A Collection of CollectionsA Collection of Collections

Britain and International Modernism

In 1932 the artist Paul Nash wrote of the dilemma facing his contemporaries – whether it was possible to 'go modern' and still 'be British.' During the 1930s an avant-garde developed in Britain which was responding to artistic developments on the continent. The leading figures included Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, John Piper and his wife, the writer Myfanwy Evans. The group was described by the critic Herbert Read as 'a gentle nest of artists' living in Hampstead. They shared a desire to be modern that was closely linked to a utopian vision of a modernist society of cleanliness, clarity and good design, where life and art were completely interrelated, as at the Bauhaus School in Germany. In the early 1930s artists such as Hepworth, Nicholson and Piper visited Paris, where they met artists such as Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Fernand Léger.

In 1933 Paul Nash founded Unit One, a group that aimed to express 'a truly contemporary spirit'. It included both abstract and Surrealist artists such as Moore, Nicholson, Edward Burra, and Edward Wadsworth as well as modernist architects including Wells Coates. The Thirty-Four Gallery on display in Room 11 features unique miniature artworks by some of these artists and others, providing a microcosm of the British art scene in the 1930s.

Key works include: 'L'Engrenage Rouge (Nature Morte en Rouge et Bleu)’ (1939) by Fernand Leger and 'Figures in an interior' (1934) by Wyndham Lewis.