A new exhibition has opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London, Nash, Nevison, Spencer, Gertler, Carrington, Bomberg: A Crisis of Brilliance, 1908-1922. These six artists, David Bomberg, Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, Richard (C R W) Nevison, and Stanley Spencer, were all students of the Slade School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture at University College in central London in the years around 1910.
The Slade was then opening its doors to a remarkable crop of young talents, what the Professor of Drawing, Henry Tonks, later described as the school’s second and last ‘Crisis of Brilliance’ (the first included Augustus John, Percy Wyndham Lewis, and William Orpen). Bomberg, Nash and Nevison became war artists in the First World War, and Nash and Spencer were also war artists in the Second World War. In A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War (Old Street Publishing, 2009), David Boyd Haycock tells the story of this entangled, war-defined group (Bomberg was not included).
The exhibition, in bringing together more than 70 original works including paintings, drawings and prints, plus original letters, documents and photographs, shows how the First World War crushed the ambitions of that generation of talented artists, who felt that they had failed to portray the full horror of the slaughter.
Brian Sewell writing in the Evening Standard on 20 June 2013, link, says ‘Rarely, if ever, have I said “Wow” on entering an exhibition in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, but I did say it last week. The cause was David Bomberg’s painting of Canadian sappers tunnelling below the trenches in the Great War …’ In the conclusion to his review, Sewell, in his typical form, says ‘I wish it were compulsory for every art student at the Slade school now [and at other schools] to spend an hour in this exhibition for I’d wager that amongst their thousands they would not muster one with the talent and skills of these half-dozen prodigious tyros of a century ago. Would “Wow” be their response?
The exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, SE21 7AD London (020 8693 5254, link) is until 22 September. Open Tuesday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday & Sunday 11am to 5pm, closed Monday. Admission £11, concessions available. Opened to the public in 1817, the building is the oldest public art gallery in England.
Here are some of my favourite paintings from this group of artists.