Isabel Rawsthorne remakes history with centenary show at New Art Gallery Walsall

By Mark Sheerin | 14 June 2012
Gouache rendering of dancers in motion
Isabel Rawsthorne, Movement from the Bayadere 1 (circa 1966)© Estate of Isabel Rawsthorne. Courtesy of The New Art Gallery Walsall
Exhibition: Isabel Rawsthorne - Moving Bodies, New Art Gallery, Walsall, June 15 – September 8 2012

A new show in Walsall may well astound you before clapping eyes on a single painting. A perusal of the text on the wall or the gallery handout to indicates that Rawsthorne is as significant as she is overlooked.

And never mind the fact she once worked as an assistant to Jacob Epstein, or was close to both Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon. She may have been painted by the greats, Picasso included, but she was a serious and successful artist in her own right.

This exhibition marks her centenerary year and sets out to position Rawsthorne as the missing link between modernisms in France and Britain. The female painter brought an existential sensibility back from her travels, but sadly withdrew from the art world in 1951.

Besides artists, her other famous friends were dancers. It is hard to believe now but, in mid-century Europe, ballet was cutting edge. The forefront of art was investigation of the body in motion. So Rawsthorne hung out with Margot Fonteyn and Antoinette Sibley. She painted Rudolph Nureyev.

According to critic David Sylvester, this put her up there with Bacon and Freud at the forefront of the British avant garde. Now, of course, she has nothing like their reputations. So if you’re liable to get depressed by lack of female artists in the art history canon, don't say you weren't warned.
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