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The Avent-Garde in Interwar England : Medieval Modernism and the London Underground - Michael T. Saler

The Avent-Garde in Interwar England

Medieval Modernism and the London Underground

Paperback

Published: 1st May 2001
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The Avant-Garde in Interwar England addresses modernism's ties to tradition, commerce, nationalism, and spirituality through an analysis of the assimilation of visual modernism in England between 1910 and 1939. During this period, a debate raged across the nation concerning the purpose of art in society. On one side were the aesthetic formalists, led by members of London's Bloomsbury Group, who thought art was autonomous from everyday life. On the other were England's so-called medieval modernists, many of them from the provincial North, who maintained that art had direct social functions and moral consequences. As Michael T. Saler demonstrates in this fascinating volume, the heated exchange between these two camps would ultimately set the terms for how modern art was perceived by the British public.
Histories of English modernism have usually emphasized the seminal role played by the Bloomsbury Group in introducing, celebrating, and defining modernism, but Saler's study instead argues that, during the watershed years between the World Wars, modern art was most often understood in the terms laid out by the medieval modernists. As the name implies, these artists and intellectuals closely associated modernism with the art of the Middle Ages, building on the ideas of John Ruskin, William Morris, and other nineteenth-century romantic medievalists. In their view, modernism was a spiritual, national, and economic movement, a new and different artistic sensibility that was destined to revitalize England's culture as well as its commercial exports when applied to advertising and industrial design.
This book, then, concerns the busy intersection of art, trade, and national identity in the early decades of twentieth-century England. Specifically, it explores the life and work of Frank Pick, managing director of the London Underground, whose famous patronage of modern artists, architects, and designers was guided by a desire to unite nineteenth-century arts and crafts with twentieth-century industry and mass culture. As one of the foremost adherents of medieval modernism, Pick converted London's primary public transportation system into the culminating project of the arts and crafts movement. But how should today's readers regard Pick's achievement? What can we say of the legacy of this visionary patron who sought to transform the whole of sprawling London into a post-impressionist work of art? And was medieval modernism itself a movement of pioneers or dreamers? In its bold engagement with such questions, The Avant-Garde in Interwar England will surely appeal to students of modernism, twentieth-century art, the cultural history of England, and urban history.

"This incisive and elegant study, well written and with carefully chosen illustrations, has much to contribute." --Journal of Transportation History "Medievalists take note. Michael Saler brilliantly argues that the development of the London Underground in the interwar period marks the culmination of the arts and crafts movement inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris. Its medievalism, appropriated by the moralizing developers of the Underground, enabled the adoption of controversial avant-garde station architecture and advertising." --Kathleen Biddick in The Medieval Review "This book, a well-written text full of irony and dry wit, is based on a sophisticated and well-researched appreciation of the period, recent criticism, a broad historical context, and, especially, the biographies of those involved.... This book will be of interest to social and intellectual historians of the arts in interwar Britain and in the institutional promotion of the arts. It is an important contribution."--Historian "What makes The Avant-Garde in Interwar England an exciting book...is the variety of issues on which Pick's career sheds light, or which shed light on it."--Common Knowledge "This incisive and elegant study, well written and with carefully chosen illustrations, has much to contribute." --Journal of Transportation History "Medievalists take note. Michael Saler brilliantly argues that the development of the London Underground in the interwar period marks the culmination of the arts and crafts movement inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris. Its medievalism, appropriated by the moralizing developers of the Underground, enabled the adoption of controversial avant-garde station architecture and advertising." --Kathleen Biddick in The Medieval Review "What makes The Avant-Garde in Interwar England an exciting book...is the variety of issues on which Pick's career sheds light, or which shed light on it."--Common Knowledge "Descending, both literally and metaphorically, into the subterranean world of British modernism, Michael Saler returns with a fresh and arresting account of its productive contradictions. His impressively researched and elegantly written analysis of a cultural garde as much derriere as avant will force students of modernist aesthetics as a whole to reexamine many of their most cherished assumptions."--Martin Jay, Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley "This major reinterpretation of an indigenous avant-garde aesthetic in interwar England challenges conventional views about the origins of modernism in art and design. Focusing on Frank Pick's visionary efforts to transform the London Underground into a 'people's picture gallery,' Saler movingly portrays the struggle of medieval modernists to integrate modern art and craftsmanship into contemporary life."--F. M. Leventhal, Boston University "Saler's work reshapes our understanding of British modernism. Perhaps even more importantly, this book addresses many of the central issues in twentieth-century British history. It speaks directly to the ongoing debate about the formation and shape of national identity in Britain and England, and underlines the importance of regional and provincial identities in molding a sense of nationhood. At the same time, Saler's study extends Linda Colley's argument about the centrality of Protestantism to English national identity into the twentieth century."--Meredith Veldman, Louisiana State University "This is an original, fascinating, and highly readable study that gives a new perspective on the history of modernism in Britain. Saler succeeds in connecting the visual modernism of the interwar period with the famous arts and crafts tradition of the late-Victorian years. The formalist definition associated with Fry and Bell, Saler shows, was not the only meaning of modernism."--Thomas William Heyck, Northwestern University "This book, a well-written text full of irony and dry wit, is based on a sophisticated and well-researched appreciation of the period, recent criticism, a broad historical context, and, especially, the biographies of those involved.... This book will be of interest to social and intellectual historians of the arts in interwar Britain and in the institutional promotion of the arts. It is an important contribution."--Historian "...Saler presents a comprehensively researched and copiously annotated discussion of Pick...[he] has drawn on valuable primary sources by interviewing some of Pick's former administrative staff, and in examining Pick's own correspondence...[Saler] offers a fresh appraisal of English modernism...a thorough analysis of historical material...[Saler] demonstrates that inter-war London can still yield new and engaging histories."--The London Journal "A most interesting and important book....we are greatly indebted to Michael Saler for having drawn attention to such an important and neglected aspect of our recent cultural history in this excellent and thought-provoking book."-- The Journal of the William Morrin Society

1: Framing the Picture 2: A "Warrior of the Kingdom": Frank Pick's City of Dreams, 1878-1915 3: Making It New: Modernism and the North of England 4: Morris, the Machine, and Modernism, 1915-1934 5: The Earthly Paradise of the London Underground 6: Educating the Consumer 7: The Return of the Bathing Beauties, 1936-1941 8: The Demise of Medieval Modernism Notes Selected Bibliography

ISBN: 9780195147186
ISBN-10: 0195147189
Series: Medieval Modernism and the London Underground
Audience: Professional
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: 1st May 2001
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 23.52 x 15.29  x 1.85
Weight (kg): 0.38