Sarah Victoria Turner
Recent scholarship has challenged the long-standing separation of British art from narratives of the modern. Increasingly, art historians are questioning the idea that modernism in Britain was belated, or that it operated in the shadows of the artistic cultures of Continental Europe. Building on this wave of new research and writing, this course will pose provocative questions about modern art and modernism in Britain by examining both the local circumstances of, as well as the global contexts for, the production and display of British art.
Cutting across the decades from the end of the nineteenth century into the second half of the twentieth century, the course will explore ideas about when and where modernism in Britain might be most productively located. Taking a case-study approach, the course will focus on particular art works and artists each week, incorporating them into the wider artistic and social networks of which they were a part. Making the Modern will begin by considering how artists and craft practitioners at the turn of the century shaped new conceptions of the modern through the ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ arts. We will look at the works of Walter Crane, May Morris, George Frampton and Mary Seton Watts, alongside names more familiarly associated with the histories of British modernism, such as Walter Sickert, Wyndham Lewis and Vanessa Bell. We will then move on to explore the increasing significance of artists’ groups and societies in the twentieth century, including the Camden Town group, the Bloomsbury group, the Vorticists, the Euston Road School and the Independent group. In thinking about locating modern art in Britain, we will consider the importance of the cultural spaces offered by the modern metropolis, as well as the lure of places well outside the city, such as St Ives.
Challenging the isolationist historiography that has dominated narratives of British modernism, this course also seeks to explore the relationships between British art and its imperial histories, and assess the impact of imperial decline and decolonization on modern British art. How did such colonial encounters shape modern art in Britain? How can cross-cultural perspectives change our assumptions about British modernism? How can histories of British art be re-written to incorporate such encounters? These questions are only beginning to be fully examined and there is much new research to contribute in this area.
As well as those mentioned above, a selection of some of the artists whose works will be encountered in this course include (but is by no means limited to): Jacob Epstein, Laura Knight, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Ronald Moody, Francis Bacon, Anthony Caro, Bridget Riley, Frank Bowling, David Hockney and Ibrahim El-Salahi.