Welcomes a new exhibition that challenges the perception that Modern art was solely about avant-garde movements and styles
British painting and sculpture from the first half of the 20th century is a shape-shifting affair. in the course of shining new lights on it, unknown artists are revealed and the known may appear in different roles. At Pallant house, Chichester, West sussex, simon Martin and his colleagues have been lowering their nets repeatedly into this pool over the past 10 years and the latest catch, ‘the Mythic Method’, is a broad trawl of fish both familiar and unfamiliar.
the idea is a recognised feature of the period’s history— that, after the First World War, many artists reacted against Modernism and turned to Classical subjects and techniques, Picasso being the leading example. if Modernism is the mainstream, this parallel stream is easy enough to position on the chart.
the reality is much more diverse, however, and there are exhibits here that are as different as chalk and cheese, ranging from Ben Nicholson’s chalky scratched profile of Barbara hepworth in st rémy, Provence, of 1932, to the cheesy portrait by Gerald Kelly of his wife, Jane. Alongside these are more directly ‘mythic’ subjects from Classical antiquity, reinterpreted by artists who oscillated on the dial of Modernism and tradition, such as John Armstrong and Edward Wadsworth.
Others, such as Meredith Frampton, appear to become quasi-modern when the deadpan quality of their realism tips into surrealism. Others, such as David Jones, were immersed in the culture of the ancient world, finding in it metaphors and archetypes for the predicaments of the present. One must recall that,
Inspired by a church and statues on Rome’s Capitoline Hill: Burra’s Santa Maria in Aracoeli (1938–39)