At the end of a year in which Britain has once more been at war, this exhibition contrasts the sacredness of man with the profanity of war. Presenting a selection of important drawings produced in the aftermath of the First World War and the run up to the Second, this exhibition explores different perceptions of man and of the sacred and the profane.
At the heart of the show is Cecil Collins' powerful early masterpiece, God has flown from this World - an apocalyptic scene in which fires burn across the world - that suggests the legacy of the visionary epics of William Blake.
Complementing this dramatic vision of the future is Edward Burra's view of the here and now. In Grotesque Figures wounded civilians sprawl on the ground, their faces shattered, bodies contorted and limbs severed. Behind them a church spire dangles sadly, its spirit symbolically broken. Probably a reference to the church of Albert-on-the-Somme - a famous icon of the ravages of the First World War - the picture also speaks for the barbarity of all war.
Altogether more redemptive are Eric Gill's crucifixions and his highly idealised depictions of the beauty of the human form as in the exquisite Female Nude: Study for a Sculpture, which show an altogether more uplifting view of mankind.
Jacob Epstein, meanwhile, unites a number of these dualities. Spiritual and physical love entwine in his most important early drawing, One of the Seven Pillars of the Secret Temple, planned for a modern day temple, inspired by Stonehenge. Similarly in Angel of the Annunciation, the title belies the fact that Epstein would subsequently make use of this depiction of the angel Gabriel in a sculpture of the fallen angel, Lucifer.
At the start of a new millennium, this exhibition provides a timely reminder of art's potential not merely to adorn or entertain, but also to address our hopes and fears.
James Hyman, at 6 Mason's Yard, Duke Street, St James's, SW1 (020 7839 3906), has been making quite a name for himself by mounting museum-quality exhibitions of Modern British art, backed up by scholarly catalogues. His Christmas show (until 24 January 2004) is entitled Sacred and Profane, and features top-quality drawings done in the 1920s and 1930s by Edward Burra, Cecil Collins, Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill. A muscular diva of ambiguous gender and friend (allegedly Billy Chappell and Freddie Ashton) disport themselves in Burra's wickedly witty ink drawing `The Singer'. There are strong, typical drawings by Epstein and Gill, and two very early rare and rather Blakean drawings by Cecil Collins. Another triumph.
The Spectator, 13/20 December 2003
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