The Mythic Method: Classicism in British Art 1920-1950
28 October 2016 – 19 February 2017
Exploring classicism and myth in modern British art.
From Picasso's fascination with the figure of the Minotaur to Cy Twombly's interest in Orpheus, the ancient Greek musician possessed of the ability to charm all living things with his music, classicism and myth have long been a source of inspiration for artists. This exhibition considers the particular intersection of classicism and myth in Modern British art between 1920-1950.
Featuring 80 works and objects, including paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photography and illustrated books, the exhibition features works by well-known artists such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Madame Yevonde and Wyndham Lewis, as well as that of lesser known figures from British art including Edith Rimmington and John Kavanagh.
Beginning in the aftermath of the First World War, the exhibition explores the ways artists sought inspiration from the perceived virtues of order and civilisation association with ancient Roman and Greek societies. For example, a war memorial painted by Frederick Cayley Robinson for the Heanor Grammar School takes the form of a tempera wall painting depicting Greek gods in front of an Ionic temple, flanked by images of peace and modern war, surrounding the names of students from the school who were killed in the conflict.
Work from the 1920s and 30s is also on display, characterised by a turn away from the machine-like and abstract styles of the previous decades. Artists including Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, Wyndham Lewis, and Edward Wadsworth adopted these forms of expression, referencing the classical in everyday scenes. An example of this is Ben Nicholson's tender portrait of himself with Barbara Hepworth, '1933 (St Remy, Provence)' inspired by the Hellenistic and Roman remains they had visited in the town.
The range of the exhibition demonstrates how the instability of the wartime period encouraged a widespread artistic engagement with the classics to gain understanding of a turbulent present.
In the video below, curator Simon Martin introduces some of the key works and themes of the exhibition.