and also those who painted figures in landscape. Winifred Knights set her Marriage at Cana in Rome’s Borghese Gardens while Gladys Hynes’s Noah’s Ark, with fashionably clad Mrs. Noah welcoming a kangaroo, is set before the South Downs and Sussex coastline. The latter, a delightful but slightly archaic work, was shown this summer in Edinburgh, where it made an intriguing contrast to several more overtly contemporary al fresco scenes depicting hikers map-reading and families picnicking, the modern-day equivalent of Gainsborough’s elegant renderings of squires’ families on their country estates. In his strikingly à la mode, and brilliantly clever, Spray, Harold Williamson clearly owed more (in terms of artistic heritage) to Leni Riefenstahl than to Raphael.

Re-examination of the artists featured in this year’s exhibitions – British, American, Russian, and German – will undoubtedly intensify in the next few years, opening our eyes further to the many unjustly overlooked talents who flourished between the world wars.

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