Past Events

Private View: 'A particularly soft English hardback'

Research Lunch – Lisa Tickner

  • 11 November 2016
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm
  • Seminar Room, Paul Mellon Centre

A colourful abstract book cover Private View, published in 1965, is a hefty volume put together over three years by Bryan Robertson (director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery), John Russell (art critic of the Sunday Times), and Lord Snowdon (resuming his photographic career after marriage to Princess Margaret in 1960). For its authors it was ‘a new kind of book’, a claim that rested on two main features. First, it offered something like a visual ethnography of a resurgent (chiefly London) art world. Here are the artists in their natural habitats but also the whole machinery of museums, dealers, art schools, critics and curators: ‘a kind of vast, illustrated catalogue-cum-Who’s-Who of contemporary British art’, as Anthony Powell put it. And second, with 368 of Snowdon’s photographs, beautifully printed in Switzerland with a lavish use of colour, it prioritised the image. Private View, with its grainy blow-ups and bled-off layouts was more like a magazine an inch and a quarter thick, than a standard monograph. Reyner Banham, reviewing it in New Society, called it a ‘particularly soft English hardback’ but he wasn’t being entirely negative. He thought it had the virtues of weekend journalism and the vices of straying too far from ‘the Sunday-supp ethos’. Whether it explained, as promised, ‘how the creative dynamism of British art came to dominate the international scene’ – whether that was even true – is one of many things to discuss.

About the speaker

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    Lisa Tickner is Honorary Professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Professor Emerita at Middlesex University, a Fellow of the British Academy and a Trustee of the Art Fund. She is the author or co-editor of ten books on art history and cultural studies including The Spectacle of Women; imagery of the suffrage campaign 1907-1914 (1988) and Modern Life & Modern Subjects: British art in the early twentieth century (2000). London's New Scene: art and culture in the 1960s, draws on years of research but was completed in the course of a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship (2016-18).