Frances Spalding

Frances Spalding’s books include The Tate: A History, The Bloomsbury Group and Whistler.

Political Purposes: art in postwar Britain

Frances Spalding, 15 April 1999

‘I do not believe it is yet realised what an important thing has happened,’ Maynard Keynes announced in a BBC broadcast soon after the foundation of the Arts Council in 1946. ‘State patronage of the arts has crept in. It has happened in a very English, informal, unostentatious way – half-baked if you like. A semi-independent body is provided with modest funds.’ Modest, too, was the almost passive role which the Arts Council adopted as a conduit between artist and public: a policy, Margaret Garlake remarks, ‘designed less to inspire than to avoid giving offence’. Despite this, the major exhibitions which the Arts Council mounted at the Tate Gallery during the immediate postwar years greatly enlivened its near-moribund exhibition programme and aided London’s gradual takeover from Paris as a centre for the international art market. Simultaneously, an increase in art education and art publishing offered further proof of Britain’s postwar vitality. The Whitechapel Art Gallery became a major venue after Bryan Robertson took over there, and the British Council, founded in 1934, also held important exhibitions, though it operated mostly abroad, becoming, as Garlake observes, an unacknowledged arm of the Foreign Office. Garlake quotes a letter, first brought to light in Frances Donaldson’s history of the British Council, in which a member of the Foreign Office admitted that the Cold War ‘is in essence a battle for men’s minds’ and that ‘the British Council is one of our chief agencies for fighting it.’ From the artist’s point of view, however, to be taken up by the British Council meant a significant increase in reputation. The re-establishment of the Venice Biennale, in 1948, resulted in further opportunities for international acclaim. The Venice and São Paulo biennales, and other international cultural events, had, Garlake argues, ‘immense symbolic significance at a time when governments were desperate to cement the fragile political reconstruction of Europe’.’‘

Piperism: John and Myfanwy Piper

William Feaver, 17 December 2009

The elongated shards of smog grey, pea green and lemonade that, since 1968, have cast a wan light on pews reserved for the use of MPs in St Margaret’s, Westminster, are untypical of John...

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Sun and Strawberries: Gwen Raverat

Mary Beard, 19 September 2002

‘The ghosts we deserve’ was the Listener’s headline for Simon Raven’s review of Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece in December 1952. Most reviewers had gushed with...

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Feigning a Relish: One Tate or Two

Nicholas Penny, 15 October 1998

This useful, well-balanced and at times enthralling history of the Tate Gallery was commissioned for its centenary. It more or less coincides with the obsequies for the Gallery as we have known...

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John Minton’s face is familiar – if not from the self-portrait now in the National Portrait Gallery, then from the likeness he commissioned from Lucian Freud and bequeathed to the...

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Anthony Thwaite, 27 October 1988

In a long tape-recorded conversation she had with Kay Dick in November 1970 (the best source for the flavour of her speech), Stevie Smith remarked: I’m straightforward but I’m not...

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Peter Campbell, 4 December 1986

The earliest buildings in the 42nd volume of the Survey of London are late 17th and early 18th-century houses in Kensington Square. The market gardens and nurseries which surrounded this urban...

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Francis and Vanessa

Peter Campbell, 15 March 1984

In Elizabeth Taylor’s novel The Wedding Group, published in 1968, there is a grand old painter called Harry Bretton. He is modelled, I would guess, on Eric Gill, for the Life, and Stanley...

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