Early 20th Century British Art - Between the Wars
7+ 5 Group and Neo-Romanticism
This was the only progressive artist's group in existence between the Wars that had no particular stylistic or theoretical principles. It included 7 painters and 5 sculptors, who joined in reacting against the narrow interests of the Bloomsbury and London Groups. As it only lasted until 1935, the works of members at the Ferens Art Gallery, only represent their later ideas and development. These include Ben Nicholson and Cedric Morris, who drew on cubism and naive but symbolic landscapes. Neo-Romantic artists like Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland, created ideal views of the English countryside in its most poetic form. Other more formalist ideas can be seen in the works of Frances Hodgkins and Ivon Hitchens, which are created through interlocking abstract forms and symbolic colour.
Surrealism in Britain
Surrealism, the art of dreams and chance, was first established in Paris through various magazines that featured the works of surrealist writers and visual artists. This revolutionary art movement was introduced to Britain by the artist Roland Penrose, who organised the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London. His own surrealist work can be seen in paintings like, 'Octavia', which reflects the menace and violence at the eve of WWII. Other British Surrealist works in the Ferens collection are by E. Burra, Tristram Hillier, Conroy Maddox and J.S. Bigge, that also reveal disturbing worlds, based on the irrational and unconscious mind.
These artist began as members of the Unit One Group founded by Paul Nash in 1933 to promote both abstract and surrealist art, but only organised one exhibition before they broke up over disagreements on their founding principles. Abstraction was also being overshadowed at the time by the effects of Surrealism, which is clearly illustrated in the painting by John Armstrong, 'On the Balustrade'.
Other artists at the time, developed along more traditional and independent lines, inspired by the 'Old Masters' in their concern for the portrayal of a subject in realist and classical detail. This can be seen in the paintings of M. Frampton, G. Brockhurst, and Stanley Spencer. Spencer was exceptional among this group in his visionary approach to the interpretation of the life and environment of his local village of Cookham.
World War II and its Aftermath
The conservative reaction of modern artists the destructive effects of WWII, led to a return of traditional forms and subjects, in an attempt to preserve a national landscape and identity. This was encouraged by the work of Official War Artists, who provided an accurate visual record of the Home Front and troops abroad, as in Paul Nash's, Objective Blenheim 1941. However, you still get a good idea of the concerns of artists before the War in works like Graham Sutherland's 'Devastation' of 1941, that presents a symbolic vision of the destructive forces of War on the order and shape of the natural world.