The finest and most comprehensive collection of paintings by the School of London are currently owned by New York collectors Elaine and Melvin Merians. For the first time over seventy masterpiece paintings and drawings from this collection will be exhibited publicly at the Yale Center for British Art. The School of London and their Friends: The Collection of Elaine and Melvin Merians will offer a fresh introduction to contemporary figurative painting in England and reveal the range and quality of the Merians activities as collectors over the past twenty years.
The term School of London was coined by American-born painter Ronald Kitaj in order to draw attention to the extraordinary range and power he found in contemporary British art after the Second World War. The expression called attention to a common trait shared by half a dozen of Londons most prominent artists: their fascination with the human figure as well as the environment–whether it was the interior of their studios or the grimy streets of London. Lucian Freud serves as one of the original members of the movement together with Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews, R.B. Kitaj, and Euan Uglow. Through their commitment to portraying the human figure, the landscape, and the cityscape, the School of London has influenced a younger generation of painters. They are represented in this exhibition by Christopher Bramham, Peter Doig, Tony Bevan, and others who are united by their engagement with the immediate world–from rich, dramatic depictions of the human form to crowded urban landscapes.
As a school they are a potent reminder of the tradition of modern British realist painting that extends through the twentieth century to such important artists from Walter Sickert and the Camden Town School, back to Matthew Smith, Paul Nash, and Wyndham Lewis. For many, their roots in London and London studio practice are strong and self-evident. For others removed from the London scene, such as David Hockney, there still persists a grip on the immediacy of place. The painters live and work off of the environment. The relationship is strong and unbreakable.
The collection of Elaine and Melvin Merians is of exceptional interest and quality as the foremost collection in America and Britain devoted exclusively to the School of London. It is the breadth of the Merians vision and the depth of their relationship with each artist that the Yale Center has sought to capture in this exhibition. Melvin Merians commented, ...We have gotten to know most of the artists over a period of time. One of the great things about collecting contemporary art, I feel, is to know and have a relationship with the artist. It gives a greater insight into their work and one has an opportunity to ask them all sorts of questions.
Indeed, the Merians are collectors whose sharp focus on the School of London has given them an intimate knowledge of both the works of art and the artists who created them. The exhibition includes multiple works by nearly every featured artist including, for example, three paintings by Lucian Freud, five works each by R.B. Kitaj and Frank Auerbach, six paintings by Peter Blake and nine by Euan Uglow.
The Collection of Elaine and Melvin Merians is important for its comprehensive overview of the School of London. It is equally important as a vivid reminder that artists in Britain have continued to produce work of the highest quality no matter how the winds of fashion have blown. This collection demonstrates powerfully to the viewer that the tradition of painting and drawing as a deeply humanist art persists to the close of the twentieth century.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Richard Cork, art critic for The Times (London) and author of A Bitter Truth (1994), Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age (1977), and Vorticism and Its Allies (1974). The publication will also feature an interview with Elaine and Melvin Merians and a detailed description of their collection. Together with the exhibition, the catalogue will make a substantial contribution to the knowledge and understanding of 20th-Century British art.
The Red Brick School Building