The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars by Frances Spalding - review by David Boyd Haycock

David Boyd Haycock

The Radicalism of a Watercolour

The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars


Thames & Hudson 384pp £35

Kierkegaard’s observation that life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards is pertinent to any attempt to understand art history. Artists move uncertainly, experimenting, growing, absorbing, discovering, forgetting, rediscovering. It is the difficult task of the art historian to piece a narrative together – and all art historians have their biases and blind spots. Frances Spalding admits as much in her introduction to The Real and the Romantic: ‘This book is neither a survey history of the period nor a deliberate alternative to mainstream history,’ she writes. ‘It is a response to a need for a particular focus on key moments, sudden alliances and shifts in feeling that fed into the creativity of this period … Readers may detect a recurrent interest in the interconnectedness of artistic networks and an interest in bringing to the fore women’. Throughout the book, she unravels the complexities of English art between the wars with clarity and confidence, moving back and forth in time, and between artists, writers, critics, curators and collectors.

Much of the art produced during and after the First World War was extraordinarily powerful. Spalding directs our attention to Sir Edwin Lutyens’s Cenotaph in Whitehall, Charles Sargeant Jagger’s Royal Artillery Monument at Hyde Park Corner, the paintings of the brothers John and Paul Nash, and John Singer Sargent’s

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