The statue of Reynolds

I have been reading the typescript of a book about the collections of the RA which is due to be published this time next year in time for our 250th. anniversary.   It describes in a way that I haven’t read before the attempt to modernise during the 1920s by the recruitment of a younger generation of RAs, including Augustus John, elected an Associate in 1921, and its increasing conservatism during the 1930s.   The erection of the statue of Joshua Reynolds in 1931 is suggested as a statement of tradition in the face of the tide of modernism.   But Alfred Drury, who was responsible for the statue, won a competition to design it in 1917, so if it is a statement of tradition, then its milieu was the closing years of the first world war:-


12 thoughts on “The statue of Reynolds

  1. Edward Chaney says:

    i’d be interested in reading more about a (temporarily) progressive RA in the 1920s… I have meanwhile been writing about its 1938 rejection of Wyndham Lewis’s magnificent compromise-modernist portrait of T.S. Eliot (which ended up exiled to South Africa as a result). Its rejection famously prompted the resignation of Augustus John RA (though he later rejoined)… I’m afraid i’ve bin (predictably?) facetious about more recent attempts to reverse the stuffier side of its reputation, including the appointment of Professor Tracey; indeed am hoping the Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies editors will allow me to add a facetious update on the election of Gilbert and George (even though it seems one will have to sit on the other’s lap)…

    • I’ve looked up what Augustus John wrote when elected in April 1921: ‘Had I not been a Slade student ? Did I not march in the front rank of the insurgents ? The answer to these questions is “yes”. But had I cultivated the Royal Academy in any way ? Had I ever submitted a single work to the Selection Committee ?…History answers “no”. Without even blowing my trumpet the walls of Jericho had fallen !’ (Hokroyd 1996, p.475). Charles

  2. I hope this book gives full credit to those at the RA, such as Hugh Casson, who began to repair the damage caused by Munnings, and started the long process of persuading young artists to once again becomes Academicians.

  3. Dick Humphreys says:

    I’m very pleased to hear Edward is working on the 1938 RA rejection of Lewis’s portrait of Eliot.
    The story involves a lot of political disagreements as well as artistic ones and really is a wonderful set-piece of the period.
    The surviving film of Lewis and the BBC radio debate involving Lewis and his adversaries are not only very funny but also remarkable historical documents.

  4. Edward Chaney says:

    Here’s a quote from a quote in my gripping 89-page articolo. I need you to give it a read-through Dick; it’s a ‘discursive tribute’ to friends, John and Harriet Cullis; Harriet was the daughter of Euston Roader,Graham Bell. I also argue that Lewis’s 1938 portrait of ‘John Macleod’ (Yale Center for British Art) was really the Scots poet Joseph Macleod:

    ‘This is the same institution that in 1938 rejected Lewis’s superb portrait of T.S. Eliot as too modernist, as a result of which it ended up in Durban, in Graham Bell’s country of origin. Additional to the substantial literature on this may now be added the judicious Randolph Schwabe’s Diary entry for 25 April 1938, describing the Chelsea Arts Club Annual Dinner):
    [Henry] Rushbury was in the Chair, drunk as an owl, maudlin, illiterate and tedious… I heard someone say ‘What a Chairman! What an R.A.! and was sorry for it. Llewellyn whom Rushbury soft-soaped, made a tactless speech about Wyndham Lewis, pretending not to know him as an artist: said he had looked him up in Who’s Who and that he was described therein as an author: also that not one hand on the hanging committee was raised for W.L.’s picture – a circumstance that it would become the R.A. better to suppress.’

  5. Edward Chaney says:

    i meant to add agreement with Maurice Davies re Thomas Monnington (also much cited by Schwabe in Gill Clarke’s v useful recent edition his diaries)… He and first wife, Winifred Knights, both geniuses in their youth but what a pity she ailed and he went abstract… Clearly he failed to read/take on board Lewis’s Demon of Progress in the Arts: ‘There is a limit beyond which there is Nothing…’

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