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The Met to Exhibit More than 100 Modernist British Prints Created between 1913 and 1939 (Opens November 1)

Written by Aksel Ritenis

The Met to Exhibit More than 100 Modernist British Prints Created between 1913 and 1939 (Opens November 1)

The Met to Exhibit More than 100 Important Modernist British Prints Created During the Tumultuous Years between 1913 and 1939
The exhibition celebrates the transformative acquisition of British modernist works on paper from the renowned collection of Leslie and Johanna Garfield
During the tumultuous years between 1913 and 1939, numerous British artists and expatriates linked to modernist movements such as Vorticism, Futurism, and the Grosvenor School of Modern Art turned to printmaking to convey the vibrancy and innovation, as well as the destruction and turmoil, of contemporary life. On view November 1, 2021–January 9, 2022, Modern Times: British Prints, 1913–1939 will feature more than 100 outstanding and rare works on paper made during this period. Their subjects—which included factories and underground trains, war-torn landscapes and “dazzle ships,” leisure activities, and the countryside as both idealized rural landscape and one transformed by urban expansion—reveal an interest in speed, motion, labor, industrialization, technology, and modernity broadly considered. In addition to traditional printmaking methods, artists embraced new techniques such as the color linocut, which represented their democratic aspirations for both art making and collecting.
The exhibition will celebrate the transformative acquisition of British modernist works on paper from the collection of Leslie and Johanna Garfield, the most significant collection of its kind. Featured artists include Sybil Andrews, Claude Flight, Paul Nash, Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, Cyril Power, and Edward Wadsworth, as well as international artists who worked or studied in Britain, such as Edward McKnight Kauffer and Lill Tschudi. Visitors will gain a greater and more comprehensive understanding of the artists’ oeuvres, printmaking, and British modernism as a whole in the years bracketed by two world wars.
Exhibition Overview
The exhibition will begin with the Vorticists, an avant-garde group that used radical verbal and visual language to challenge social, cultural, and political systems. Their work transformed with the First World War, as did that of many of their peers, including Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson—the only British Futurist, he deviated from the movement to underscore the horrors of mechanized warfare.
In reaction to the war, many artists renounced or modified the abstract visual languages they had previously embraced, finding that their relationship to such styles—and the modern world in general—had fundamentally changed. Rather than championing a complete break with modernity, these artists pursued different subjects and approaches to forge a new understanding of it. Some, such as Paul Nash, left urban centers and embraced subjects that appear both timeless and suggestive of the trauma of war. Edward Wadsworth, for his part, abandoned the non-objective, geometric abstraction he had used as a Vorticist. In his images of modern industrialized sites and the related destruction of the landscape, he employed a language that was raw, unsentimental, and more figurative than before. In addition to depicting the landscape’s transformation—through industrial waste and the expansion of cities and suburbs into rural spaces—artists, such as Nevinson, captured strikes and uprisings, which occurred with greater frequency and on a larger scale as the economic depression progressed.
At London’s Grosvenor School of Modern Art, founded in October 1925 and in operation until 1940, professors and students sought to expand the possibilities for art education and the methods for art production. Grosvenor School quickly became more than just an art center, evolving into a term applied to a group of artists who studied printmaking with Claude Flight. These artists, like their teacher, refined the color linocut technique to produce dynamic images of everyday life. Often made with inexpensive items, these relief prints portrayed scenes of labor as well as recreational activities, such as visits to the funfairs, sporting events, and games, along with the hustle and bustle of modern metropolitan life.
Women were key figures in the Grosvenor School, which admitted a substantial number of female students and allowed equal access to classes. In addition to prominent Grosvenor School artists such as Sybil Andrews and Lill Tschudi, the exhibition will include pieces by Dorothy Burroughes, Anna Findlay, Ursula Fookes, and Edith Lawrence, among others.
Also included in the exhibition will be posters commissioned by Frank Pick, the powerful transportation executive and patron of modern art and design who had the goal of promoting the London Transport and its services. The modernist styles found in these posters had great influence and inspired the art critic and Grosvenor School instructor Frank Rutter to declare in 1933 that “The art galleries of the People are not in Bond Street, but are to be found in every railway station.” Featured artists here will include Edward McKnight Kauffer (an American who worked in London and was considered the preeminent poster artist in Britain during the interwar period) and Andrew Power, an alias adopted by Grosvenor School artists Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power for London Transport commissions.
About Leslie and Johanna Garfield
Leslie and Johanna Garfield acquired their first print in the mid-1950s—a German Expressionist woodcut from 1912 by Eric Heckel—and by the early 1980s, the couple began collecting works made in the interwar period by imaginative British printmakers, thus pioneering this focus in collecting. Their committed, independent vision led them to assemble an exceptional collection that features an impressive variety of techniques, such as linocut, etching, dry point, woodcut, lithography, and wood engraving, and that includes sketchbooks, illustrated books, posters, printmaking tools, and scholarly materials. The Met’s acquisition of more than 700 works from the Garfield collection establishes the Museum as a leading institution for early to mid-20th century British modernist prints and drawings. It marks one of the largest acquisitions ever made by the Department of Drawings and Prints and was generously enabled by the Garfields as a part gift, part purchase.
Modern Times: British Prints, 1913–1939 is organized by Jennifer Farrell, Curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints.
The exhibition will be featured on The Met website as well as on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #BritishPrints. A “MetCollects” episode featuring the Leslie and Johanna Garfield gift is available online here.
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Aksel Ritenis

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