Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The latest Art on the BBC

I've returned from Provence and collecting my cats to a surfeit of art programmes on the BBC.  Here's a round-up.

British Masters

This brand new series started on BBC4 last night and comprises three programmes by art historian James Fox.  The programmes were made to support his theory that British Painting between 1910 and 1975 ranks alongside the Golden Ages of Renaissance Italy and Impressionist France.

We Are Making a New World - last night's edition - focused on the following painters and the ways in which they remade painting in the twentieth century to reflect a new world and a break with traditional ways of painting.  The notion proposed is that somehow painting became more British as the British empire slipped away and Britain became less important in the world.

This first programme focused on a generation of artists most of whom studied under Henry Tonks at the Slade.

  • Mark Gertler who studied at the Slade alongside Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer
  • Walter Sickert (1860 - 1942) - the programme focused on his painting of the Camden Town murder.
  • (Percy) Wyndham Lewis (1882 - 1957) - one of the co-founders of the Vorticist movement who was influenced by both Modernism and Cubism.  He dropped the use of his first name.  A website about his art protests about the decision of the programme to brandish his picked brain in the programme.  I must confess I don't understand what having an unusually large pituitary tumour has to do with art and also thought it in poor taste.  It usefully also highlights that the art criticism that Wyndham Lewis wrote for The Listener between 1946 and 1951 is available here.  Here's Wyndham Lewis on the subject of Stanley Spencer's The Resurrection, Cookham
This is a good opportunity to discuss Spencer in general. His work could come from no country except Britain. No harm in that: but it is by no means the best work done here. That Spencer is not the Royal Academician’s cup of tea must also be said. The type of woman predominating in a Spencer picture has something to do with it. She is at times aggressively corpulent, her fat and homely face is drained of all intelligence, she lollops about matter-of-factly in her grave, or leans over the headstone to chat. What is more, Spencer’s Resurrections invariably occur in the lower-middle-class section of the cemetery. It would be difficult to imagine anything more calculated to lower the tone of a high-class Exhibition like the R.A. than the presence on the walls of a few dozen of these women. It is obvious that they could not be introduced into the same Gallery as the Bishops and Lady Mayoresses.  The Listener vol. XLIII no. 1112 pp. 878-879: 18 May 1950 - Round the London Art Galleries By Wyndham Lewis
  • David Bomberg developed representations of the human form became very angular and drew on both cubism and the Futurists 
  • CRW Nevinson, (known as Richard Nevinson) created accessible paintings about war - although he never ever saw the inside of a trench and served as a volunteer ambulance driver.  he later became an official war artist.  He's part of the story of British painting associated with the war rather than one of the great painters - unlike the next painter
extract from The Menin Road by Paul Nash (1919)
collection of the Imperial War Museum
The programme does tend to lean more towards the theory (and quite a bit of gloom and doom) and how the artists fit into it rather than providing an overview of what each painter produced however I guess that's inevitable with a programme of this sort.  It's also interesting to note that the series also appears to reflect Fox's own particular research interests
He is currently preparing two monographs on twentieth-century British art: 'Business Unusual: art in Britain during the First World War' (based on his doctoral dissertation) and 'Art as antidote: British art, 1914-45', which adresses the key issues of escapism, consolation and redemption during the 'age of catastrophe'

    I guess that explains why some of Spencer's happier more positive paintings don't get much of a profile!

    If you missed the first programme you can catch up using iPlayer or the repeat showings this week.  There are 21 days left to watch via iPlayer (or download at BBC iPlayer).  These are the future broadcasts.

    The series will go on to consider Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Lucian Freud (1922-date) and David Hockney (1937-date) among others.

    The next programme is In Search of England in which James Fox examines British art in the interwar years.

    For those who, like me, very much like Spencer's other paintings and/or like paintings about gardens - you will be interested in a new exhibition Stanley Spencer and the English Garden at Compton Verney in Warwickshire.  It runs until October 2nd.  This is the Daily Telegraph exhibition review.

    If you're interested in the artists of this era, I'm currently reading a book which provides a very good insight to both artists and the development of both art and painting generally during this period.  It's called a A Crisis of Brilliance and it's written by David Boyd Hancock.

    Fake or Fortune

    A new series Fake or Fortune plays very much to the recent topical interest in fake paintings and forgeries.  To date four programmes have been produced although I've only viewed two of these.  They seem to bowl along at a good pace and combine sleuthing with an insight into both historical practices and modern technology which can reveal these to us.

    The programmes - on iPlayer - are:
    This Green and Pleasant Land

    For those around the world who access these things much later don't forget to look out for This Green and Pleasant Land: The Story of British Landscape Painting. I commented here. There's one more showing on BBC4 on 19th July at midnight.  

    Art Deco Icons

    This is more architecturally oriented - which makes it very interesting for those of us who like that sort of thing,  This is the link to the series website


    1. Welcome back! Thanks for the reminder about the British Masters. I've already watched two episodes of the Art Deco show and loved them.

    2. I agree with you about the presenter of the British art programme yesterday. It was disappointing, I was really looking forward to a lot more about Spencer, although the piece regarding the chapel was interesting. He talks too much and some of the verbiage was really just filling in time, and in my opinion, not very intersting! A wasted opportunity.

    3. I agree - the programme was interesting but they simply don't show the paintings or talk in enough depth about them - a brief flash and then back to the presenter :>(

      Art programmes should focus strongly on the work and presenters should be 99% voice over, not 99% onscreen!


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