Throughout the interwar period, British artists explored, questioned and rejected the requirement that to be truly modern was to break with the past.
Manchester Art Gallery
Saturday 27 April 2013–Sunday 13 October 2013
The period between the First and Second World Wars was one of rich and varied creativity in Britain. This exhibition celebrated the diversity of this era in which British artists both adopted and rejected artistic innovation in order to explore a new expression for the particular time in which they lived.
The impact of the First World War was as devastating for the arts as it was for society as a whole. Prior to the start of the War in 1914, contemporary British art celebrated modernity and the dawning of the machine age. However, many artists served in the armed forces during the War and experienced the full horror of the trenches on the front line. Their experience of the destruction wrought by the new weapons of the machine age brought about a significant reaction against innovation and experimentation in art.
During the 1920s, artists returned to traditional, uncontroversial and often timeless subject matter, especially landscape and still life. They went back to explore earlier artistic styles and to engage with the very tradition they had once rejected. Their initial attempt to recover from the War led to a tendency towards escapism and nostalgia in art.
By the 1930s, British artists began again to engage and experiment with creative developments including abstraction and Surrealism. However, the new mood of artistic idealism was now in strong contrast to the bleak realities of the economic and political situation. The Great Depression was a period of high unemployment and great hardship for many people in Britain, especially in the north where industries such as steel, ship building and coal mining suffered the most. It was also a troubled period of European history characterised by the rise of radical political movements including Fascism and Communism. Rather than represent this decade of economic and political upheaval, the subject of much British art remained escapist.
Throughout this period, British artists explored, questioned and rejected the requirement that to be truly modern was to break with the past. This tension between tradition and modernity continues to exert a hold over British culture today.