The Grosvenor School and the Spectacle of the Everyday

By Kirsteen Davidson

I n November of 1918, Great Britain was reeling at the close of the first fully mechanised world-war. In the aftermath, the country had to come to terms with a new, faster rhythm of modern life. The London art scene’s reaction to this is exemplified in the vibrant, fast-paced linoleum cut prints of the artists of the Grosvenor School of Modern Art, demonstrated in lots 65 and 67-72 in our 18 September Made in Britain auction.

In 1925, the London Grosvenor School of Modern Art was founded in Pimlico. Shortly afterwards, British artist Claude Flight joined the faculty, attracting many promising students to his linoleum cut class. Among these were his principal pupils Cyril Power, Sybil Andrews and Swiss artist Lill Tschudi. This group later became known simply as the Grosvenor School.

Under Flight’s direction, the group reinvigorated the previously discarded medium of the linoleum cut. They created a style which enabled them to take scenes of the ordinary day-to-day, and make them extraordinary - exuding movement, vitality and the spirit of modern life. In focussing on the medium of the linoleum cut, Flight and his followers intentionally made use of a largely unexplored medium, not overshadowed by an historical artistic canon.

The pre-war years saw numerous exhibitions in London presenting the fruits of continental European modernism in the forms of Post-Impressionism, Futurism, Cubism, and German Expressionism, broadening the cultural horizons of the British populace.

These prints by Cyril Power, Sybil Andrews and Lill Tschudi, demonstrate how the artists of the Grosvenor School paid particular homage to the Futurists, taking note of their view that the world was in a constant state of flux. The Futurists’ works encapsulated the myriad developments of modern urban life in jagged representations which dissolved space and discarded the solidity of recognisable forms. This preoccupation with speed and the machine became a key theme of the Grosvenor School.

In one of the group’s most iconic images The Tube Station (lot 69, est. £20,000-30,000), Cyril Power focuses not on the city’s historic buildings or landscape, but on its modern underground system which facilitated the hustle and bustle of the faceless crowds going about their business. Stephen Coppel, author of Linocuts of the Machine Age, states that Power’s work notes identify this scene as Bank Tube station.

Sybil Andrews focussed on illustrating the rhythmic motion of human figures, exemplified in her depiction of the swirling, monotonous throng of London’s commuters through Hyde Park (lot 65, est. 8,000-12,000). Andrews has imbued the linoleum blocks with the atmosphere of a jostling crowd. Simultaneously, maintaining the curved, vorticist shapes of her predecessors and the inviting palette of her contemporaries, leaving the repetition of black hats, the only truly distinguishable detail.

With the return of the men and women from war, leisure time became re-established with emphasis on music, dance and the circus despite Britain’s post-war political and financial uncertainty. In this renewed interest in entertainment the Grosvenor School artists found inspiration, freezing the spectacle in their animated, upbeat depictions. Lill Tschudi’s Jazz Band (lot 71, est. £2,000-3,000), presents a snapshot of suave, tuxedoed musicians, printed in a palette of candy pink and lemon sherbet yellow, emanating the drama and vitality that such a scene would inevitably present in reality.

Works by these artists represent a unique and vibrant moment in British modernism, capturing the essences of Futurism and Cubism, and combining it with the tumultuous, ever-evolving nature of the inter-war years.

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