An eminent British critic casts a spotlight on a major period of art history in London.
According to Spectator art critic Gayford (History of Art/Univ. of Buckingham; Michelangelo: His Epic Life, 2013, etc.), the paintings that came out of London from 1945 to 1970 are artistically significant yet less celebrated than those of cubist Paris or Renaissance Venice. This book, an attempt to correct the oversight, is a survey of the noteworthy figures from this era, from William Coldstream, co-founder of the Euston Road School of painting, to the era’s most famous innovators. Among them are Francis Bacon, whose “pursuit of a realism that would activate the nervous system” led him to such experiments as incorporating dust into a gray flannel suit in his painting Figure in a Landscape (1945); Lucian Freud, creator of unflattering nudes that “were among the most radically unclassical ever seen”; and David Hockney, whose groundbreaking portraits of fellow gay men, “clarity and subtlety of line,” and innovative rendering of the play of light on California pools made him one of Britain’s most renowned painters. Gayford acknowledges that these artists had no “coherent movement or stylistic group,” and the book suffers for it: Chapters feel randomly organized rather than unified. However, this is still a fascinating look at postwar London artists, filled with entertaining figures, such as the Cornwall neighbor who thought so little of the work Bacon produced during a brief residence there that, when the artist returned to London, the neighbor “used some of Bacon’s paintings on hardboard to mend a hen-house roof.”
Frank Auerbach, one of many artists interviewed for the book, said his contemporaries belonged to “a British line of artistic mavericks, ‘people who did exactly what they wanted to do.’ ” This well-researched history shows the enduring results of such single-minded nonconformity.