At the dawn of the 20th century, many artists, harrowed by war, began to express themselves in new and avant-garde ways that challenged preconceived aesthetics and ideals, in favour of a fresh vision of utopia. Although the term ‘modernism’ describes a sweep that took hold all across Europe, a distinctly British brand developed, producing some of the greatest artists the country has ever seen. Here’s our guide to the best places to see their work throughout the capital.
Take a stroll through Tate Britain’s ‘Walk Through British Art’ to gain an overview of the defining moments of British Modernism. The display charts the portrayal of World War I horrors by futurist Christopher Nevinson, the bombastic abstract paintings of Wyndenham Lewis and several examples of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptural pieces that directly reference the British landscape, particularly the sea. Two entire rooms are also given over to Henry Moore’s sculptures, drawings, photographs and maquettes, offering a wonderful survey of his artistic oeuvre.
Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster, London, UK, +44 20 7887 8888
Ben Uri Gallery
The Ben Uri Collection features more than 1300 works of art by almost 400 artists. Though they are mainly of Jewish descent, the collecting policy encompasses any artist that contributes to telling the story of the émigré experience. Among their holdings are 15 pieces by David Bomberg, a Birmingham-born painter of Polish-Jewish heritage who is best known for his blend of Futurist and Vorticist principles that recorded his horrifying experiences on the Western Front.
108A Boundary Rd, London, UK, +44 20 7604 3991
The Courtauld Gallery
Alongside its Impressionist masterpieces are some excellent examples of British Modernism at The Courtauld. Key members of the Bloomsbury Group are represented, including Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who often collaborated on paintings or used the same subject matter in their work. The group’s name is taken from the area of London where they all lived and practiced, which is a short walk from the gallery’s home in Somerset House.
Somerset House, Strand, London, UK, +44 20 7848 1194
In terms of historic design, the V&A has an unprecedented collection that covers furniture, interiors, fashion, jewellery, prints, sculpture, antiquity and hardware. Fantastic examples of British Modern design can be found throughout the displays, including prints by Paul Nash and Eric Gill, who was famed as a typographer and created the eponymous and distinctly British ‘Gill Sans’. Examples of revolutionary furniture manufactured by Isokon are also on display. This avant-garde company was regarded as the only British manufacturer ‘completely devoted to Modernism’ and employed some of the most daring designers from throughout the continent.
Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London, UK, +44 020 7942 2000
The National Portrait Gallery
International regard and acclaim led to many British Modernists being commissioned for official portraits of leading political and cultural figures of the day. The former war artist Graham Sutherland has eight finished works in the National Portrait Gallery, including paintings of Winston Churchill, Kenneth Clark and Milner Gray. Once agai,n the Bloomsbury Group is also well represented. Roger Fry painted five and sat for several portraits, Vanessa Bell was Duncan Grant’s subject on several occasions and the entire group is recorded by Lady Ottoline Morrell’s collection of intimate photographs.
St. Martin’s Pl, London, UK, +44 20 7306 0055