EXHIBITIONS; Between war and peace

A new show in London highlights the class of '45, and includes unknown work by some of the greats of Abstract Expressionism

AS OFTEN before, the Annely Juda Gallery offers a summer exhibition that contains many works of museum quality and illuminates a historical period. Quite a short period, in this case. The show is called "1945" and

is of 75 paintings and sculptures made within that year. It's still wide- ranging. Weary and ragged the artists may have been, but their post-war art suggest the great possibilities of a new world order.

In a nice gesture of co-operation, the exhibition is shared with the Galerie Denise Rene in Paris and the Galerie Hans Mayer in Dusseldorf. Annely Juda (a German refugee who came to Britain in 1937) contributes a moving note on her wartime experiences and pays tribute to her fellow dealers: "For me, peace and work with my colleagues is all important." And what a lot of work "1945" must have demanded. Here are some very rare works of art, from America as well as Europe. Indeed, three or four of the Abstract Expressionist paintings seem never to have been previously exhibited or reproduced.

First among them is an untitled painting by Mark Rothko (unfortunately reversed in the catalogue). For Rothko, 1945 was a year of experiment in watercolour. This picture is remarkably unlike his late surrealist doodles on paper. Though delicate, it is painterly. A dozen and more blocks and panels of colour are pushed and scrubbed in an atmosphere of benign contemplation. Like all Rothko's best paintings, this is a relaxed canvas. He had troubles enough in his life, but I wonder whether his art was as well equipped for tragedy as he believed. I'm interested in the painting's light. It looks almost as though it were painted before a landscape. Certainly it's unlike the pictures made beneath the bizarre studio lighting that marred Rothko's art in his later years.

Another atmospheric American painting is the work that Hans Hofmann very deliberately titled Misterious Approach. It belongs to the period when he was painting his "free creations", loosely derived from landscape and executed on board. Some of these paintings were nearly violent, for Hofmann's abstraction had an eye for nature at her most lurid. Mist is not lurid and neither is Misterious Approach. Yet it's highly energetic. The board support encouraged physicality. Hofmann's "free forms", as he called them, are almost slapped down. A lesser, or less adventurous artist might have tidied up this picture. Hofmann let it be and galloped off to his next pictorial appointment.

Hofmann's painting - like the Rothko it is unpublished, so I'm glad to show both of them on this page - helps understanding of Abstract Expressionism in its breakthrough phase, for this occurred around 1945. It also assists us to feel for Jackson Pollock. Pollock was usually wary of Hofmann, but he paid attention to him in this year and may have seen his splattered mist. If so, it would have lightened the burden that abstraction had apparently placed on his shoulders. Also at the Juda Gallery is Pollock's Moon Vessel, one of his first paintings to have been dripped and poured. None the less it has a slow, even turgid rhythm, no doubt eloquent of the artist's personal turmoil. Hofmann's picture is by contrast instantaneous. It points towards the great drip paintings, balletic and ethereal, that Pollock was soon to make in the years of his greatness.

Another rarity is concerned with speed. Barnett Newman's large brush and ink drawing is one of a number he made so rapidly that he thought they would reveal unconscious symbols. Most of this series was destroyed. The present sheet is a good one. I fancy that it is concerned with Orpheus, god of artists, the underworld and song. The Abstract Expressionist section is completed by one of Adolph Gottlieb's "pictographs", David Smith's fine sculpture Woman Music and his painting Four Musicians, Budapest String Quartet. This cannot fail to be interesting but it's unpleasant. Smith was a great artist. But it's a mystery why he had so little feeling for painting or drawing. We feel that he found two-dimensional art repugnant, yet kept on doing it out of some distant respect.

Abstract Expressionism has to be prominent in "1945" but two beautiful contributions come from Milton Avery, the most French of American artists. The hang of the show, suggestive rather than programmatic, puts Avery not far away from a Braque lithograph. I suspect that lithography influenced Avery's dry, elegant colour sense, but of course one cannot explore such matters in an exhibition like "1945". The works on the walls have been brought together by Mrs Juda and her colleagues with admirable sensitivity and expertise, but they do not venture into art history. Every work in the show is illustrated in the catalogue, but this valuable document is bare of biographies, critical discussion or any account of the art-politics of 50 years ago.

Why is this? Partly because the Juda Gallery never puts on polemical shows, partly because 1945 was a year of general relief and many personal reunions. Intellectual battles came a little later. So the tone of the show is unprogrammatic. The old masters of modern art were back in place, wearied but as yet unchallenged. I'm thinking of artists such as Picasso, Braque and Leger, Magritte too, who all contribute pieces of admirable dignity. The Leger is especially beautiful. From the German side, there's an excellent little painting by Willi Baumeister and interesting work by Max Bill, Max Beckmann and Ernst Wilhelm Nay. One of the revelations is a nude by Vladimir Tatlin.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the British artists make a rather muted appearance. They are Prunella Clough, Lucian Freud, Barbara Hepworth, Josef Herman, Ivon Hitchens and Henry Moore. Herman and Freud were of course refugees. Herman's landscape is lyrically glum. Freud's picture is one of his fanatical miniatures. Of course this is an incomplete account of British art after the war, but the very fact that it is incomplete symbolises the state of art 50 years ago. Artists were scattered all over the place, were limping home, were taking up their brushes again after military service and very often did not know of each others' existence. In 1945 there wasn't an art scene, except perhaps in distant Cornwall. The growth of the British art community in the post-war years was remarkable, but that's a different story.

! Annely Juda, 23 Dering St, W1 (0171 629 7578), to 16 Sept.

! CORRECTION: a number of errors crept into my report from Tokyo last week. I especially regret calling a Caro sculpture 'daft'. I wrote, and meant, 'deft'. Apologies to Sir Anthony and 'Independent on Sunday' readers.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn