Nash, Nevinson, Spencer, Gertler, Carrington, Bomberg: A Crisis of Brilliance, 1908-1922 Paperback – 24 May 2013
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
About the Author
David Boyd Haycock is a freelance writer, lecturer and curator specialising in British and European art and culture of the early twentieth century. He is the author of a number of books, including A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War (2009) and I Am Spain (2012).
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
In the intervening four years, the five (Paul Nash, C. R. W. Nevinson, Stanley Spenser, Mark Gertler and Dora Carrington) have become six, with the addition of David Bomberg whose kaleidoscopic bomb-burst ,"In the Hold", 1913-14, is illustrated on the front cover. This is no mere "adding on" as is made clear in Haycock's essay, A Crisis of Brilliance" and in those of Frances Spalding, "A crisis of Belonging" and Alexandra Harris, "We are Making a New World': Art, Youth and War".
71 Works are included in the exhibition and are reproduced as, almost exclusively, full page colour plates. The catalogue is divided into 6 chronological sections, "The Slade: Early Work, 1909-1913"; "The Slade and After: Works on Paper, 1910-1914"; "The Slade and After: Works on Canvas, 1910-1914"; "War: Works on Canvas, 1914-1918"; "War: Works on Paper, 1914-1919" and "War and Aftermath". The book contains Catalogue Notes, a Bibliography and an Index, and, unusually but very sensibly given that many will not know all of the artists, a Chronology and Biographies placed at the very front.
Haycock's title derives from the Slade professor of drawing, Henry Tonks (did he ever smile?) who, referring to the generation from which the six came, said that they were the "second and last crisis of brilliance", the crisis being how to avoid being contaminated by "foreign" ideas such as Cubism and Futurism, and how, as artists, to respond best to the forthcoming Great War.
Whilst Spencer, Gertler and Carrington all satisfied Tonks' demanding standards, Levinson was advised to abandon his ambition of becoming an artist, Nash would struggle and Bomberg, being identified as a disruptive influence, would be ejected. Bomberg and, especially, Nevinson were influenced by the Futurists and, perhaps because of this the latter looked forward to war. However, the reality of the Front led Nevinson to reassess his Futurist links and he served as an official war artist. Gertler was a pacifist and consciencious objector, whilst Bomberg, Nash and Spencer all saw active service at the Front, and Carrington's 3 brothers had all enlisted.
Spalding points out the importance of the social mixing at Slade for the artists, Bomberg and Gertler were only able to go to the Slade through funding from Jewish Educational Aid Society scholarships whilst Nevinson had attended public school. There are also two fascinating portraits by Gertler of his mother, from 1911 and 1913, the former suggesting a degree of financial security, although the clasped hands suggest that nothing was taken for granted, the latter emphasising the importance of peasant-like strength and endurance.
Harris points out that "when war was declared these artists were in the middle of working out where they wanted to be". Fortunately, unlike some of their friends and colleagues, the six had the opportunity of developing their art after the war. But from the exhibition, could one guess which two artists would lose hope and commit suicide? or which would go on to rank amongst Britain's leading modernists?
The catalogue indicates the ages of the artists when they painted their work to remind us how young they were to be thrust into the horrors of the Great War. I did not fully understand why a single portrait by John Currie, "Some Later Primitives and Madame Tisceron", 1912, was included in the exhibition, since only two of the artists (Gertler and Nevinson) are shown. However, I did learn about this artist's troubled life. Neither did I understand why, given that the exhibition title specifically mentions 1908-1922, the final picture is Levinson's "A Studio in Montparnasse" from 1926.
Almost all the works were new to me, Gertler's "The Fruit Sorters", 1914, and Carrington's "Lytton Strachey", 1916, being the exceptions. Within the six sections, the following works struck me as most interesting, and it will be interesting to see whether the same will be true when I look at the works themselves.
1. The self-portraits of Bomberg, 1913-14, Nevinson, 1910-12, Spencer, c. 1912, and Carrington, c. 1910 (aged 16/17!) are all beautifully drawn and Nevinson's shadowy, impressionistic view of "The Towpath", 1912, in which ugly industrial buildings are transformed into a romantic site for dawdling lovers.
2. Nash's "The Wood on the Hill", 1912, was the artist's first drawing of Wittenham Clumps, a motif to which he would regularly return and which he apparently found easier to draw than the models at the Slade. Bomberg's "Jewish Theatre", 1913, intended for a Slade School competition and which, at first sight, almost forecasts the deadly scramble of Great War infantry out from their trenches and over the top.
3. Gertler's "The Fruit Sorters", 1914, influenced by Egyptian art which he had been introduced to by Epstein, and much admired by Sickert. Bomberg's "In the Hold", 1913-14, considered by one critic as a "design for floor cloths"; another, picking up this suggestion wrote "it would be an attractive design for a floor cloth, as it might excite people to dance". In her essay, Spalding includes a charcoal study for the picture which demonstrates the energy delivered by colour.
4. The anti-war paintings of Carrington, "The River Pang above Tidmarsh", 1918, and Gertler, "Near Swanage", 1916, are both highly coloured but fail to hide entirely the emotional drain of the war on the latter and their difficult relationship which collapsed when she met Strachey. "La Patrie", 1916, by Levinson shows a railway shed, more charnel house, where the artist worked with dead and dying soldiers, their faces masks of pain, plus "pus, gangrene and the disembowelled"
5. Stanley Spencer's "Soldiers at a Thanksgiving Service', 1918, possibly designed for an official commission which in the end the artist declined. Soldiers seem to be saying a final goodbye to their fallen friends. Nevinson's "Study for `Column on the March'", 1914, with its individual soldiers transformed into the nightmare of a targeted war machine.
6. Bomberg's complex "Study for `Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunnelling Company, Hill 60, St Eloi", 1918-19, was commissioned and summarily rejected by the Canadian War Memorial Fund's curator who termed it "a futurist abortion". In contrast, Carrington's "Mrs Box", 1919, is sensational, the old lady with a crab apple face might have been painted any time from the 1850s. However, Carrington's never-ending search for perfection led her to say "Everything is a failure when it's finished. They start off so full of hope".
This is a very informative catalogue about young artists preparing for, going into, and seeking to recover from, the Great War.