School of London

Coined in 1976 by the American-born painter Ronald B. Kitaj as a means of drawing attention to the exceptional range and vigour he had found in contemporary art in England, the term School of London applies essentially to a group of artists living in the capital in the 1950s who were committed to renewing figurative painting throughout the rise and dominance of abstract art.

Essentially the term draws attention to the fact that since the war London has produced a variety of powerfully inventive artists. Although, like the Ecole de Paris, the School of London remains a flexible concept, there is a well-defined group of figurative painters at its core who were drawn together by shared admirations and ambitions from the late 1950s onwards, as abstraction became the dominant mode: they followed each other’s work closely and exhibited in the same West End gallery.

If the School of London can be said to have a leader, it would be Francis Bacon, who served as a model of invention and independence to all the artists and not least to his close companion, the masterly painter of human flesh, Lucian Freud. Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach studied together and were both deeply influenced by Expressionism, while their friend Michael Andrews developed an intensely personal vision in which reality is made memorable by subtle distortions. By his commitment to the figure and his championing of the group’s existence, Kitaj was automatically connected to the School of London, which also includes the Paris-based sculptor Raymond Mason, who frequented the other artists and showed with them before leaving London.

The work of these artists has affected a whole younger generation of painters in London. They are represented in this exhibition by Paula Rego, Bill Jacklin, Celia Paul, Tony Bevan and Stephen Conroy, creators of distinct pictorial worlds, but united by a passionate belief in the human figure as the focus of their art. The first part of the exhibition presents the School of London’s traditionally accepted hard core - Francis Bacon, Leon Kossoff, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, R. B. Kitaj - with the addition of Raymond Mason, the English-born, Paris-based sculptor who showed his early work in London in the 1950s.

The works by Lucian Freud, recently shown in Paris and Santiago de Compostela in this exhibition, cannot be presented in Vienna because the artist refuses to be exhibited in Austria. The second part of the exhibition, curated by Jill Lloyd, opens up the debate by introducing a younger generation of figurative painters:

Paula Rego, Bill Jacklin, Stephen Conroy, Celia Paul and Tony Bevan. They have been aware of theSchool of London painters’ achievement - hard won during a period dominated by abstraction - throughout their career; and they share with them a dedication to the human figure as the natural focus of their art. Beyond that, it is above all a diversity of temperament and means, imagination and technique, that they display.

They also put us eloquently in mind of the continuing inventiveness and vigour of figurative art in England today. The exhibition is curated by Michael Peppiatt, a well-known scholar of modern British art and Jill Lloyd, who has contributed original research on the second generation of British figurative painters. It will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue in German and English, with essays by the curators as well as interviews with the artists and selected texts on their work. This will be the first definitive publication in German on the subject and, together with the exhibition, it will make a substantial contribution to the knowledge and understanding of contemporary British art in Europe.

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