Building the modern corporation
: corporate art patronage in interwar Britain

  • Dennis Wardleworth

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis examines art and architecture commissioned by three large-scale industrial corporations in Britain in the interwar period 1919-1939. The companies studies are the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later to become British Petroleum (BP), Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and Unilever. The main focus of attention is on the headquarters office buildings constructed in London and their sculptural decoration. Attention is also paid to artwork used by Unilever on the covers of its in-house magazine 'Progress' and in its advertisements. A laboratory built by ICI near Manchester is also considered. The form and meaning of the works of art are examined using evidence of the relationships between the artists and the patrons, those within the companies who commissioned the works, as it is documented in the archives of the companies. Evidence is also taken from the published histories of the companies, the response of critics as revealed in contemporary publication, and the recent history of the appropriate genres and of the individual artists. Art history is currently undertaking a reappraisal of 20th century British art rejecting the view that the significant art was either, on the one hand, that which belonged to some canon of modernist work, or, on the other, only that which remained true to some view of what was traditionally British. This thesis makes a contribution to that re-appraisal. The approach of examining the mechanisms of patronage has not been applied extensively before to this period and place. In the process much new material about individual artists has been uncovered. In addition by suing the large-scale corporation as its framework, the study has thrown light on one of the major social changes of the period, the growth of a new professional class. This new class, whose habitat was the large bureaucracy, was developing an ideology of rationality and progress by technology which was to help shape 20th century attitudes and 20th century art.
    Date of Award2002
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Nottingham Trent University

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