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School of London Collage

School of London

Started: 1976
Ended: 1990
School of London Timeline
"You want accuracy, but not representation. If you know how to make the figuration, it doesn't work. Anything you can make, you make by accident. In painting, you have to know what you do, not how, when you do it."
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Francis Bacon Signature
"You ask why I'm fascinated by the human figure? As a human animal, I am interested in some of my fellow animals: in their minds and bodies."
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Lucian Freud Signature
"I want paint to work as flesh."
3 of 10
Lucian Freud Signature
"My work is purely autobiographical... It is about myself and my surroundings."
4 of 10
Lucian Freud Signature
"I began again, after some years, to learn to draw, mainly from life, at what I will call a higher pitch, a pitch of some ambition and skill and quality. I sought to train myself to achieve the kind of drawing many modernists I admired had done in their early years, well before their iconoclastic periods."
5 of 10
R.B. Kitaj
"Faces are the most interesting things we see; other people fascinate me, and the most interesting aspect of other people - the point where we go inside them - is the face. It tells all."
6 of 10
David Hockney Signature
"I am a representational painter, but not a painter of appearances. I paint representational pictures of emotional situations."
7 of 10
Howard Hodgkin Signature
"What I am trying to make is a stonking, independent, coherent image that has never been seen before...that stalks into the world like a new monster."
8 of 10
Frank Auerbach Signature
"What I wanted to do was to record the life that seemed to me to be passionate and exciting and disappearing all the time."
9 of 10
Frank Auerbach Signature
"This part of London is my world. I've been wandering around these streets for so long that I've become attached to them and as fond of them as people are to their pets."
10 of 10
Frank Auerbach Signature

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 as 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.

Artworks and Artists of School of London

Progression of Art

Girl with a White Dog

Artist: Lucian Freud

Freud's depiction of Kitty Garman, his first wife, in her early pregnancy, presents an intimate moment of domestic life. She sits on a cushion, wearing a yellow robe that has fallen off her shoulder, exposing one of her breasts. A white dog, one of two bull terriers given to the couple by Garman's father, the famous sculptor Jacob Epstein, snuggles into the crook of her bent leg, resting his head on her knee.

In the 1950s, Freud focused on portraiture, and this important work exemplifies his working method in which he would often clean his sable brush after each brushstroke, insuring a pristine surface. The smoothly finished surface and precisely drawn forms lay bare the influence of Ingres, the French Neoclassical artist. Art critic Herbert Read, acknowledging the debt, described Freud as "the Ingres of Existentialism."

The woman's limbs and exposed breast are more highly colored than the muted tones of the rumpled robe she wears, the striped mattress where she sits, and the softly billowing drape behind her. A feeling of warmth and domesticity is created by the muted colors. At the same time, however, the work conveys a feeling of awkwardness, as Garman's face is somewhat wearied and lined, and her sad gaze staring into space conveys a feeling of loneliness. Even the resting dog conveys a sense of solicitude, as it too seems pensive and subdued. The result is a feeling of ambivalence, a flat calm that is discomfiting. The unflinching quality of Freud's psychological portraits was his distinctive contribution to modern art and to the figuration of the School of London.

Oil paint on canvas - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom


Sleeping Figure

Artist: Francis Bacon

This work depicts a nude figure sleeping on a black overstuffed armchair against a varying grey, sterile background. Though asleep, the figure seems distorted and visceral, pulsing with latent energy. Its lower legs and feet melt into appendage-like shapes that dissolve into trails of paint. The skin is highly colored, mottled with splotches of red and black, and the face, viewed in profile, appears scalded, suggesting that the figure is both injured and injurious, embodying some stripped but energetic state of existence.

With works like Sleeping Figure, Bacon became the most famous and successful of the School of London painters, and his work was influenced not only by the Old Masters but also by his studies of photography, particularly the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge. In Sleeping Figure, the snake-like forms of the figure's lower body suggest a melting effect that might be captured by a series of images that create the effect of movement.

Bacon's figures are inevitably disquieting, as he said, "I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail leaving its trail of the human presence...as a snail leaves its slime." The figure is confined by the black shape of the chair and the void of the interior room. The pictorial space becomes both a place of confinement and of transgression, creating a searing effect that leaves the viewer uncomfortable in her own skin.

