Modernist Realism: The School of London from Andrews to O'Donoghue

25 February - 1 May 2010

Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Leon Kossoff, 
Tony Bevan, Glenys Johnson, Christopher Le Brun, Hughie O'Donoghue

James Hyman Gallery is pleased to present Modernist Realism an exhibition that focuses on artists who have made London their base and are often associated with the School of London. This exhibition and the simultaneous photography show, London Calling, seek to approach the School of London afresh to suggest new ways of engaging with this work. 

Modernist Realism seeks to emphasis the abstraction of the key protagonists. It addresses their engagement with formal, modernist concerns - the denial of narrative, an emphasis on the picture surface, flatness, colour and mark-making - whilst also affirming the crucial importance of the motif. 

Taking two of the most controversial and unfashionable terms in art, Modernism and Realism, the exhibition seeks to advocate the continuing significance of both aspects for some of the greatest painting not just of the last fifty years but of today.

Modernist Realism explores a particularly European sensibility. Established in the 1940s and 1950s, the achievements of the School of London painters were often presented in terms of existentialism with a focus on the treatment of the body. Nevertheless the resulting pictures owe much to the milieu of European modernism and to artist's who worked in the stimulating middle ground between abstraction and figuration. For example, critics of the 1950s often drew parallels between Nicholas de Stael and Jean Dubuffet's treatment of form as in the early paintings of Frank Auerbach, such as Building Site, St Pauls in the present exhibition. 

Pierre Bonnard was also enormously influential in the 1950s, being championed by Patrick Heron and others for showing the way that radical painting could fuse the abstract and the figurative. Tellingly Michael Andrews largest early painting, his for the Colony Room Club in Soho, which is included in this exhibition, took Bonnard's abstraction of nature as its inspiration. 

For both Andrews and Kossoff the Norwich School of Landscape painters were a seminal childhood and teenage stimulus: Andrews grew up in Norwich and Kossoff was evacuated to Norfolk. Andrews engagement with watercolour owes much to this legacy whilst to understand Kossoff's cityscape is to appreciate the impact of Constable and the Norfolk School. More recently natural and landscape elements have been an important aspect of both Le Brun and O'Donoghue's painting.

Whilst for the first generation of School of London painters it was France that was still the Mecca, for the next generation German painting appears to have had the most resonance. It is intended that a subsequent exhibition will explore this Anglo-German dialogue: Tony Bevan and Georg Baselitz, Christopher Le Brun and Marcus Lupertz, Glenys Johnson and Gerhard Richter, and Hughie O'Donoghue and Anselm Kiefer. 

James Hyman Gallery specializes in School of London painting. Modernist Realism follows a series of earlier thematic exhibitions which have sought to explore and contextualize the work of the School of London. These include From Life. Figurative Painting from Sickert to Bevan (2003), The Challenge of Post War Painting (2004), and Violence and Sensation. Francis Bacon and the Remaking of Appearance (2008). Modernist Realism also follows solo shows at James Hyman Gallery of Michael Andrews, Francis Bacon, Tony Bevan, Peter Doig, Lucian Freud, Glenys Johnson and Hughie O'Donoghue. James Hyman's book, The Battle for Realism. Figurative Art and the Cold War (1945-60) was published by Yale University press in 2001.