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Title: Business unusual : art in Britain during the First World War, 1914-1918
Author: Fox, James
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2010
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The cultural consequences of the First World War have been debated for decades but a fully satisfactory account of its effect on British art is still wanting. Art historians’ privileging of modern over traditional, front line over home front and dissenting truth over prevailing opinion has resulted in bombastic, unrepresentative and inadequately historicised interpretations of the subject. This thesis supplements and challenges this prevailing picture by focusing on the home front rather than the front line; on a wide cross-section of artists, collectors, dealers, critics and institutions rather than a handful of progressive war painters; and on the social and cultural changes brought by war rather than the stylistic shifts that still dominate scholarship. Its first two sections constitute a social history of British art in the period. Section I, Identities, describes war’s adverse effects on societal perceptions of art (Chapter 1), and the debilitating social and psychological obstacles to artists’ continued production of it (Chapter 2); Section II, Institutions, expands its scope to show that these problems were no less damaging for exhibiting societies (Chapter 3), and the art market (Chapter 4). Section III, Functions, adopts a cultural history approach, and explores how popular war art shaped civilian attitudes to the conflict (Chapter 5), but how, conversely, some artistic output enabled them to escape and overcome it (Chapter 6). The resulting dissertation illuminates a neglected sector of an important period in British art, but also contributes to the social history of the home front and the cultural history of the Great War. The thesis concludes that the material disruptions of war represented its most profound cultural consequences, and offers a new materialist reading of the famous rappel à l’ordre. However, it generally argues that war was more of a temporary artistic hiatus than the cultural watershed it is often taken to be. Nevertheless, it does maintain that war did – if temporarily – transform the relationship between British art and British society.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral