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Drawing Distinctions

Drawings from the British Council Collection

29.9. – 25.11.2001

Drawing Distinctions: Twentieth Century Drawings and Watercolours from the British Council Collection

29 September - 25 November 2001 


Selected from the British Council Collection by Robert McPherson, this exhibition presents over 80 works by 58 British artists including Edward Burra, David Bomberg, Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer, Gwen John, David Hockney, John Piper and Bridget Riley. The earliest work dates from 1910 and the most recent from 1995.


The exhibition presents a story of constantly shifting perspectives, in which a native tendency to particularity is frequently balanced by an interest in experimentation and abstraction. David Bomberg, for instance, first came to prominence just before the onset of World War I. He was then a member of the Vorticists, a group of artists hell-bent on debunking conventional methods of painting in Britain, influenced both by Cubism in France and Futurism in Italy. The jerky, angular mannerisms of the Vorticists were an attempt to devise systems for generating energetic mechanised effects on paper and for transforming appearances into patterns. Their fledgling abstractions heralded modernism in Britain.


During the first part of the 20th century the nervous delicacy of Gwen John and David Jones, the Celtic mysticism of Paul Nash and Cecil Collins, the orderly precision of Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious and the spiky, wiry dramas of John Minton, Bryan Wynter, John Piper and Graham Sutherland during World War II all seem to exemplify what are considered peculiarly British qualities of time – the whiplash stroke, the rhythms of tracery and silhouette that have been important in British art for well over a thousand years. After World War II there is a greater breeziness; not only lines but also dots, stripes, splodges and bars of pure colour take the initiative. Roger Hilton’s nudging forms suggest that drawing is a more about getting a notion down than about observation; Peter Lanyon’s insistent charcoal pushes the landscape that he is describing into new configurations; John Hoyland’s modulations carefully chart the limits of tone, as if he were keying up each colour with a dash of lime; and Bridget Riley’s all encompassing fields of stripes express an inner dynamism, as if she were drawing not the facts of nature (grass, trees, flowers) but the forces of growth and energy within.


Broad categorisations do not do justice to the wide tolerance for methods and ways of working in Britain today. The portrait drawings of Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff in this exhibition point to an extraordinary flowering at the end of the 20th century of a European tradition that many believed well-nigh extinguished after World War II. The close exploration of individual sitters, conducted in real space and over lengthy sessions of real time, might be seen as an answer to those who worry that the new information technologies will soon takeover all the functions and capabilities of pen, pencil and paper. Seen alongside the work of‘pop’ artists such as Peter Blake, or graphic wits such as Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney and Barry Flanagan, these drawings add gravity and complexity to ideas about contemporary expression, and together suggest the open-ended spirit of hope and enquiry in which drawings are being done in Britain. 



Alphabetical list of 58 exhibiting artists:

Roger Ackling, Frank Auerbach, Edward Bawden, Tony Bevan, Peter Blake, Derek Boshier, Edward Burra, Patrick Caulfield, Bernard Cohen, Cecil Collins, Michael Craig-Martin, Jeffrey Dennis, Frederick Etchells, Barry Flanagan, Eric Gill, Harold Gilman, Charles Ginner, Anthony Gross, Richard Hamilton, Barbara Hepworth, Roger Hilton, David Hockney, Frances Hodgkins, John Hoyland, Augustus John, Gwen John, David Jones, Leon Kossoff, Peter Lanyon, Percy Wyndham Lewis, John Minton, Jeremy Moon, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Christopher Nevinson, Ben Nicholson, Eduardo Paolozzi, Roland Penrose, John Piper, Eric Ravilious, Paula Rego, Alan Reynolds, Albert Richards, Bridget Riley, William Roberts, Colin Self, Walter Richard Sickert, Matthew Smith, Richard Smith, Stanley Spencer, Graham Sutherland, David Tremlett, John Tunnard, Euan Euglow, Edward Wadsworth, Victor Willing, Christopher Wood, and Bryan Wynter.


Related media and links

Press Release  PDF