The Battle for Realism


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Figurative Art in Britain during the Cold War, 1945–1960

James Hyman

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In this book art historian James Hyman takes a fresh look at the crucial years after the Second World War, when attempts were made to revive European culture and debates about the future of art were fierce. The author proposes that realism in Europe during the early Cold War years occupied a radical vanguard position and stood in opposition to the competing claims made for American abstract expressionism. He examines two distinct visions of realism—social realism and Modernist realism—and explores their political implications and ideological significance.

Hyman argues that this Battle for Realism shaped and internationalized British art, and he addresses a range of artists from Modernist realists such as Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, Kossoff, Moore, and Sutherland to social realists Hogarth, de Francia, and the “kitchen-sink painters.” He also illuminates the impact of foreign and émigré artists on British culture, addressing artists such as Giacometti, Guttuso, and Picasso, and examining the claims made for London as an art center to rival the Ecole de Paris and the New York School. Hyman draws on contemporary critical writing to give fresh insights into the art debates of the period and gives prominence to the central roles of the critics John Berger and David Sylvester.

Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

James Hyman is a London-based art historian and. a lecturer, broadcaster, and curator.

“An important, original contribution to postwar art and cultural history that places British art within the context of Cold War politics, as has been done for American art by Serge Guilbaut and others.”—Choice

“This book will oblige us to re-evaluate our readings of all art in the postwar period.”—Margaret Garlake, author of New Art New World: British Art in Postwar Society

The Battle for Realism is an important addition to the history of British art between 1945 and 1960. Developed out of his doctoral thesis, it is a meticulously researched and copiously illustrated book, which aims to revise the perception of figurative realism as a conservative, even marginal, strand of art in the early Cold War and to place it at the centre of British avant-garde practice. . . . [It] deserves to take its place on the standard and sadly rather thin bibliography of post-War British art.”—Toby Treves, Burlington Magazine

“One of the many virtues of Hyman’s narrative is its understanding of the politics of history and the politics of art in a notable turbulent period. . . . Hyman has also gathered together many blessedly unfamiliar illustrations in a classic . . . which is a notable contribution to the scholarly history of art in Britain.”—Tom Rosenthal, Times Higher Education Supplement

ISBN: 9780300090895
Publication Date: October 11, 2001
Publishing Partner: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
280 pages, 8 1/2 x 10 5/8
150 b/w + 50 color illus.