Humankind: Ruskin Spear – Class, Culture and Art in 20th-Century Britain by Tanya Harrod - review by Frances Spalding

Frances Spalding

Candid Canvas

Humankind: Ruskin Spear – Class, Culture and Art in 20th-Century Britain

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The Estate of Francis Bacon Publishing/Thames & Hudson 278pp £35 order from our bookshop
 

Ruskin Spear (1911–90) often painted portraits without informing his subjects. In this way, he infuriated many. In 1959, he fashioned a portrait of Princess Margaret from a press photograph titled ‘All aboard for Balmoral: Margaret takes the night train’. Perhaps encouraged by the informality of the caption and the strong animal interest offered by her three leashed dogs, Spear painted Catching the Night Train. This regal-sized picture was accepted by the Royal Academy for its annual Summer Exhibition but did not last the course: after only a week it was taken down.

Such informality of style and presentation in relation to the royal family had yet to gain wide acceptance. The portals of the Royal Academy remained narrow, even though Spear was following in the wake of Walter Sickert, who, liking the communality of press photographs, left undisguised the source

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