A Narrative in Relief - The Historiography of English Modern Painting (1910-1915), from the 1910s to the 1950s
The groups of painters in England who experimented with new visual expressions of modernity between 1910 and 1915 are the subject of this historiographical research. More precisely, the accounts of Vorticism, Bloomsbury post-Impressionism and the modern art of painters associated with Sickert, (principally the Camden Town Group), have been critically examined over a forty year period in order to trace the narrative of their place in contemporary art criticism and their entry into histories of what soon became the recent past. This textually-based methodology has produced an insight into the forces acting upon the critical reception of a particular period subsequently seen by historians as a discrete phase in the evolution of British art. The readings of texts are organised chronologically so as to illustrate the iv formation of a historical narrative and its variants, and to show how immediate responses and retrospective evaluations connect discursively. The findings of the research have four aspects. Firstly, it has been fruitful to isolate the narrative of the years 1910-15 over forty years so as to test whether it is possible, using this longitudinal methodology, to comment productively on the integrity of this historical episode, and to establish how the narrative became a critical orthodoxy governed by a limited range of analytical perspectives. Secondly, estimations as to the quality of the art produced in these years developed a distinct, often negative, patterning in journalism and art historical writing and this is also traced in some detail over time. Dominant tropes in the critical language have been identified over this forty year period which became the default positions of historical analysis and which, I argue, impeded sophisticated or revisionist thinking. With a few notable exceptions, the analysis of early English modern art is poorly served by its commentators in this period and this weakened discursive health. Thirdly, this thesis also considers the nature and influence of, periodicals, newspapers, ‘little magazines’ and the genres of art-writing that were extant between 1910 and 1956 and relates this to the distinctions and similarities between art criticism and art history at this time. A fourth analytic strand concerns outside influences on the production of critical and historical texts. It explores the impact of promotional art writing, and exposes the professional pressures on, and rivalries between, writers and considers some of the wider political circumstances through which this particular debate on recent art was refracted.
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