‘The Grin upon the Deathshead’: A Study of Satire in 1920s British Art.

Hudson, Katherine (2013) ‘The Grin upon the Deathshead’: A Study of Satire in 1920s British Art. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

This study of satire in British art in the 1920s questions what prompted the reappearance of satire in painting, what characterised the new form of ‘modernist’ satire, if and how it relates to the English satirical tradition, and how this new mode evolved over the course of the decade. In attempting to answer these questions, consideration of the post-­‐war context with its rapid, unsettling modernisation and profound social change is crucial.

I begin with Wyndham Lewis, whose ‘Tyros and Portraits’ exhibition in 1921 seems to mark the emergence of a new, more bitter and cynical, brand of satire. Lewis’s return to figuration can be analysed in the context of the post-­‐ war ‘rappel à l’ordre’, and his Tyros (A Reading of Ovid) can therefore be interpreted as a complex dialogue with neo-­‐classicism, used here in the service of satire as a harsh critique of post-­‐war society. Towards the end of the decade, Edward Burra exemplifies a move away from Lewis’s antagonism in favour of a more detached and amused satirical approach that echoes the writing of contemporaries such as Evelyn Waugh. His early work raises interesting questions regarding changing attitudes to gender and identity, and the influence of modern technology, cinema and jazz.

The Sitwells form an important link between these two artists in their role as sitters, patrons and self-­‐acclaimed leaders of the modernist movement in the arts in Britain. They also play a key part in reintroducing the popular, traditional humour of the commedia dell’arte into a modernist context. The Sitwell trio are at once the butt of the satire these works contain, while also meting out satirical ripostes in their turn, engendering a momentum in this neglected genre that appears to me significant. I end my study with Cecil Beaton, a protégé of the Sitwells and part of a younger generation who adopted the satirical mode as expedient. Following the trajectory of Beaton’s career into the 1930s illustrates the decline in power of satire, as political developments claimed attention across Europe.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art History and World Art Studies
Depositing User: Oriana Donlevy
Date Deposited: 11 Jul 2014 13:02
Last Modified: 11 Jul 2014 13:02
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/49602
DOI:

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