The exhibition features 82 works from the British Council Collection and covers the period of time from the early 1900s to nowadays.
One of the greatest modern architects, Mies van der Rohe, used to insist that "God is in the details".This exhibition proves his point: we find that the artists have pounced on the slight or the familiar and made of it something vibrant and unexpected. The work by Kathleen Raine Curtained Outlook better demonstrates the thesis that a recurrent characteristic of British art is the use of particulars to make the quotidian seem strangely alive, richly absorbing. Accompanying this delight in particulars is a recurrent joy in precision. (By Candlelight by Harold Gilman, Head of a Woman by Gwen John).
The exhibition also features works of the artists from Fitzroy Street
Group that began in 1907 and by 1911 had become transformed into the Camden
Town Group - Walter Sickert, Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore and Charles Ginner.
Owing to Sickert's influence, several Camden Town Group artists began
taking an interest in the poetry of everyday life, finding it in the popular
culture of the music halls, in boarding house interiors and in London's
After the First World War the widespread destruction in Europe made the
destruction of long-standing traditions in art seem callous and unhuman
( Folk Dance by William Roberts and Soldiers at Thanksgiving
Service by Stanley Spencer).
A neo-romantic style became widespread during the war and is well represented
in this exhibition. In 1942 John Piper published a book called British
Romantic Artists where he wrote "Romantic art deals with the particular.
It is the result of a vision that can see in things something significant
beyond ordinary significance: something that for the moment seems to convey
the whole world". (Typhoon Orchard, France, The Beginning of an Advance
by Albert Richards; Ravenna, A Quarter of the Town hit by Bombs
by Edward Bawden; Limestone Quarry: Working at the Cliff Face by
In Cornwall during the late 1940s and through the 1950s, a loose gathering
of artists called the St Ives School emerged. All of them pursued a dialogue
between abstraction and landscape or the figurative painting (Roger Hilton
and Peter Lanyon).
While Pop Art began to lose impetus, large-scale absract painting and sculpture remained at the fore. John Hoyland and Richard Smith were part of a group of artists who mounted the two ‘Situation' exhibitions in 1960 and 1961. These drew attention to American-influenced, non-referential abstract art, huge in scale, often hard-edge in style cool and laconic.
The 1970s saw a gradual breakdown of traditional forms and the rise of Conceptualism (Roger Ackling). Nevertheless since the late 1970s there has been a revival of interest in the more traditional modes of sculpture and painting. ‘Story-telling', too, has become acceptable, at least in the works of Paula Rego. In Auerbach's drawing Head of Ken Garland and in Hockney's two portraits there is the same creative impetus. As David Jones wrote in his introduction to his long poem The Anathemata, the poet ‘must work within the limits of his love... There must be no mugging-up... for only what is actually loved and known can be seen sub specie aeternitatis. Which is why so many of these pictures will hang around in the mind long after the visitor has left the show.