Within the exhibition Counterpoint: Modern Realism 1910-1950, over 40 artworks of different artists active in the first half of the 20th century are featured, focusing on the various styles in which the British realist painters worked. Further questioning the meaning of a ‘realist’ artist and his place in modern society. A partial answer to this question lies in the variety of presented artworks. Even among the same genres, especially portraits, it is possible to distinguish between different expressions of modernity in artworks.
Among the works, depictions of high-society members represent one group. Gerald Brockhurst’s A Woman in Black and Ambrose McEvoy’s A Society Beauty were notable and represented very different ways of dealing with portraiture. Blockhurst, who is not only a painter, but also an etcher and his idealised, highly finished technique and no attempt to penetrate his sitters’ characters may partially result from this profession. On the contrary, McEvoy’s loose brushstrokes, giving more of an impression of the painting, look back to the technique of the 17th century Spanish masters, but still he surpasses his times with the presentation of the sitter. The Counterpoint: Modern Realism 1910-1950 did not lack many other inspiring comparisons.
Apart from that, the exhibition addressed the issue of the construction of new identity in society at the beginning of the 20th century, heavily influenced by the industrial development. This was reflected in more abstract works by British artists, including paintings by artists such as Julian Trevelyan – who was a member of the English Surrealist Society and John Duncan Fergusson, inspired by French impressionists and fauvists.
Counterpoint: Modern Realism 1910-1950 marked a very important step in the understanding of what ‘realist’ and ‘modern’ mean to the contemporary viewer and juxtaposed our understanding of modernity with the one of early 20th century artist. Instead of presenting a narrative, linear development of modern art, the exhibition presents an alternative history created by individuals.
By Maria Anna Cynkier