The Avant-Garde in Interwar England: Medieval Modernism and the London Underground

By Michael T. Saler | Go to book overview

5
THE EARTHLY PARADISE
OF THE LONDON UNDERGROUND

After all, there is one thing about art which is perhaps one of the reasons why it is a joy for ever, namely, that we can dispute about it endlessly and get a good deal of liveliness from its study.

FRANK PICK, 1919 1

FRANK PICK WAS ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL members of the DIA, and the London Underground was to become the most persuasive embodiment of medieval modern principles in the interwar period. The aims expressed in Pick's earlier writings for the Salem Chapel Guild were clarified and reinforced through his membership in this society of like-minded individuals: the DIA was in some respects a replacement for the guild, with its own spiritual mission and reformist creed. 2 Pick was indebted to the support of a number of its members, many of whom came from a similar nonconformist, provincial background and shared Pick's enthusiasm for Ruskin and Morris. His social aims and spiritual outlook remained essentially the same as they had in York but were now influenced by the terms and activities of his new associates in London. He shucked the elaborate Victorian mannerisms of his writing style and began to compose in the spare, “efficient” style favored by Edwardian writers. 3 Whether or not the DIA directly affected his writing, making it more fit for its purpose, is hard to know, but the organization did have profound effects in other ways: as we shall see in this chapter, Pick's new colleagues at the DIA helped him to transform the Underground into the crowning project of the arts and crafts movement during the twenties.

Encouraged by members of the DIA like W. R. Lethaby and Charles Holden, Pick boldly envisioned the expanding transport system as the modern equivalent of a medieval cathedral, an integrated work of art that would be a joy to both makers and users. Like the cathedrals, the transport system would provide a unifying function for society. 4 Transport would serve as the organizing framework for the modern organic community desired by the medieval modernists: “We have to establish a new social synthesis. We have to make the

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The Avant-Garde in Interwar England: Medieval Modernism and the London Underground
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Contents xiii
  • 1 - Framing the Picture 3
  • 2 - Frank Pick's City of Dreams, 1878–1915 25
  • 3 - Modernism and the North of England 44
  • 4 - Morris, the Machine, and Modernism, 1915–1934 61
  • 5 - The Earthly Paradise of the London Underground 92
  • 6 - Educating the Consumer 122
  • 7 - The Return of the Bathing Beauties, 1936–1941 148
  • 8 - The Demise of Medieval Modernism 165
  • Note 177
  • Selected Bibliography 219
  • Index 235
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