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A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War

A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War [Kindle Edition]

David Boyd Haycock
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)

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'Haycock manages the drama in this tale with such skill that his story unfolds like a well-plotted novel. Never before have the private vicissitudes in these artists' lives been made so real or their exuberance so vivid'
Frances Spalding, Daily Mail

'Haycock's narrative of this entangled, war-defined group is so strong that it often has the force of a novel, hard to put down . . . We should call for a joint exhibition of [their] work, to complement the moving portrayal of their lives in this engrossing and enjoyable book.'
Jenny Uglow, Guardian BOOK OF THE WEEK

'A lucid study of the lives behind the art . . . What gives Haycock's book its freshness is that, through skilful use of letters and memoirs left by his five subjects, he injects it with the anxiety, ambition, self-doubt and jealousy that possessors of youth and talent are fated to feel'
John Carey, Sunday Times

'What a fascinatingly tangled mess of human lives! Haycock tells the whole story engagingly and unpretentiously: the human conflicts, the clashes of ideas, and the terrible disruptions of war beneath it all.'

'A sad tale, wonderfully told… [Haycock] fades the many different narratives in and out with ease'
Country Life

'Boyd Haycock sets the story of Nash, Spencer, Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler and Richard Nevinson against the backdrop of Britain before and during the war, and he delineates it all with real vigour. Recommended.'

'There is something endlessly appealing about a group of artists behaving badly while simultaneously creating their best work...Depression, doubt, love triangles and the horrors of war all conspire against their ambitions, causing their fortunes to diverge wildly... [Haycock's] research provides rich context, with personal letters supplying detail to every squabble or concern'

'A vintage decade of early twentieth century British art, told in vivid and entertaining detail through the adventures of five highly gifted young painters ... I greatly enjoyed it'
Sir Michael Holroyd

'Truly fascinating from every angle - almost a work of art in itself'
Books Quarterly

'An extraordinary book. I read it avidly ... The familiar cast is handled in a quite new and original way. They have been made fresh and vulnerable once more, and their work re-evaluated, made new to us'
Ronald Blythe

'Haycock's narrative teems with colourful characters and dramatic detail.'
Simon May --...

Product Description

Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Mark Gertler, Richard Nevinson and Dora Carrington were five of the most exciting, influential and innovative British artists of the twentieth century. From diverse backgrounds, they met in the years before the Great War as students at the Slade School of Art, where they formed part of what their teacher Henry Tonks described as the school's last 'crisis of brilliance'. To the Bloomsbury Group critic Roger Fry they were 'les jeunes' -- the 'Young British Artists' of their day. As their talents evolved, they became Futurists, Vorticists and 'Bloomsberries', and befriended the leading writers and intellectuals of the time, from Virginia Woolf and Rupert Brooke to D. H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield. They led the way in fashion with their avant-garde clothes and haircuts; they slept with their models and with prostitutes; their tempestuous love affairs descended into obsession, murder and suicide. And as Europe plunged into the madness of the 'War to end Wars', they responded to its horror with all the passion and genius they could muster.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly brilliant 8 Dec 2009
A Crisis of Brilliance is a group biography of five outstandingly talented young artists whose lives intertwine in the period leading up to the First World War. The achievement of this biography is that it manages to keep each of their individual stories going, while never losing sight of the wider context - the Slade, artistic movements, the build-up to the War and contemporary social and sexual mores. The author has clearly done a huge amount of research but this book never feels heavy going - on the contrary, you can almost believe Haycock was there himself, witnessing events firsthand and describing what he saw with insight and sympathy. For me, Stanley Spencer was the character who came most vividly alive, though all are deftly captured. I have always been fascinated by this period, and by the young lives that were so distorted and damaged by the First World War, but A Crisis of Brilliance has given me a new layer of understanding. A wonderful read.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Brilliant Itself 16 Feb 2010
By Buzzard
Although I studied Art History at A level over twenty years ago, I have read very little on the subject since. Given to me by a friend, A Crisis of Brilliance has re-sparked that old interest. This is testimony largely to Haycock's approach. The book is no fictionalised biography, but it reads almost as entertainingly. We follow five Slade artists through their most formative years, all their lives to some greater or lesser degree intertwined; but, as if the drama of their relationships and ambitions wasn't enough, this is played out against the backdrop of WWI. Haycock contextualises the drama wonderfully, vividly conveying a sense of the period out of the personal.

My one criticism is that I wanted to see more of the paintings written about. That said, since a sad scarcity of them in the book itself has got me planning a visit to The Imperial War Museum, I don't suppose that should be considered too great a failing!