Oil on canvas - The Royal Academy of Arts, London


Melanie and Me Swimming

Artist: Michael Andrews

This painting, depicting the inky black depths of a Scottish rock pool, focuses on the figure of the artist holding his eight-year old daughter by her arms as she learns to swim. The two figures have a radiant glow, highlighted by the black empty lake around them and the triangular and curved shapes of the lighter colored mountains and clouds along the horizon in the upper canvas. Andrews' paintings usually evolved from photographs combined with his memories; his daughter later described the setting, "It used to be known as the black pool because the water was so dark you couldn't see anything in it. It was so cold it had the effect of making you feel hot at first." Andrews's treatment of the figures is at once representational - the cold impact of the water seen in the paleness of their skins and the red blush of cold on their arms and faces - and lyrical - evoking the moment of transition from childhood to adulthood. Andrews deployed both a paint spray gun and brushes to achieve the near photographic smooth finish of the surface.

Melanie and Me Swimming has subsequently become one of Andrews' most popular works, in part because of its focus on the familial aspect of social connection. The father's foot, refracted in the black water, becomes a kind of anchor, providing stability to the child's kicking legs and their white froth of motion. As his daughter later said, "Everything about Dad's paintings, whatever their subject matter, was to do with social situations and the way that people integrate and interact," and it was this sense of social interaction, depicted by an elusive observer, that Andrews brought to the School of London.

Acrylic paint on canvas - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom


Children's Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon

Artist: Leon Kossoff

Kossoff's indoor swimming pool scene conveys the thronging fluidity of the environment. The numerous figures flow like water in blurring curved lines and forms but are corralled by the blue grids in the upper left and the white and yellow rectangles on the right. The tension between the contrasting diagonals, verticals, and rectangles of the setting and the curvilinear human figures convey the crowded, energetic activity of the scene.

Kossoff's primary subjects were his family and friends as well as places in London that he knew well. In this instance, he painted the swimming pool that opened in 1967 near his studio in North London and where he taught his children to swim. He often painted the same subject multiple times, and the pool showed up in four paintings between 1969 and 1971. The space so teems with activity that the viewer can almost hear the noise of the children filling the room, but he also counters the noise by presenting a quieter moment in the foreground: two reclining children engaged in hushed conversation. Kossoff was close friends with Frank Auerbach and shared a similar approach to painting: multiple versions of the same setting painted in thick layers of paint that more often than not were scraped off the surface onto the floor to make room for another pass at the subject. As a result, Kossoff's figures, rather than being clearly delineated, emerge out of the impasto, their forms conveying energy and feeling.

Oil paint on board - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom


If Not, Not

Artist: R. B. Kitaj

A barrage of seemingly disjointed imagery, cataclysmic colors, and multiple references to art history and literature make If Not, Not a disorienting and troubling work. Painted at the end of the Vietnam War, Kitaj's composition is haunted by an earlier 20th-century catastrophe: World War II. The gate of Auschwitz in the top left hovers over a scene of chaos and destruction. A pool of dark, stagnant water fills the left side, and seems to contain and reflect, among other things, an ominous, cloudy sky, an eerie female face, a figure in bed (a self-portrait of the artist) holding a baby, and a toppled sculpture (a bust by Matisse), broken from its pedestal. A nude woman, looking very much like something out of one of Gauguin's Tahitian painting, embraces a figure with a hearing aid - a portrait of poet T. S. Eliot whose poem The Waste Land is the source of the painting's title. The lower half of a uniformed man, presumably dead, occupies the bottom foreground, and another figure, dressed in a red coat and carrying a green satchel crawls across the ground. Other figures occupy the middle ground on the right side, one swimming, the other reading, surrounded by a grove of trees.

Everything in the image conveys a sense of disintegration, both culturally and morally, as works of art and literature are scattered, nature is depicted by blackened and dead trees and oily ground, and the landscape is in pieces, like a puzzle that no longer fits together.

Kitaj's moralistic and prophetic work questions not only the role of artistic influences (Gauguin, Matisse, and Old Masters like Giorgionne) but also the place and role of art in a destructive and destroyed world. While his subject of the fundamental failures of modern society was anathema to younger Pop artists, Kitaj's use of a collage-like aesthetic, and his bright, sometimes garish, color palette, and his employment of cultural references made his work influential for many Pop artists and reintroduced an air of Surrealism into the contemporary scene. As the critic Richard Morphet noted, "For over 40 years Kitaj's own art remained ceaselessly inventive, combining striking fantasy with a sense of vivid reality and with frequent insistence on imperative moral issues."

