The Art of an Art Historian by Alan Powers, with contributions from Peter Davidson & Michael Hall - review by Frances Spalding

Frances Spalding

Man of Many Brushes

The Art of an Art Historian


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Alan Powers has published some thirty-five books, including three in the last twelve months. One of these shone a light on the mid-20th-century English designer Enid Marx and was written to coincide with an exhibition of her work at the House of Illustration in London, which Powers curated. It was followed by Bauhaus Goes West. In the interstices that arose during the writing of these two books, Powers worked on a third, The Art of an Art Historian, focusing on his own paintings. As a young man at a time when modernism was the dominant orthodoxy, he drew inspiration from Rex Whistler and Eric Ravilious, two artists firmly excluded from Charles Harrison’s landmark book English Art and Modernism 1900–1939, published in 1981. Since then the definition of modernism has broadened: Whistler and Ravilious have joined the celebrated company of artists who have shaped our understanding of the modern.

By the age of eighteen Powers had immersed himself in the writings of the Sitwells. He claims that the intellectual meal they offered was top-dressed with Adrian Stokes’s aesthetic theories, gleaned from a Pelican paperback selection of his writings. Powers, at this stage, was highly receptive to the

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