The first exhibition of the New English in 1886 immediately
established the NEAC as a strong voice. During the entire
20th Century, in spite of waves of movements that pulled
the art world in many directions, the club’s artists held to
their commitment to figurative art.
Origins - Contemporary British Figurative Painting
by John Singer Sargent
It is in relation to the Royal Academy that much of
the development of the New English has been seen. The
origin of the Club was in the studios of a group of
young London artists in 1885. These painters had studied
and worked in Paris, and felt a dissatisfaction with
the exhibition potential of the very academic R.A. which
was under the presidency of Sir Frederick, later Lord
Leighton It was decided to mount a rival show, so in
April 1886 the first exhibition of the New English Art
Club was organised at which about fifty artists were
represented, including Fred Brown, George Clausen, Stanhope
Forbes, J.S. Sargent and Wilson Steer.
Thus the scene was set: the stolid academic approach
of the R.A. as opposed to the dynamic and vibrant observation
of the New English - a caricature of course, as are
all such comparisons. However, it is remarkable that
the artistic descendants of the Impressionists continued
to be associated with the New English whilst the R.A.
moved by fits and starts towards a more conceptual approach
and towards public gallery orientated work.
During the late 19th and early 20th century the New
English grew greatly in influence, and the days of Sickert,
Augustus John, Tonks, Steer and William Rothenstein
were a golden period indeed. In the 1920's Stanley Spencer,
Paul Nash, Duncan Grant and Mark Gertler were all members
- indeed almost every member of the Camden Town Group
started with the New English, and it formed an essential
part of their development.
Many of these artists became members of the R.A. and
continued to exhibit with the New English for the rest
of their careers. Probably in the 1940's and 1950's
the R.A. and the New English were at their closest point.
At this time some painters saw the New English as a
'staging post' to membership of the Academy.
Today - Contemporary British Figurative Painting
by Sir William Orpen
Today this situation has changed with the divergence
of the societies; and the R.A s abandonment of much
so called 'figurative painting' has left the field clear
for the New English to champion this sort of work. At
a New English exhibition at which non-members work is
also shown, you will now see imaginative painting, expressionism
sometimes satirical subjective paintings and abstracted
work amongst the directly observed objective painting
which is part of our "continuing" tradition.
In the lifetime of the New English the world of visual
art has changed enormously. Until the Second World War,
Paris was the undisputed centre of this world. Since
then New York has become the colossus, and London has
recently increased greatly in importance, to be the
predominant centre in Europe: and there has been a huge
increase in the number of commercial and public galleries.
However the hardship of life as an artist continues
as before. It is very difficult indeed to establish
a reputation as young artist; it is also very difficult
to produce and sell pictures of high quality in sufficient
quantities to provide a living. In order to make work
which is vigorous and lively and life enhancing, an
artist's needs are: a tradition in which to work - or
in other words - a shared artistic language, a training
- an education in this language, an exhibition space
and a public to buy work. All of these the New English
helps to provide.
That the New English has existed for over a century
and is now a well respected institution and one of the
foremost exhibiting societies is a matter of pride.
Pride of another kind is in the Club's position as a
centre of excellence for drawing and painting. This
visual language is one in which pictorial statements
are slowly and intricately constructed, but when they
are completed they can be understood quickly and easily
by everyone. It is ever evolving and capable of great
spiritual depth, and this language is the Club's main
concern. The content of the pictures, the visual messages
which they convey and the eloquence and strength with
which they are painted is a matter for individual painters,
the framework within which these artists and others
like them work is the province and the future of the
New English Art Club.