Oil and black chalk on canvas - National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland


Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square

Artist: Frank Auerbach

This thickly impastoed work seems made of the earth as much as it is made of red and ochre paints. An irregular grid of painted and incised lines - at once girders and board paths - depicts the rebuilding site of the Empire Cinema in London. During the 1950s, buildings destroyed in World War II were razed and modern buildings went up in their stead, and Auerbach captures the paradoxes of such undertakings. Known largely as a figurative painter, Auerbach began to apply the materiality with which he approached the portrait to places that he knew well in London. The overall feeling conveyed is that of looking into a deep wound within the earth, the lines of human construction and activity like red scars against the dark ochre. As a result Auerbach's landscapes evoke not the post-war optimism of rebuilding but the unfathomable atrocities of World War II; the construction site suggests not only a ruined city but an abandoned concentration camp.

Auerbach was born in Berlin but escaped the Nazis in 1939 when his parents sent him to Britain as a young boy. Unable to flee, both of his parents died in concentration camps before the war's end. Painting for Auerbach was an attempt to create a kind of order amidst the chaos he encountered throughout his life.

This painting, dominated by browns and reds, carries the full of the weight and gravity that Auerbach found in the work of the Old Masters. As Auerbach said, "What I am trying to make is a stonking, independent, coherent image that has never been seen before...that stalks into the world like a new monster." He troweled on such thick layers of paint that in some instances the weight of the paint caused it to slide off the canvas. The materiality and physicality of Auerbach's paintings brought a new element to the work of the School of London and influenced the looser brushstrokes and thick pigments of Lucian Freud's later work.

Oil on canvas - The Courtauld Gallery, London


Mr. and Mrs. Clark, and Percy

Artist: David Hockney

Hockney's friends, the textile designer Celia Birtwell and the noted fashion designer of the 1960s Ossie Clark, newly married, are seen at home in the bedroom of their chic London flat. Birtwell stands, her hand on her hip, facing the viewer with what appears to be a resigned look of exasperation, and Clark, with a defiant look of scrutiny that belies his relaxed posture, leans back in his chair and buries his right foot in the shag rug. One of the couple's white cats sits in his lap, looking out the French doors that separate the two figures. Hockney took the liberty to rename the cat, whose name was in fact Blanche, because he felt the name Percy worked better in the title.

On the left wall, Hockney's A Rake's Progress (1961-63) is also visible, referencing William Hogarth's famous series A Rake's Progress (1732-34) which depicts a wealthy young man whose profligate lifestyle leads him to ruin. The inclusion of Hockney's work informs his psychological portrait of the couple and their relationship and points to Clark's many infidelities. The French doors in the center of the canvas open onto a balcony and further convey the emotional estrangement between the two.

Hockney also drew upon Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait (1434) in creating this modern version of a wedding portrait. Reversing the tradition by seating the man, Hockney's portrayal also subverts the usual joyous, even if solemn, occasion of marriage. The vase of white lilies on the left, a classical symbol of the Annunciation and feminine purity, allude to Birtwell's pregnancy, but rather than van Eyck's dog, symbolizing fidelity, Hockney substituted a cat, a symbol of infidelity and untamed passions, suggesting a troubled future. In 1968, Hockney, began painting double portraits of his friends, working from preliminary drawings and photographs. He said his intent in this work was to "achieve...the presence of two people in this room. All the technical problems were caused because my main aim was to paint the relationship of these two people." Hockney succeeded in naturalistically portraying the couple, not just in the way they looked in their surroundings, but also their psychological and intimate relationship.

Acrylic on canvas - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom


Small Japanese Screen

Artist: Howard Hodgkin

A seemingly abstract painting composed of brightly colored rectangles, one filled with red and black dots, juxtaposed with a rounded blue form, a pair of eyes, and an acid green shape suggestive of a figure is more intimate and personal than one first supposes. Hodgkin's friend, Bruce Chatwin described the work's origins, "I had recently come back from a desert journey in the Sudan and the sitting room had a monochromatic desert-like atmosphere and contained only two works of art - the arse of an archaic Greek marble kouros, and an early 17th-century Japanese screen. One evening, the Hodgkins and the Welches came to dinner, and I remember Howard shambling round the room, fixing it in his memory with the stare I came to know so well. The result of that dinner was a painting called The Japanese Screen in which the screen itself appears as a rectangle of pointillist dots; the Welches as a pair of gun-turrets, while I am the acid green smear on the left, turning away in disgust, away from my guests, away from my possessions...and possibly back to the Sahara." With this knowledge, the rounded blue form comes into focus as a face of one of the Welches as does the floating pair of eyes in the bottom center.

