It is not difficult to make an artist disappear. If you run a museum you leave their work languishing in the basement, and if you publish books you contrive to overlook them. If you leave, say, Eric Ravilious, out of your survey of 20th century British art, then the chances are that art history teachers will ignore him too. So the next generation grow up having never heard of him, and his vanishing is complete. The artist doesn't need to be dead, although it helps. Fashion in art is just as brutal as fashion in Cold War-style Stalinist politics; in both cases, a few influential people control the flow of information to the public, and use their power as they see fit.
|Algernon Newton, The House by the Canal, 1945 (Harris Museum & Art Gallery)|
Following Rav's rehabilitation, art lovers are now wondering whether there are other artists of a similar calibre waiting to be rediscovered. One of those whose name is suggested as 'the next Ravilious' is Algernon Newton, whose work is currently on show at the Alex Katz Gallery, off Piccadilly; it's worth going along just to see the gallery, which occupies several floors of a grand old town house.
|Algernon Newton, Dawn, 1936 (Ferens Art Gallery)|
Whichever side you take in this welcome debate it seems clear that Newton was an artist of unusual vision, a painter who apparently controlled a terror of impending apocalypse with luminous glazes and fastidious attention to detail. He painted ever brick in his buildings and every leaf on his trees, even in the many large paintings he produced during a long and prolific career. Strikingly, after a tumultuous and frustrating youth, Newton went on painting into his eighties, depicting downland landscapes with the same painterly precision and poetic mystery he exhibited in his earlier work.
|Alfred Munnings, The Start, 1950 (Richard Green Gallery)|
I must admit that I thought Dr Fox had gone a bit far with Munnings. I couldn't see what was so great about his crowd-pleasing pictures of racehorses. Walking into the Bond Street gallery, however, it was immediately clear that this artist had something; his subject matter may have been less than challenging but the way he painted was startling. Nothing measured about Munnings. Look up close at a picture and you see a welter of paint applied this way and that, not stroked but slapped and slathered. But the clumsy jumble of colours is transformed as you step away and there, extraordinarily, is the horse or circus troupe or whatever it may be, brought to life without great subtlety but with considerable panache.
This was an exhibition to warm the cockles on a cold December afternoon in a recession, and the accompanying article by Brian Sewell only added to the fun. Odd to think that Munnings (1878-1959) and Newton (1880-1968) were almost exact contemporaries.
|Mary Fedden at the Portland Gallery|
FFI: Richard Green, Daniel Katz, Portland Gallery.