The Dulwich Picture Gallery Has A Crisis Of Brilliance

Rather than focus on thematically linked artists or a particular art movement, the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s latest exhibition explores a set time and place — specifically the Slade School of Art in London between 1908 and 1922. All seven artists featured here studied together yet had contrasting styles. Placing varied works together is often a risky approach but in this exhibition it never gets too jarring.

These artists were clearly influenced by the art movements occurring around them, such as Post-Impressionism, the Pre-Raphaelites and Futurism. But despite the change in what constitutes popular art, this exhibition is about how each of them evolved as an artist — in particular how their work changed in the face of World War I.

We start off with the artists’ early works. It’s evident that the ones to watch are Christopher Nevinson for his angular self-portrait and Paul Nash for his William Blake-esque human-eagle hybrid attacking an angel. The others appear less confident in their experimentation and it’s only Stanley Spencer who would later come into his own, as witnessed in his ghostly ‘Christ carrying the cross’.

As the artists were embroiled in the Great War, many reluctantly, the horrors they witnessed caused their work to change tack. Gone were the rural idylls and in came the rubble-strewn battlefield captured by Nash. However, the most emotionally charged war piece is Nevinson’s ‘La Patrie’, depicting injured soldiers writhing in pain in a dark field hospital.

The exhibition closes by informing us that only Spencer gained full recognition for his talents while he was alive, and that many of the other artists remained marginalised. The quality of the works varies throughout the exhibition, with only Nash and Nevinson truly shining, but it’s an interesting journey of seven artists and how their fortunes ebbed and flowed in a world in artistic and political flux.

Nash, Nevinson, Spencer, Gerlter, Carrington, Bomberg: A Crisis of Brilliance, 1908-1922 is on at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD until 22 September. Tickets are £11 and includes admission to the permanent collection, concessions available. 

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