Hodgkin's work often emphasized interiors, which he felt were "containers of memory and experience," and small things that were intensely felt. As he said, "The only way an artist can communicate with the world at large is at the level of feeling. I think the function of an artist is to practice his art at such a level that like the soul coming out of the body, it comes out into the world and affects other people." While Hodgkin hoped to affect his viewers, Susan Sontag, the noted cultural critic and close friend of Hodgkin, wrote of his work that in some sense, "all the pictures are autobiographical."

Oil on hardboard - Artist's collection

Beginnings 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.

Most consider Francis Bacon to be the leader of the School of London group; certainly, he was the most successful figurative artist at the time, and his artistic influence was indisputable. Charming and affable, he also became the social hub of "The School", a group marked by close friendships, as they often gathered in Soho at Bacon's favorite places, the Colony Room in the evenings and Wheeler's, an oyster bar, for lunch.

The friendship between Bacon and Lucian Freud was particularly important for the group as well as the two artists' artistic developments. The two men first met in the mid-1940s, and they saw each other nearly every day for the next three decades, both socially and in the studio critiquing each other's work. They painted noted portraits of one another, one of the first being Bacon's Portrait of Lucian Freud (1951), as well as of the denizens of their Soho haunts, as seen in Freud's Portrait of a Man (1955) depicting Bernard Walsh, the owner of Wheeler's. The Soho neighborhood seemed to encapsulate the rawness and vigor of London, informing the works of the School of London.

In 1948, Muriel Belcher founded The Colony Room, a members-only drinking club that she ran in Soho, until her death in 1979. The club, described by the Welsh writer and artist Molly Parkin, was "a character-building glorious hell-hole. Everyone left their careers at the roadside before clambering the stairs and plunging into questionable behavior." It became a gathering place for artists, writers, actors, and noted celebrities. Francis Bacon was one of the club's first members, and his lifelong patronage of the club drew many artists, including Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, and Lucian Freud. Bacon described the club as "an oasis where the inhibitions of sex and class are dissolved." The group of artists who frequented the bar was dubbed "The Colony Room School" and became the core of the School of London

While the relationship between Freud and Bacon was crucial, so too was David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj's lifelong friendship, and significantly, both were important to British Pop Art circles, creating valuable contacts with other artists. They met in 1959 as students at the Royal College and mutually influenced each other's work. Hockney credited Kitaj with his own move toward figurative art when he painted We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961).

Even though the group consisted of diverse artists, certain commonalities existed, including: the influence of Old Master figurative painting, the use of photography, and their experiences of post-war London culture.

Influence of the Old Masters

While all of the artists associated with the School of London were individualistic in style, the European masters influenced all of them. Francis Bacon, the most famous of the group, was influenced by a number of Old Masters throughout his career, including Nicolas Poussin, Francisco de Goya, and Rembrandt, but the most significant and long-lasting influence was that of Diego Velázquez, whose Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) was famously referenced in a series of works by Bacon such as Head VI (1949). As Bacon said, "Velázquez found the perfect balance between the ideal illustration which he was required to produce, and the overwhelming emotion he aroused in the spectator." Bacon was not the only School of London painter influenced by the Spanish master, as Michael Andrews' Deer Park (1962), depicting famous people as if within an outdoor enclosure, was derived from the Spanish artist's La Tela Real (King Philip IV hunting Wild Boar) (1632-1637) that portrays a similar gathering of notables in an enclosure to hunt the animals.

Lucian Freud, known for his psychological portraits of close friends, intimates, and family members was particularly influenced by Leonardo da Vinci and his statement "Every artist paints himself." The precise lines of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and the portraits of Rembrandt were also important touchstones for him. Rembrandt, Titian, and Rubens influenced Auerbach, as reflected in his Bacchus and Ariadne (1971), referencing Titian's painting of the same name from 1522-1523, and his After Rubens' Samson and Delilah (1993). As the art curator Richard Calvocoressi wrote, "If there is a single source of inspiration common to all six artists, it is that treatment of the great universal themes of human existence to be found in the paintings of the Old Masters."

Influence of Photography and Film

Photography and film significantly influenced the School of London painters. Michael Andrews often worked from photographs; his The Deer Park (1962) included portraits of the poet Arthur Rimbaud and of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe taken from photographs. Hockney worked from his own photographs in creating Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy (1970-1971). The fusion of the modern medium of photography with the influence of the Old Masters was a significant artistic contribution of the School of London.

