Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War by David Boyd Haycock

For anyone with even a vague interest in 20th century British art and history this is an absolute must read. David Boyd Haycock draws on the intense period of artistic development, centred around the Slade, in London before the Great War in 1914. It was a period of great innovation, not only in the visual arts but also in literature, poetry and theatre. The book focuses on five young artists from this period, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Mark Gertler, Richard Nevinson and Dora Carrington. Their artistic progression, youthful angst, love, bohemian fashion, relationships, influences and ambition are explored alongside glimpses of other notable 20th century figures who surrounded them including Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Clive Bell, Walter Sickert, Ezra Pound, Rupert Brooke and D.H Lawrence, to name just a few. These brilliant young artists who evolved from the Slade’s second period of a ‘crisis of brilliance’ (the first included Augustus John and Percy Wyndham Lewis) went on to become part of the Futurists, the Vorticists, the periphery of the Bloomsbury Group and the Camden Town Group. Haycock deftly plunges into their world with absorbing detail, from the shock of the first Impressionist Exhibition organised by Roger Fry in 1910, to the suffragette movement and the increasing liberalisation of London to the horror of the First World War and subsequent tragedies. This period in British art is often overlooked or dominated by the Bloomsbury Group because the perpetuating British art movement from that century in the international mind are the over-hyped YBAs. In fact British art in the 20th century is often far more fascinating and this captivating book proves it.

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