Some months ago Dickinson listed ten of the greatest foreign Old Master painters to have worked in Britain. Now we pick up where we left off with ten more great artists, this time from the modern period. Like their predecessors, they embraced Britain both as a home – either temporary or permanent – and as a subject, finding inspiration and patronage. Whether their impact can be measured by the quantity of works now in British collections or by the influence they exerted on British-born contemporaries and followers, or indeed both, we are all better off for their contributions.
1. Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903)
Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, 1871
War in Europe appears to have been one of the most common reasons for artists’ relocation to Britain. Pissarro was no different: when his studio at Louveciennes became surrounded by invading Prussian troops during the War of 1870, the painter moved to England for a year to escape the conflict. He settled in Norwood (now very much South London, but then just outside the city) where he continued to paint. It was in London that he fully moved away from his earlier, more academic practice, and, under the influence of Corot, begun to paint what would later be called Impressionist works. The picture illustrated here depicts Lordship Lane Station in Dulwich at a time when places like Sydenham, Croydon and Norwood were villages connected by rail.
2. James Abbott McNeill Whistler, R.B.A. (1834 – 1903)
Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge, c. 1872-75
The American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler called London his permanent home from 1866 until his death at the start of the 20th Century. Having made his name with his ambiguously titled figurative works Symphony in White, No. 1 and Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (Whistler’s Mother), the painter took London, and more specifically the Thames, as one of his chief subjects. Very much inspired by Japanese printmaking and a firm belief that art need not be representative or didactic, Whistler painted a remarkable series of night-time pictures – or nocturnes – of the Thames near his home in Chelsea. His works from this period verge on abstraction and were presented to the public not as traditional view painting but rather as artistic arrangements, something to which his musically inspired titles allude.
3. Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)
The Houses of Parliament, London, c. 1900-03
Monet, considered the father of Impressionism (and one of the most famous painters ever to have lived), needs no introduction. For a man so immediately synonymous with French painting, Monet seems to have had a great enthusiasm for London. The artist made several trips to Britain’s capital, the first (like Pissarro) to escape the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. This was an unhappy time for Monet who, usually so prolific, painted relatively little during this period. It seems, however, that the idea of London grew upon him in later years, although it would take his son (who was studying in Britain) falling ill to prompt his return. So taken was he with the Thames (and especially London’s fog) that Monet returned to the city in 1899, 1900 and 1901. His works from these later visits, with London’s atmospheric conditions rendered in visionary colour, are full expressions of Monet’s brand of Impressionism.
4. Berthe Morisot (1841 – 1895)
Eugène Manet à l’Île de Wight, 1875
Berthe Morisot was born into a wealthy bourgeoise French family and was, interestingly, the great-great-niece of the Rococo painter Fragonard. Introduced to art from an early age, she married Eugène Manet, the brother of her close friend and colleague, Edouard Manet. The picture illustrated here depicts a moment during the couple’s honeymoon in England in 1875. More specifically, it shows the view from the window of Globe Cottage in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, where the couple were staying. Morisot painted the Isle of Wight extensively during her time there. Although some of her pictures are relatively formal depictions of the shipping during the Regatta, most of her works are unceremonious, fleeting snapshots in paint, often featuring their cottage.
5. John Singer Sargent, R.A. (1856 – 1925)
The second American on this list, Sargent is best known for his wonderfully stylish society portraits painted not only in London but across Europe and in America. Regarded very much as an American émigré, Sargent spent his early career in Paris. He left France for England in the mid-1880s after his Portrait of Madame X caused a scandal at the 1884 Salon. Sargent was to spend the majority of his career in London, satisfying the huge demand for his portraiture. He was also a frequent traveller to the continent and was a highly accomplished landscapist, often working in watercolours. The work illustrated here is somewhat of an anomaly in his oeuvre: a modern history painting. Sargent was commissioned to paint a monumental work for a planned Hall of Remembrance after the First World War. To do this, Sargent, then in his sixties, travelled to the Western Front in 1918 and started searching for his subject. Sure enough, it came to him when he glanced at a frieze-like line of British troops, all of them blinded by the effects of mustard gas, slowly making their way to a casualty clearing station. Sargent painted this scene on his return to London and in doing so, gave Britain one of its greatest artistic monuments to the First World War.