R.B. Kitaj's Photographs and Philosophy (1963-64) is a screen-print of a collage of various photographs that include portraits of Russian prisoners from a German propaganda film, landscape photos of cliffs, and reproductions of the artist's own drawings. Kitaj said that films were "the only aspect of pop that ever meant anything to me. Films connect me more to my own time," and that he preferred to use "frame enlargements, rather than stills. I look at them, synthesize them, use details if I need them." In the early 1980s, David Hockney's interest in photography, led him to combine Polaroid images in collages that he dubbed "joiners," like Mother I, Yorkshire Moors, August 1985 No.1 (1985).

Influence of Popular Culture and Post-war London

Another dominant influence for the School of London painters was popular culture, as primarily seen in the work of David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj. Popular photographs and films were essential to their works, and both drew from literary referents, sometimes incorporating lines of text into their works. Kitaj's work often pointed to literary texts; his complex If Not, Not (1975-1976) refers to T.S. Eliot's famous poem The Waste Land (1922) and includes a portrait of the poet.

While the School of London emphasized figurative work, they also depicted the landscape of London after the bombing and destruction of the city in World War II. During the reconstruction era from the 1950s-1960s, in the urban setting ruin and transition were everywhere, and artists like Kossoff and Auerbach used thick impasto styles to paint familiar places that turned into a kind of portrait of the city. Even when painting interiors, the School of London's representational treatments captured the gritty atmosphere and setting of post-war London, as seen in Andrews' The Colony Room I (1962), and conveyed the feeling of desolate emptiness that captured the ruin of the war as seen in Bacon's Sleeping Figure, with its figure confined in a sterile battleship grey room.

The Human Clay Exhibition, 1976

While the artists had been socializing for years, it wasn't until 1976 that they got a group moniker. The British Arts Council asked Kitaj to buy art for their permanent collection and simultaneously to organize a group exhibition of contemporary arts at the Hayward Gallery in London. Organizing the show that would become The Human Clay, Kitaj emphasized art that focused on "people and the single human form." The exhibition's title was taken from a line of a poem by W. H. Auden: "To me Art's subject is the human clay." Kitaj credited the line to Hockney's influence, as it was one that the artist often quoted.

New Spirit Painting

The School of London came to be seen a part of a larger trend in European and American art, dubbed New Spirit Painting, which took its name from the 1981 exhibition, A New Spirit in Painting, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The exhibition was intended to be a complete showing of contemporary painting and brought together the British figurative artists, such as Kitaj, Freud, and Bacon, with the Neo-Expressionist German artists of that era, including Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz, and Gerhard Richter, as well as works by American artists Willem de Kooning, Frank Stella, and Julian Schnabel. Each artist was represented by four works, and over 38 artists were included, categorized by their generations.

Subsequently, the term New Spirit Painting had a two-pronged use; it was taken to be somewhat synonymous with Neo-Expressionism in general but primarily used in Britain to denote works that did not completely fit into that movement. Accordingly, the term in Britain came to characterize a revival of interest in figurative painting that both drew upon and renewed interest in the artists of the London School, including Freud, Bacon, Kitaj, and Hodgkin. The 1981 Royal Academy exhibit was followed by the Tate Gallery's The Hard-Won Image: Traditional Method and Subject in Recent British Art and the 1990 The Pursuit of the Real: British Figurative Painting from Sickert to Bacon at the Manchester City Art Galleries, further establishing the centrality of British figurative art as part of the "new spirit" in contemporary art.

School of London: Concepts, Styles, and Trends


During the post-war era, the dominant philosophy became existentialism, as expressed in the writing of the French authors, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Essentially, the philosophy posited that in the absence of knowing any absolute truth or God, the individual was free to struggle and choose in an uncertain and despairing world. The School of London portrayed existentialist themes by emphasizing what Francis Bacon called, "the brutality of fact." Bacon's haunting Painting (1946) depicts humanity as a brutal and visceral presence with an unidentifiable man posed in front of a flayed piece of meat. Frank Auerbach's works like Head of E.O.W. (1961), an impasto representation of Stella West, with whom he had an intense and lifelong relationship, express his feeling that the struggle with the materiality of paint was an attempt to find meaning and order in the chaos of existence.

