The Easel

30th May 2023

Morocco’s Iconic New Wave: The Casablanca Art School

North African art can boast its own modernist heritage. Six years after Morocco’s independence in 1956, an art school opened in Casablanca. It aimed to build post-colonial artistic traditions spanning both art and design. While not immune to Western influences, the school developed a signature style – highly coloured abstract works incorporating Berber and Islamic designs. These tangibly expressed the founder’s dictum, “tradition is the future”.

Tate Britain’s Rehang: A Zombie Social Art History

Social and economic factors help our understanding of older art, although most agree that art is about more than just social history. But where to strike the balance? A re-hang of Tate Britain’s collection sparks an acrimonious debate on that issue. One critic calls the result a “hectoring history lesson”. The above writer is equally annoyed.  The rehang “[insists] on turning art into a cipher for social history, into illustrations for a contemporary version of what Britain might have been about”.

23rd May 2023

Gwen John Connecting With London And Paris

A retrospective is forcing revisions to the standard Johns biography. Pigeonholed as Rodin’s lover and sister to the flamboyant Augustus John, she was clearly much more. She chose art and a socially active life in Paris over motherhood’. There, she found recognition and patronage. Interiors, perhaps with a solitary female figure, were a favourite subject, showing her mastery of mood, balance and transient light. She is now considered a more significant artist than brother Augustus.

An introduction to 19th-century China

China’s epic history, spanning millennia, arguably surpasses all others. A London show of the last century of dynastic rule tells the story of a ruling elite brought undone by internal weakness, disaffected subjects and predatory foreigners. What remains are exquisite objects, “staggering” images and quotidian household effects that describe the wide span of life under the Manchu dynasty. A review of the show is here; other background essays are here.