20th century English artists weren't on the A level syllabus when I studied; if they are now - in fact, even if they're not! - then this is just the kind of book to draw students into the subject. It reads like a superior soap opera. Brilliant.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 18 Nov 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A Crisis of Brilliance is a lovely book. The lives of five artists who were all at the Slade together are interleaved against a background of the social norms of a time long lost. A time which was swallowed up by the First World War and all its horrors. Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash and Richard Nevinson come from diverse backgrounds. They are all obsessive talented artists whose lives are intertwined whilst struggling in the whirlpool of their times. David Boyd Haycock evokes with learned brilliance the historical backgroung against which these vulnerable artists live their dramatic and tempestuous lives. Mark Gertler, probably the most talented, was obsessed with Dora Carrington who went on to love Lytton Strachey, yet married another only to commit suicide after Strachey's death. Stanley Spencer is obsessed with his village of Cookham only to be dragged away to war. Paul Nash and Richard Nevinson become war artists and then are faced with the crisis in 1919 of what a war artist without a war should do. For all of them their careers and talents developed in different ways. Surprisingly, shy, introvert Stanley Spencer became the greatest achiever of them all, being knighted in 1959 shortly before his death from cancer on 14th December.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb biography 22 Nov 2009
By Stegwych VINE VOICE
A CRISIS OF BRILLIANCE is one of the best biographies I've read. Haycock not only succeeds in bringing to life five fascinating and important painters at a time in their lives before they had achieved success or 'found themselves' artistically, he also illuminates, in elegant and accessible prose, a whole period and milieu - the years just before and during the Great War. We are first introduced to each artist individually, before their lives come together at the Slade School of Art in London, where they were all students under the famous drawing master Henry Tonks. The book divides roughly into two halves, with the first taking place before the war, and dealing with how the artists' friendships and relationships helped to form them as painters; in the second, Haycock traces the effect of the war on them and their art. Like all the best biographies, it manages to transcend its subject, telling a universal story about the artist's search for identity, and the struggle to find an adequate response to the great upheavals and traumas of his or her time: some of the most interesting and moving passages concern the very different personal and aesthetic reactions of the five artists to the war. Very highly recommended, and perhaps not just to those already interested in these particular artists.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Terrific Read, but what of the Pictures? 22 May 2012
By Christopher H TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't wish to rebut the other comments about this book - it was due to them that I bought it. However, the book's focus is entirely on the lives of the artists to the exclusion of discussing their works adequately. Yes, these people did lead colourful lives but it would be helpful to unpick and explain some of their works (Stanley S and Mark G really deserve better). Realistically, this book is closer to journalism than art history. Do read it - its a terrific, gossipy book - although don't expect insights into the works of art.
(The author's short introductory book Paul Nash is a must if you wish to learn more of this fascinating artist's work.)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good background reading
This is a very readable account of the lives and careers of 5 leading surviving the traumas around the First World War. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ignorant Bystander
4.0 out of 5 stars covers an era of huge importance to the art world.
I loved this book. It covers an era of brilliance in art, literature, sculpture. Great to read about the many characters who lived at this time. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Leonard K
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for art enthusiasts.
Well sized. Demonstrates the closeness of artists and the interweaving of relationships, also allows a picture of life in general at that time. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Beryl Shaddick
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read
I learnt so much about these painters. I viewed the paintings of some of them that I had never heard of on the computer. What a complicated love and friendship life they did lead!
Published 5 months ago by Mrs Christine D Pleasants
5.0 out of 5 stars The title is perfect!
Well written about a few of my favourite artists and the Great War I found things I did not know! It was always entertaining and informative. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Flick
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book
This book was just what I had been hoping for. An in depth look not only at the work of five major artists in the context of the First World War, but also at those who influenced... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ann Cowan
4.0 out of 5 stars What a nice crisis to have!
Bought this because I am interested in the period, and the artists covered, and the book is good in showing how they fit into the period, rather than biographies, which show the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by paperbackreader
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting insight
The artists discussed here were incredibly gifted and at the same time were probably irritating and self-obsessed. This book celebrates the first factor but doesn't idealise them. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Kludge
3.0 out of 5 stars Well researched but a dull read
Well-researched book but the pedestrian writing style makes the overall effect much less interesting than the subject matter merits. Where was the editor when needed ?
Published 9 months ago by Stevie D
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb!
Brilliant book, with great insights into these artists, their stories and their artwork. One of the few artbooks I have read recently which I literally couldn't put down!
Published 10 months ago by Simon Gregor
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