Sir John Rothenstein and the advocacy of British art between the wars

  • David McCann

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Charting forty years of taste, patronage and collecting in the history of 20th century British art, this dissertation documents the formative years of Sir John Rothenstein. John, son of William Rothenstein, became director of the Tate Gallery in 1938 after two productive and hitherto unstudied periods as director of the art galleries of both Leeds and Sheffield. This was the era when an aesthetic and critical orthodoxy rose to prominence, which led in many instances to the quasi-abandonment of figurative art in favour of an authoritarian avant-garde ideology. A complimentary effect of this shift from representational to abstract was a kind of aesthetic, Anglophobia, resulting in the disparagement of British art in favour of a seemingly unchallengeable preference for European and eventually American art. Its key exponents were Clive Bell, Roger Fry and Herbert Read. From initial Edwardian conservatism, advanced British art determinedly followed the continent from one 'innovative' movement to another, culminating in the conceptually obsessed art establishment of Britain today. But there were those who thought and painted differently. This dissertation offers an alternative to the conventional history, structured as it is around the life of John Rothenstein. He did not ally himself to any particular school of thought and proved himself an erudite champion of artists as diverse as Henry Moore and Charles Mahoney. By concentrating on the early years of his career and building up a picture of the artistic scene in which he moved, the aim of this dissertation is to document and analyse his crucial role in promoting and defending British Art and the longer-term consequences of his activities and extensive writings.
Date of Award2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Nottingham Trent University

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