Uproar!: The first 50 years of the London Group 1913-1963

Ben Uri is honoured to present 'Uproar!': The first 50 Years of The London Group 1913‒63, showcasing 50 works by 50 artists during this half century. The exhibition marks the Group's centenary and its first minuted meeting on 25 October 1913. Founded as an alternative to the existing art establishment, the Group's turbulent early years reflect the controversial emergence of early British modernism and the experimental work of many of its members. The often inflammatory language of the press is exemplified by the 'uproar' which followed Mark Gertler's exhibition of The Creation of Eve at the Group's third show in 1915, which lends its name to our own exhibition exploring the Group's early history. This partnership between Ben Uri and The London Group is a revealing reflection on both institutions' early and entwined histories. The London Group was founded by fresh-minded and free-spirited artists from the Camden Town Group and others experimenting with Cubism and Futurism. They were determined to embrace the new practice and movements arriving from Europe and from France in particular, to set a new agenda for a new century. However, their exhibiting opportunities in the mainstream were significantly restricted by an establishment dominated by the Royal Academy, which was intent on maintaining the status quo. Coming together to form The London Group, it quickly became a magnet and an exhibiting forum for artists who were often considered rebellious by the establishment, and even in some quarters, notorious, during these early seminal decades in Britain.

Ben Uri was founded less than two years later, in July 1915, in the Jewish ghetto in London's East End, also in response to establishment prejudice and exhibiting restrictions. In this instance the artists themselves were 'outsiders' (irrespective of their artistic practice) — Jews, and what was probably considered worse, mostly immigrants or the children of foreign-speaking immigrants. Among them were a number of young Jewish artists committed to pushing artistic boundaries, including David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein, Mark Gertler and Jacob Kramer — now better known as 'The Whitechapel Boys' — who were immediately drawn to the artistic freedom and intellectual vigour of this new milieu. It was Jacob Epstein, the American émigré, who is credited with coining the name 'London Group' at a Group meeting, held on 15 November 1913. These same artists played significant historical roles during the first two decades of both The London Group and Ben Uri, and today, with extraordinary works of national significance, still represent the backbone of Ben Uri's 1300-strong collection. One hundred years later, most of the 50 'radical' artists exhibited in 'Uproar!' are cornerstones of twentieth-century British modernism and a benchmark of respectability.