In 1951 Herbert Read's influential study, Contemporary British Art, was published for the first time. Meditating on the first half of the century, Read noted the reputations still enjoyed by the Camden Town School painters and especially Walter Sickert (who had only recently died) and declared `neo-realism' to be the dominant tendency in British Art.
No artist was more closely identified with the continuation of this `tradition' than Ruskin Spear. Like Sickert, he moved effortlessly from `low' to `high' subjects and his use of an earthy palette, often crudely applied, owed much to Sickert's close-toned Mornington Crescent nudes. The link was further reinforced when, in 1951, Spear became President of the London Group, which had been set up before the First World War as an exhibiting society for the Camden Town School.
Despite these affinities, Spear's personal vision of the city was evident as early as the mid 1940s, when he produced some of his finest paintings depicting the lively characters to be found in the pubs around his home in Hammersmith In the decades that followed, his eye for enlivening detail and sense of fun produced a genre of portraiture unmistakably his own.
Spear's later work, which witnessed a shift from depictions of the grimier areas of the city to the grander arena of celebrity portraits, was perhaps a natural extension of his earlier interest in local `types', and resulted in paintings of public figures which were a highlight of countless Summer Exhibitions at the Royal Academy.
It is fitting that this exhibition (10th March to 16th April), the first since Spear's death in 1990, should take place at the Crane Kalman Gallery which had an association with the artist going back three decades. With pictures spanning the artist's career - including a portrait of Baroness Thatcher -the exhibition is a timely tribute to one of the best-loved British artists of the last half century
© 2021 James Hyman Gallery, PO Box 72888,
LONDON N2 2FH