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The Fine Art Society opens "British Murals & Decorative Painting 1910-1979"
Colin Gill (1892-1940), Allegro, 1921, oil on canvas, 46 x 90 inches.

LONDON.- The Fine Art Society, in association with Liss Fine Art, presents a major exhibition that will bring together many of the important murals and decorative cycles undertaken in Britain between 1910 and 1970. Coinciding with the launch of a new scholarly book on the subject, published by Sansom & Company, the exhibition will highlight the significance of twentieth-century murals as one of the greatest inventive achievements in modern British art.

Highly original in their approach to design, balancing varying degrees of modernity or tradition, these works demonstrate the creative drive of their makers and contain singular expressions of the aesthetic, personal and social concerns that typify the ages from which they come.

Some are celebrations of simple human pleasures, perhaps to decorate an ocean liner or a salon. Others are intended to be the highest expressions of their art, ambitious allegorical or decorative paintings that like the frescoes of the Renaissance would speak through the ages to later generations. The individuals and committees who commissioned them similarly believed they would represent the best that Britain had to offer and mark the high accomplishment of contemporary society, elevating the public and private spaces they occupied and inspiring moral purpose.

Despite the counter-intuitive evidence of their size, however, murals have unjustly constituted an almost hidden history in many accounts of twentieth-century British art. Over the course of the century many great works were destroyed, either by vandalism or the bombs of World War II, or simply as a result of evolving tastes and changes to building use. Today the murals that do exist are rarely seen as the artists intended, and are often partially obscured, completely covered up or painted over.

As well as presenting celebrated paintings by artists including Edward Bawden, Frank Brangywn, Gilbert Spencer, Colin Gill, Charles Sims and Peter Lanyon, the exhibition will feature a number of significant works that have previously been overlooked or forgotten, and have only recently re-emerged. Examples include two newly-discovered murals that were originally commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain; The Englishman’s Home by John Piper and Alan Sorrell’s Mural for The Nelson Bar of the HMS Compania. Also on view will be two murals by Mary Adshead which were originally commissioned for Lord Beaverbrook’s dining room, subsequently displayed at Peter Jones department store and then later listed as destroyed. The show will also feature Man at Work by Barbara Jones, which was originally exhibited at the 1961 Turin Expo and considered by Jones to be her masterpiece. It has only recently come to light, having spent the past fifty years concealed behind a stud wall in her studio.

So long as murals and decorative paintings remain poorly recorded and largely unprotected, they will remain a part of Britain’s artistic heritage that is at risk. To address this issue, on Friday 8th March 2013 The Twentieth Century Society is staging a one-day conference at Morley College, titled ‘Murals in Britain 1910-1970: Revisions, revelations and risks’. It seems only now, from the perspective of a new century, that we can look again and appreciate how important these works are for an understanding of the age in which they were made and the idealism that underpinned it. And more than this, we can appreciate the sheer quality and skill of their composition and draughtsmanship, carried out on such a demandingly large scale. It is hoped that this ground-breaking exhibition, along with the new book and conference, will inspire a more inclusive account of twentieth-century British art in which the significance of murals and decorative painting is fully accounted for.

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