The Art of Modern Living: Peter Furtado Previews a Show of the British Response to the Post-Impressionist View of Modern Life, at Tate Britain

By Furtado, Peter | History Today, February 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Art of Modern Living: Peter Furtado Previews a Show of the British Response to the Post-Impressionist View of Modern Life, at Tate Britain


Furtado, Peter, History Today


While painters across the Channel were exploring a type of modern art that experimented as much with formal concerns as with the subject matter of modern life, in London the priorities of artists were reversed. A leading art group before the First World War led by Walter Sickert produced a powerful portrait of a nation in transition as London, and Britain as a whole, responding to an age when the horse-drawn carriage was being replaced with the motor-car, and one that saw the development of garden cities like Letchworth. Their distinctively British take on avantegarde aesthetics may seem relatively conservative by comparison with the work of contemporaries such as Duchamp and Malevich, but it provides a window on the past as well as producing some deeply-felt visuals.

Sickert was at the core of the loose association of artists known as the Camden Town Group, named after the then-seedy district in north London where Sicken lived in the 1890s and to which he returned in 1907. Artists such as Charles Ginner, Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman, and Robert Bevan had already been meeting regularly at Sickert's studio for several years, and in 1908 they set up an Allied Artists Association. In 1911 and 1912 they exhibited as the Camden Town Group, but the following year they lost their identity, being absorbed into the larger London Group of artists, which was set up to exhibit in opposition to the Royal Academy. Although they never adhered to a single style of painting, their approach, intent and subject matter had much in common. Their subjects were almost entirely drawn from the world of music hall, city street and suburban home.

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Tate Britain has been hosting a research project into the life and works of these artists, and looking at the social and historical issues raised by their work. Its fruits are evident in Modern Painters: The Camden Town Group, the first exhibition for twenty years to focus on this circle. An important selection of key works by Sickert, including 'The Camden Town Murder' series, will be featured.

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