Locating Modern Art in Britain

By Getsy, David J. | Art Journal, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Locating Modern Art in Britain


Getsy, David J., Art Journal


Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets, and Images in Nineteenth-- Century London. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. 256 pp., 68 black-- and-white ills., 15 color plates. $35.

Deborah Cherry, Beyond the Frame: Feminism and Visual Culture, Britain 1850-1900. London: Routledge, 2000. 288 pp., 61 black-and-white ills. $67.50; $20.99 paper.

David Peters Corbett and Lara Perry, eds., English Art 1860-1914: Modern Artists and Identity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000, and New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001. Essays by Lisa Tickner, Elizabeth Prettejohn, Paul Barlow, Tim Barringer, Pamela M. Fletcher, Kenneth McConkey, Perry, Andrew Stephenson, Corbett, Alicia Foster, Janet Wolff, and Jane Beckett. 256 pp., 7 color ills., 84 black-and-white. $60; $30 paper.

Lisa Tickner, Modern Life & Modern Subjects: British Art in the Early Twentieth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. 336 pp., 30 color ills., 120 black-and-white. $50.

A year after opening to widespread media coverage, London's Tate Modern could boast that with 5.25 million visitors it was the most popular art museum in the world. This new, modern image of Britain, which is embodied in the creation of the Tate Modern, entailed dedicating the Tate's previous residence-the older building at Millbank-exclusively to British art. British art, it seems, can be separated readily from modern art. The highly visible distinction between British and modern is not new. One of the first serious art-historical studies of modern British art, Charles Harrison's groundbreaking 1981 English Art and Modernism 1900-1939 (Yale, 1994 [ 1981 ]) offered a confirmation of-if not an argument for-- this stereotype, foreclosing the question altogether. Recently, the issue of modern art's place in Britain has been revisited as more scholars have begun to reject the notion that one of the most industrialized and modern countries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries failed to visually engage with modernity.

The history of art in Britain in general has come under renewed scrutiny in recent publications. These range from reconsiderations of canonical figures such as William Hogarth (The Other Hogarth: Aesthetics of Difference, Bernadette Fort and Angela Rosenthal, eds., Princeton, 2001) to sustained critical investigation into the political implications of the Young British Artists (High Art Lite, Julian Stallabrass, Verso, 2000). Two new journals (though with very different characters)-- Visual Culture in Britain and the British Art Journal-have been founded in response to the growing momentum and sophistication of the field. One of the most active areas of revision within the study of British art has been the assessment of modernism in both its Victorian and early twentieth-century manifestations. Building upon earlier contributions, such as Richard Cork's 1985 Art Beyond the Gallery in Early 20th-Century England (Yale) and Stella Tillyard's 1988 The Impact of Modernism 1900-1920 (Routledge), a recent crop of scholarly studies has sought to relocate modern art in Britain. David Peters Corbett's 1997 The Modernity of English Art 1914-30 (Manchester) and Anna Gruetzner-- Robbins's 1997 exhibition Modern Art in Britain 1910-14 at London's Barbican Centre marked the beginning of this trend. They were followed by works such as Elizabeth Prettejohn's 1999 After the Pre-Raphaelites (Manchester) and (with Tim Barringer in the same year) Frederic Leighton: Antiquity, Renaissance, Modernity (Yale) as well as new titles such as Kate Flint's 2000 The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge). These evaluations were bolstered by monographs and exhibitions on John Singer Sargent, Albert Moore, and John Everett Millais, among others, as well as Christopher Green's 1999 Art Made Modern: Roger Fry's Vision of Art at the Courtauld Institute and Richard Shone's 2ooo The Art of Bloomsbury at the Tate Britain for its inaugural show. …

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