Exhibition: Harlem nightlifers: Rhapsody in Black Fine Art Society, New Bond Street
Monday 17 November 1997
Fine Art Society, New Bond Street
Nowhere more than New York in the Twenties and Germany in the Thirties epitomises the complex relationship between nightlife and art. The recent Georg Grosz retrospective emphasised the German draughtsman's attitude of mesmerised repugnance towards his satirical drawings' louche subjects. As is apparent from the Hayward's touring exhibition, Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, those who documented the black jazz scene in New York, though more obviously celebratory in their approach, nevertheless had a hard time equalling the artistic merit of the musical genius flowering before them.
Somewhere between the two falls the by-and-large forgotten figure of Glyn Philpot. A British painter of the early years of this century, Philpot, like his peer Wyndham Lewis, first earned his crust undertaking society portraits before taking off for the Continent in the 1920s. The National Portrait Gallery's 1984 retrospective drew attention to "his gift for portaits of coloured people" and the Fine Art Society's exhibition includes both examples of these and work from his time in Paris and Berlin in the early 30s. "Though less focused than Grosz in his view of Berlin," reckons Andrew Patrick of the Fine Art Society, "nothing in the Harlem Renaissance exhibition, in my opinion, matches Philpot."
Interest in Philpot shouldn't be confined to art and cultural historians alone, however. The cool but engaging elegance of his work stands as an intriguing and accessible testament to the cultural upheavals between the two world wars.
Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London W1Y 0JT, to 16 Jan (0171- 629 5116)
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