The Monolith

To acknowledge the contribution made by the London Group in 1951 to the Festival of Britain, Coming up for Air will include a two sided Monolith placed in St John’s Churchyard, with printed images from 1951 of London Group artists plus their paintings and sculpture and the context in which they were produced. Reviews written about the contribution of artists to the 1951 Festival of Britain were in the main focused on realism versus abstraction. Two exhibitions were prominent, a painting Coming up for Air Susan Haire PLG exhibition at the RBA Galleries, “60 for 51” and a sculpture exhibition at Battersea Park. Certain sculptors were also invited to show their work on the South Bank site. It is interesting to note that of the total of 54 painters who eventually showed at the RBA galleries, 36 were members of The London Group at some point in their careers, of the five purchase prize winners three recipients were in the London Group at the time of showing and one, William Gear, was elected in 1952. It was his, apparently contentious abstract painting, Autumn Landscape, that caused a debate in the House of Commons! Of the sculptors, either showing at Battersea or on the South Bank eleven were also London Group members. Cartoons in the popular press directed their attention to ridiculing the figures of, in particular, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth who, again, were London Group members at some point in their careers.

The mural painter, Hans Feibusch needs a particular mention. He fled, along with other Jewish artists, persecution in Nazi Germany and came to Britain in 1933 aged 35. In 1934 he joined the London Group and in 1951 he was commissioned to paint two murals in St John’s Church. St John’s had been bombed in 1940 and was being restored as part of the Festival of Britain. Indeed it became the Festival’s dedicated Church holding both services and concerts. Feibusch became the most prolific mural artist who ever worked for the Church of England and remained in England until his death in 1998 at the age of 100. In 1951 he also had exhibited a painting in the “60 for 51” Festival of Britain RSA exhibition, a far cry from his inclusion in the 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition held by the Nazi Party in Munich.