The Human Figure in British Modernist Painting

These works of art show a range of artists working in Britain in the early twentieth century who explore the human body in the diverse styles of that era.

The twentieth century was a period of ever-increasing technological, social and political change and these changes are echoed here. Artists responded by looking forward - for example David Bomberg's experiments with breaking down the human form into machine-like components. Others looked back to an imagined Golden Age, such as Cecil Collins's visionary figures. A new egalitarianism saw painters like Winifred Nicholson choose ordinary people and children as their subjects. Leisure became a worthy subject, as can be seen in Eric Ravilious's Tennis. Travel enabled Gwen John to experience French art at first-hand. British artists had direct encounters with the giants of Modernism such as Christopher Wood's friendship with Picasso. The changing nature of society is illustrated by Glyn Philpott's portrait of a black sitter.

The First and Second World Wars wrought unforgettable horrors that challenged inherited ways of viewing the world. Many artists fought in the wars. Christopher Nevinson painted his experience. Martin Bloch was a refugee. Laura Knight and Henry Lamb were employed to record it. The 1948 scene in an operating theatre by Barbara Hepworth is an optimistic postscript: the so-called Post-war Settlement of a National Health Service that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. Hepworth, with Knight, Nicholson and John, represents another vital change, the pioneering women artists contributing to British art that was invigorated with the first female pupils at the Slade School of Art in 1871.

Figure and Form was on show in Temporary Exhibition Gallery II from November 2015 to April 2016

image: The Bather, oil on canvas, by Christopher Wood [K4957]