Art Has No Elgar

Jacob Epstein, Maternity (for the British Medical Association Building), 1908

‘ “Edwardian” is one of art-history’s unclaimed adjectives. No one name, no particular branch of artistic activity corresponds to it: art has no Elgar or Lutyens to stand beyond question for the full-blown, unhurrying, implicitly proconsular turn of mind which we call Edwardian. Where artistic ambition did relate to this (one might instance Brangwyn’s friezes, completed in 1909, for the offices of the Grand Trunk Railway in Cockspur Street) it has failed to retain the interest of a later generation. Where current opinion thinks reasonably well of artists who are in fact Edwardian (Charles Rennie Mackintosh, for instance, Jacob Epstein, Walter Sickert, and Augustus John) their work is often directly opposed to the accepted connotations of “Edwardian”; like G. E. Moore, “Baron Corvo”, and the James Joyce of Chamber Music, they are Edwardian only in so far as no man can altogether escape the characteristics of his own day. Where the adjective is applied to Orpen, or Sargent, or McEvoy, or William Nicholson, it singles out those traits in their work which we tend to deplore. It looks, almost, as if the master-qualities of Edwardian life did not adapt themselves to art….’

(From Edwardian England edited by Simon Nowell-Smith, 1964)

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