6. Walter Sickert, R.A., R.B.A. (1860 – 1942)
Gallery of the Old Bedford, 1894-5
Born in Bavaria to a Danish father and a British mother, Sickert is the first foreign-born artist on this list to really be considered a British painter. The Sickert family moved to England in 1868 and Walter immersed himself in artistic training, studying at the Slade School and then becoming a pupil of James Abbot McNeill Whistler, whose influence can be clearly seen in Sickert’s early pictures. After travels to France and Italy, Sickert acquired an Impressionist style of his own, one that was not concerned with plein-air painting but rather focussed on more worldly, nocturnal goings on in London. Sickert was thus fascinated by the theatre and painted both the stage and the leering working-class audiences of the upper galleries. His work also took on some darker subjects of sex and violence, resulting in some scholars’ (rather unlikely) argument that Sickert was in fact Jack the Ripper.
7. Philip de László (1869 – 1937)
Elizabeth, The Duchess of York, 1925
Born Fülöp Laub in Hungary in 1869, de László trained at the National Academy of Art in Budapest before changing his name in 1891. His first major success came with his 1900 portrait of Pope Leo XIII for which he was awarded the Grand Gold Medal at the Paris International Exhibition. De László then moved from Hungary to Austria where he married Lucy Madeline Guinness, a socialite and musician from the Guinness banking family. After relocating to London in 1907, de László quickly became the go-to man for elegant society portraits, picking up where Sargent left off. He was not only in demand with the British aristocracy, but also travelled constantly to satisfy his eminent clients around the world. The picture illustrated here depicts Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, when Duchess of York, and perfectly demonstrates de László’s facility with the brush.
8. Oskar Kokoschka, C.B.E. (1886 – 1980)
Oskar Kokoschka had an extraordinarily long life, living to the age ninety-three. An Austrian by birth, Kokoschka was at the heart of the avant-garde art world in turn-of-the-century Vienna. This was followed by service in the Austrian army during the Great War, where he was badly wounded. He then taught in Dresden before being declared a ‘degenerate’ artist by the Nazis and fleeing first to Prague and then to Britain. Kokoschka eventually settled in Polperro, a fishing village on Cornwall’s south coast. Here he painted multiple landscapes in a wildly expressionistic idiom, many of which included allusions to the political turmoil and war on the European continent.
9. Lucian Freud, O.M., C.H. (1922 – 2011)
Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), 1982-83
Freud is one of the titans of modern British painting and, like Sickert, is very much considered a British artist despite his German birth. Lucian was the grandson of the neurologist Sigmund Freud, and was brought up in Berlin until, as a Jewish family, the Freuds escaped to London in 1933 as Hitler came to power. His early life included a brief stint in the Merchant Navy and his studies at Cedric Morris’s East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Suffolk. His early work was influenced by surrealism and characterised by the painstaking detail of his mark making. Later on, he developed his more recognisable mature style which consisted of thicker, impasto brushwork. Known primarily for his psychological portraits, Freud took his home city of London as a frequent subject. This is seen both in his view painting and in portraits such as the one illustrated here, the London location referenced in the work’s title.
10. Frank Auerbach (b. 1931)
Mornington Crescent, 2004
Evacuated from Hamburg to Southampton by Britain’s Kindertransport scheme in 1939, Auerbach escaped the Nazi Holocaust which claimed his parents’ lives. After studying at St Martin’s and the Royal College of Art, he became a teacher himself, working at various art schools around London. By the late 1950s, Auerbach was key member of the loose collective of artists known as the School of London. Other members included Francis Bacon, Howard Hodgkin and fellow German émigré Lucian Freud. Auerbach is of course best known for his portraits of regular sitters ‘EOW’ and ‘JYM’ which are frequently rendered in audaciously thick paint. He is also the author of numerous works on paper as well as views of his native Camden, an example of which is pictured here.