The School of London artists were not alone in exploring existentialist themes in their art. Most famously, the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, a close friend of Sartre, created figures, like Man Pointing (1947), that embodied the essence of Existentialism, conveying a sense of alienated fragility and isolation. The sculptor's emaciated figures, with their rough agitated surfaces, engaged in activities like pointing or walking, created a typology of modern suffering, reduced to the simplest acts of the will. In contrast, the School of London's emphasis was, as the art critic Jonathan Jones said of Bacon's works, "brutally exposing the fragility of flesh - and...that flesh is all we are."


The School of London portrayed, often in multiple works, the important people in their lives. Freud's Hotel Bedroom (1954), combining a self-portrait with a portrait of his then lover, evinces the detachment and self-absorption that characterized his work. Hockney's American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman) (1968), showing his friends as almost static figures among their prized possessions, is simultaneously a witty and ironic cultural commentary.

Other artists associated with the New Spirit painting also turned to portraiture in the post-war period, including German artists like Georg Baselitz. In 1958, Baselitz began painting imaginary portraits, inspired by war soldiers and emphasizing German post-war identity, and followed with his Rayski Head series (1960-61). Like the School of London artists, Auerbach and Bacon, Baselitz also used thick pigment and aggressive brushstrokes in his portraits to convey a distorted and disturbing humanity. Baselitz, like other Neo-Expressionists, explored German history and identity in his painting. Baselitz remarked, "I proceed from a state of disharmony, from ugly things." While the School of London similarly emphasized the disquieting, they did not create archetypes or imaginary portraits, instead concentrating on those they knew.


While the School of London at its inception was often posited as countering the abstraction and minimalism of the era, some painters associated with the group, like Howard Hodgkin, became known primarily for their abstract work. In works like Rain (1984-1989), broad brushstrokes create an energetic framing of other shapes in varying colors vertically and horizontally. Hodgkin was influenced by American painter Barnett Newman's large-scale Color Field work. In contrast, Hodgkin's work usually were small scale canvases with large brush strokes. While seemingly contrary to the emphasis on human experience, art director Nicholas Cullinan explains that Hodgkin's "work often appears entirely abstract, yet over the course of 65 years a principle concern of his art has been to evoke a human presence." R. B. Kitaj, later in his career, also created abstract works like My Third Jewish Abstract (God's Back) (2001), depicting a white bell-like shape framed by torn and curving planes of varying shades of red and is suggestive of a human figure. While the abstract works of the School of London artists emphasized form and color, their work always had a representational subject in mind, even if only vestigially present.

Later Developments - After School of London

With A New Spirit in Painting and the following exhibitions, the School of London influenced a new generation of British painters, including Jonathan Yeo, Nigel Cooke, Tony Bevan, Glenys Johnson, Hughie O'Donoghue, and Antony Micallet. For instance, O'Donoghue's Liquid Earth (1984) reflects Auerbach's use of thick paint to convey the materiality of a landscape where peat bog men have been impressed into the earth.

As the School of London included Bacon, Freud, and Hockney, among the most critically celebrated artists of the last fifty years, each of those artists also had a significant influence. Hockney, who has been called the most influential artist by contemporary British art students, has also inspired artists like Chuck Close, Cecily Brown, and Martin Scorsese, the noted film director. Francis Bacon was a major influence upon Jake and Dinos Chapman, Damien Hirst, and Jenny Saville, whereas Freud influenced John Currin, Eric Fischl, Elizabeth Peyton, and Luc Tuymans. Other artists of the School of London also influenced later generations, as seen in British artist Glenn Brown's The Day The World Turned Auerbach (1991), which acknowledged the older artist's iconic London landscapes within an ironic reconceptualization.

The work of the Young British Artists (YBAs), a group that includes Hirst, along with Gary Hume, Anya Gallacio, The Chapman brothers, and Sarah Lucas, all of whom attended Goldsmiths Art College in London, were influenced by the School of London's existential preoccupation with death, the fascination with flesh, and autobiographical emphasis. The YBAs even gathered at The Colony Club, which had come under new management, continuing its reputation as a social artistic hub until 2008 when it finally closed. Kossoff's paintings of London, often derelict and gritty, have influenced Keith Coventry's projects of "council housing estates." An exhibition Beyond the Human Clay in 2011, brought together the works of the School of London with works by subsequent artists, including Peter Doig, Chris Ofili, and Jenny Saville, as well as works by two emerging contemporary artists, Lewis Chamberlain and Ben Spiers. As a result, The School of London continues to influence contemporary art that draws upon figurative elements.

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein

"School of London Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Valerie Hellstein
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First published on 09 Nov 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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