Magazine article The Spectator

'The World New Made: Reshaping Figurative Painting in the Twentieth Century', by Timothy Hyman - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The World New Made: Reshaping Figurative Painting in the Twentieth Century', by Timothy Hyman - Review

Article excerpt

Timothy Hyman's remarkable new book makes the case for the relevance of figurative painting in the 20th century, a period effectively dominated by modernist abstraction. He identifies an alternative tradition of potent human-centred painting, coming out of Cubism and Expressionism and tracing its lineage through Chagall and Leger, the Italians Carlo Carra and Mario Sironi, the Germans Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and George Grosz, to Stanley Spencer, Edward Burra and William Roberts.

Hyman claims many of the great independent artists for his argument -- Balthus, Kirchner, Bonnard, Ensor -- and registers them as resistance fighters in the war of influence and received opinion. He is not interested in traditionalist academic painting or straight realism, being more concerned with 'artists who create narratives and microcosms' who also wanted to renew pictorial language and explore the hard-won freedoms of Modernist painting. (Chief among these freedoms is the 'licence to remain unfinished, to retain the evidence of process and making, to conjure up suggestion and ambiguity'.)

The overwhelming success of abstract painting was based on the belief that representation was somehow no longer relevant to humanity's concerns, that it had failed mankind by not allowing access to the spiritual or metaphysical. Figuration was seen as provincial and reactionary, and great originals such as Stanley Spencer were dismissed as wilfully idiosyncratic. Hyman's book, which he describes as 'the history of a collective retrieval', offers an alternative reading of 20th-century art by stressing the period's stylistic diversity and repositioning certain marginalised figures near the epicentre of creative endeavour. It is particularly heartwarming to see Ken Kiff and R.B. Kitaj given such prominence, along with Alice Neel, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Bhupen Khakhar.

The book is really a lengthy series of meditations on individual paintings, full of the kind of wisdom acquired during a lifetime's looking and reading and thinking. Hyman is himself a successful figurative painter, but is perhaps more widely known as a writer, and particularly as the author of monographs on Bonnard and Sienese painting. In The World New Made he focuses on some 50 painters who epitomise the figurative project. Beguilingly illustrated with more than 150 colour plates, many of them with usefully detailed captions, the book's central debate is how an artist organises and interprets reality.

The examples Hyman selects to illustrate his thesis are extremely apt if sometimes unexpected. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.