(Blogpost) Modern British Art: Figuring out the Figurative with The School of London

Hello there! Thank you for joining us. This month we’ve been publishing a series of blogposts celebrating the exciting variety of movements which define modern British art, alongside our virtual exhibition ‘Modern British Art: A Story’. Our previous blogpost considered a big leap taken by some artists in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, who believed the idea behind an artwork was more important than the final product.

Well, today we’re continuing to demonstrate the many conflicting ideas and styles which define modern British art, by looking at a group of artists who, rather than abandoning representational art, sought a way to bring it into the 20th Century.

The School of London was a loose group of London-based artists, who explored figurative painting and drawing in the 1970s and ‘80s. The term was coined by R.B. Kitaj, who aimed to draw attention to artists exploring the human figure at a time when abstract movements dominated the art world. Key artists included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Leon Kossoff, who are among the most important mid-late 20th century British artists.

Lucian Freud, Girl with Fig Leaf, 1948, Etching

In 1976, when minimalism and conceptualism were at the height of fashion, Kitaj organised a major exhibition The Human Clay at the Hayward Gallery, which consisted solely of new figurative art.

Kitaj himself was interested in depicting the human figure and conveying human experience in his art. Sketch of CBD with Auerbach Drawing depicts an anonymous nude, pregnant woman reclining on a chaise-longue designed by Le Corbusier. In the background, a painting by Frank Auerbach, another School of London artist, is depicted with expressive and angular marks. The female figure is skilfully drawn with confident strokes of charcoal; from the bulging belly, to the muscular legs and hand clasping the side of the chair.

R.B. Kitaj, Sketch of CBD with Auerbach Drawing, 1989

If you love this piece, and want to discover pieces by two other, prominent members of the School of London – Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud – take a look at Episode 14 of Art Snaps, Refugees and British Art.

Blogpost by Katie Ackrill (Project Engagement Officer, Art on Tour)

One thought on “(Blogpost) Modern British Art: Figuring out the Figurative with The School of London

  1. I loved your finishing this difficult year by showing how these Jewish refugees from that horrific time came to enrich British art, along with their compatriot Ernst Gombrich, whose ‘The Story of Art’ was such a basis for us students in the 1950’s. His lilting German tones at Slade evening lectures were quite soporific. How I wish now I’d paid more attention – yours are definitely not soporific! A close friend Barbara Gomperts was also a close friend of Lucie Rie and left some of her pieces to me. Desperate for money once, I admit to selling them. How awful. I should have starved instead.
    Thank you for keeping our fine Collection alive and every good wish for 2021.

    PS Joe Tilson’s daughter Sophie did her foundation year at Swindon School of Art in the late 1980’s and it was a pleasure to have such a dedicated student. I wonder what she is doing now.


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