Hotbed of Talent and Love That Made Art out of War
Byline: BY FRANCES SPALDING
A CRISIS OF BRILLIANCE: FIVE YOUNG BRITISH ARTISTS AND THE GREAT WAR
BY DAVID BOYD HAYCOCK (Old St Publishing [pounds sterling]20)
LOVE and ambition drive this narrative. Five young artists meet at the Slade School of Art in the first decade of the 20th century. They come from diverse backgrounds and have very different personalities. But, under the watchful eye of the legendary Professor Tonks, a tall, gaunt figure who had given up medicine for art, they knuckle down and unexpectedly form a gang.
The Slade, in the pre-1914 period, was a hotbed of talent.
David Boyd Haycock's five artists have all been written about individually, in biographies and monographs.
But no one, until now, has focused on the network they formed at the Slade, or shown how intimately connected they were.
Friendship, passion and jealousy, as well as shared interests, are some of the ties in this engaging account. And it's a heady mix, not least because this gang were exploring their talent and, simultaneously, their sexual identity.
Stanley Spencer and Mark Gertler arrived at the Slade in the autumn of 1908. Spencer, with his shock of black hair and small height -- he was 5ft 2in tall -- was soon nicknamed 'Cookham' after the Berkshire village where he lived.
Gertler came from Spitalfields where, amid sweatshops, illness and misery, his Jewish refugee family was struggling to survive.
THESE two young men never forgot how another student pointed to a large stain on the floor and announced, in menacing tones, that this was where other new students had melted away.
This was Richard Nevinson, a slightly bullying character whose public school education had left him at odds with the world, distrustful of everyone.
Nevertheless, he befriended Gertler and expanded his horizons, Gertler observing with amazement that he now had 'nice friends among the upper classes'.
Another member of this gang was also well-to-do. Paul Nash was the son of a barrister and on his first day at the Slade he arrived impeccably attired, right down to his spats. …