Summary of School of London
Less a stylistic movement and more a social group of artists who explored similar themes, the School of London revolutionized figurative painting after World War II. Not named such until 1976, a diverse group of artists, including R. B. Kitaj, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Howard Hodgkin, Leon Kossoff, Michael Andrews, and David Hockney, explored the human form and devastated landscapes in the wake of the physical and moral destruction wreaked by war. They wrote no manifestoes or credos and painted in diverse styles, but they mostly probed autobiographical subjects, including portraits and settings of friends and intimates.
Finding commonalities with other artists across Europe and even in the United States who were not committed to pure abstraction, the School of London generated enormous interest in figurative painting among a younger generation of artists, including Jenny Saville, Cecily Brown, and Peter Doig among many, many others.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Like many artists after World War II, the School of London artists attempted a reckoning of recent history and tried to imagine new ways of seeing oneself and one's fellow human beings. Like contemporary philosophers exploring Existentialism and phenomenology, the artists attempted to break down old habits and modes of seeing in order to recreate new ways of interaction.
- Paintings created by School of London artists ranged from pristinely smooth to thickly encrusted surfaces, but in all instances the artists hoped to convey the psychological depths not only of their subjects but their own as well. At times empathetic and other times damning, the artists depicted their subjects through their own personal lenses, creating complex portraits and landscapes that spoke to uneasy times.
- The artists combined influences of the Old Masters with popular culture, film, and literature, giving their subjects a seriousness and probity that had not recently been seen in figurative painting but that still felt current and recognizable.
Overview of School of London
Many of the School of London painters were already well-established and even famous prior to the naming of the group, and they came from a variety of backgrounds, carried different influences, and painted in a myriad of styles.