Paul Nash, the 1920s and An Outbreak of Talent at the Fry Art Gallery

By Richard Moss Published: 15 April 2013

Exhibition preview: An Outbreak of Talent, Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, until June 30 2013

a drawing of three naked women
Edward Bawden, The Three Graces© The Fry Art Gallery, North West Essex Collection
The 1920s and 1930s are often cited as the decades when British art really came into its own.

Having assimilated Post Impressionism, Modernism, Abstraction and Surrealism, worked their way through Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism and even flirted with a return to traditional landscapes, artists such as Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Paul Nash and many others emerged from the shadow of Paris to put London and Britain well and truly on the map.

Nash’s own progression through this upheaval of styles made him one of the most popular and influential figures in British painting of the interwar period. But he was also an important influence on the young artists he taught and nurtured during his time at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s - a period he later recalled in 1935 as being remarkable for “an outbreak of talent”.

Nash cited, “at least eight men and women who have made names for themselves since then in a variety of different directions; In Painting, Edward Burra; Applied Design, Edward Bawden, Barnett Freedman, and Eric Ravilious; Textiles, Enid Marx; Pottery, Norah Braden, also William Chappel in Stage Design and Barbara Ker-Seymer in Photography”.

a drawing of a woman in Tudor costume with annotations
Edward Bawden, Costume Design for the Tempest (1933). Watercolour© James L Gordon Collection
Some of these names are very familiar today, others less so. The Fry is taking the opportunity to discover all of them in a show of pre-1935 work that offers a snapshot of a pivotal period for British art and design.

With samples of a wide variety of media and design, visitors can find some rarely seen works from some key players in pre-war British art.

Among them a fascinating glimpse of a preparatory work for the lost Morley College Mural, which two of the Royal College’s young guns, Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, were commissioned to produce in 1928.

Lost to bombing in 1940, the mural was by all accounts a fantastical mix of myth and magic that combined images from Shakespeare, Olympian deities and medieval plays. Bawden’s Three Graces is believed to be part of the design based on The Tempest and is inscribed to Charles Mahoney, a friend and fellow student at the Royal College of Art who was working on another mural for the College.

Similarly, Edward Burra’s 1924 watercolour, Hop Pickers who have Lost Their Mothers, offers a fascinating glimpse into a singular talent who developed a style that managed to be both dark yet full of celebratory colour and life.

The 1920s and 1930s were fertile periods for British art, and this exhibition, which mines the Fry's famous North West Essex collection, offers a valuable glimpse of some of the styles and innovations that British artists were exploring in this unique era.

  • Open 2pm-5pm (11am-5pm Saturday, 2.15pm-5pm Sunday, closed Monday and Wednesday). Admission free. Exhibition Free: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 2pm - 5pm; Saturday 11am - 5pm; Sunday 2.15-5pm; Bank Holidays 2.15-5pm. Follow the gallery on Twitter @FryArtGallery.

More pictures:

a poster for the British Industries Fair with a drawing by Paul Nash of a pipe joint on it
Paul Nash, Poster for British Industries Fair (1935)© London Transport Museum
a colourful painting of a group of people hop picking
Edward Burra, Hop Pickers who have Lost Their Mothers (1924). Watercolour© The Light Box, Woking
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