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Room: 1950s

This video brought to you by Tate.org.uk

Curator Chris Stephens explores the 1950s.

Learn more about the art featured in this video:
- Lucian Freud, Girl with a White Dog, 1950–1
- Patrick Heron, Azalea Garden: May 1956, 1956.
Created by Tate.

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Video transcript

This room brings together art from the 1950’s it’s a period in which you can see the Tate had stopped collecting academic painting and sculpture but the modern was a highly contested area. This is the years when people were emerging from the shadow of the Second World War and still struggling to find an appropriate artistic language for the time. The 1950’s saw a wide range in debates about the way forward for modern art on the one hand abstraction, on the other realism. On the realist side, you had the social realists, who were the political agenda painting everyday life, and then also artists like Lucian Freud painting an apparently highly realistic form of figuration but one which consequently seemed slightly strange and uncanny and has a sort of slightly sinister awkwardness about it that reflects I think his debt to the surrealist tradition. In the aesthetic debates of the 1950’s, Patrick Heron was an artist who advocated abstract values but the retention of subject matter. This work looks like something that's completely abstract it’s the language of the abstract expressionists of European tachism the emphasis on single strokes in a shallow space. But Heron said that these images came from him looking into the azalea hedges of his garden in Cornwall and the title registers that, 'Azalea Garden' May 1956 indicating also I think something of the brilliant spring sunshine of the Cornish cliff top garden. What surprised me when we were installing this room was what seemed like a mad cacophony of different styles, resolved into something much more harmonious and actually what I found was that works of art which come from different ends of a heated debate actually have a kind of common feeling. They speak to each other in unexpected ways and there is actually, a sort of a kind of synthesis went on within the room that reflected I guess the strength of a period feel.