Martin Gayford – Modernists & Mavericks and Man with a Blue Scarf

Martin Gayford is a formidable voice in the record of 20th century British art. Alongside a deep scholarly knowledge gleaned from his studies at Cambridge University and the Courtauld Institute as well as art critic for The Telegraph, Bloomberg and Spectator, he has developed long and fruitful relationships with very many of the British artists.

Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford

In the latest offering from Thames & Hudson Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters he actually seems to have been on personal terms with almost every name included. In an earlier book, Man with a Blue Scarf, newly issued in paperback, he recounts another close relationship – sitting for the great Lucien Freud.

Modernists & Mavericks looks closely at the period from the end of the Second World War until about 1970, although out of necessity flits around in time, as well as geography as he provides background and context.

Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford Thames & Hudson
Frank Auerbach

Starting with the surprising revelation that there were only half a dozen artists in London that actually made a living out of art pre-WW2, Gayford takes us on an exciting journey via the rigours of post-war London, through the optimism of the 50’s to the reality check of the late 60’s.

Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford Thames & Hudson

This could easily have been little more than series of potted profiles from this fruitful period in British art history. Gayford, however, does very much more. Skilfully weaving together many threads, the period is vividly brought to life via a myriad of interconnected personalities as well as via the stories of galleries like Kasmin, Marlborough and Robert Fraser.

Frequently we have the stories of how teachers passed their knowledge down to pupils: Victor Pasmore’s comments about ‘feeling something’ at Camberwell College shook Gillian Ayres rigid, whilst David Bomberg inspired Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach to believe in themselves.

Others like Lucien Freud, David Hockney, Allen Jones and the largely self-taught Francis Bacon were less concerned with teaching, and forged their own paths, often inspired by artists around them – the ‘Mavericks’ of the title.

Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford

The tale is scattered with enjoyable anecdotes: from places like the Colony room – where Francis Bacon provided such entertainment value that Muriel Belcher the owner would pay him to visit – or nearby Wheeler’s which John Minton likened to ‘being in an enormous bed, with drinks’.

The period was so full of fascinating stories it could be easy to let the art take a back seat. However, Gayford keeps us immersed in the art through a period that featured not only a competition between the centres of London, Paris and New York, but the battle royal taking place between representation and abstraction (and ultimately ‘Pop’).

Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford

Although the title of the book refers to the ‘London Painters’ the overwhelming lesson of this volume is that this was not a period of artistic ‘Groups’ and ‘Movements’ with manifestos and meetings. Instead we discover a complex web of shared individual histories.

Modernists & Mavericks almost reads like a novel: the author skilfully involves you in a page-turning narrative. This was a tumultuous time in British art and Gayford makes it easy to feel the thrills and spills of the ride.

An highly enjoyable and absolutely essential book on 20th century art.

Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford

Published by Thames & Hudson

To order a copy go to Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters.

Modernists and Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford

In Man with a Blue Scarf: on Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud Gayford again turns an art book in to an enjoyable narrative tale. With forty sittings over 18 months he certainly has plenty of time to observe the artist in action as well as lots of time to muse on the process of making art.

Martin Gayford Man with a Blue Scarf Thames & Hudson

As Gayford recounts the sittings he alternately looks at the artists history, examines the creative process and recounts the conversations with the artist. These are fascinating and insightful as they wander from topic to topic;  on his impatience: ‘All my patience has gone in to my work leaving none for my life’; on an ex girlfriend: ‘She had a monkey which used to sleep on my head… I didn’t much like that’; on Bacon: ‘Francis used to mix paint on one of his forearms, then developed an allergy or something and couldn’t any more’.

Martin Gayford Man with a Blue Scarf Thames & Hudson

The result is endlessly fascinating and richly rewarding. A meditative and reflective tale that not only looks closely at the act of sitting for a painting, but also turns the gaze back at the artist. Lucien Freud is one of our country’s greatest painters and an artist that deserves such detailed examination. This is a book that brings a real understanding and proves more than equal to the task at hand.

Published by Thames & Hudson

To order a copy go to Man with a Blue Scarf: on Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud 

 

 

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