British Masters: My one big chance to get even

Monday 18 July 2011, 17:00

James Fox James Fox Presenter

Tagged with:

A few years ago I was at a conference on 20th Century painting. As I queued up for a coffee in the canteen I overheard a French historian describe Britain as "the land without modern art".

His friends all laughed in agreement. I was livid. And ever since I've been determined to prove them wrong.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash Installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash Installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content

The story behind Walter Sickert's painting Mornington Crescent Nude

The truth is that when I heard I'd be presenting a BBC documentary I was expecting glamour and dancing girls.

Instead I got repeated 4am starts, endless journeys in smelly vans, and a disgusting diet of sweets from service stations.

But we still had some great moments making British Masters.

The most memorable was filming at Newmarket for episode two.

The sun was rising, thousands of horses were galloping across the grass, and the echoes of their hooves thundered all around. It was one of the most surprisingly beautiful things I've ever seen.

I'm really pleased to have made British Masters. After all, no matter how many people watch it, it will still be a lot more than come to my university lectures.

Dr James Fox is an art historian and the presenter of British Masters.

British Masters continues on BBC Four on Mondays at 9pm and is available in iPlayer until Saturday, 6 August.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

You can watch a guided tour by James Fox on 20th Century British painters on the BBC's Your Paintings site.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Tagged with:

Comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 21.

    @Geoffrey for what it's worth just to add that while many might agree with you, as critics like in the The Arts Desk http://bit.ly/qbbsjB here, comparing him with Niall Ferguson, who we love or hate, he shows true passion a la AGD or Waldemar, and makes truly great documentary films along with his excellent director & producer, Matthew Hill. Anyway, those are my thoughts. And way superior than say that Sooke chap.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 22.

    Speaking as an artist in the old dictionary sense ...I've thoroughly enjoyed this programme thus far.The xenophobia charge needs to be countered by the need to reflect on the tendency for the British and the art intelligensia particularly to fawn over art from certain localities irrespective of merit.
    Britain is the product of waves of invasion and more peaceable immigration and culturally the English elite not only has or had anti or none English origins(Aristocracy Norman,Monarchy German and the preformation church Roman)there has been a tendency to undervalue certain cultural inputs...the Vikings... and as recent anglo saxon finds have proven were extremely sophisticated despite propaganda to the contrary.The Normans not only attempted to subjugate and eradicate existing cultures in Britain and although our celtic cousins are aware of this tendency,the English themselves suffered genocide and a cultural diktat and a sustained tendency to undervalue local culture as opposed to the continental(yes I am aware the continent was in many ways extremely sophisticated but even in Art Britain has been an important contributor to European and world culture despite the Reformation which to this day causes an active prejudice against visual art amongst art commentators and in popular culture)
    Yes there are many French artists of undoubted genius.... there are of course a great many continental masters worthy of any sincere art lovers respect but this is NOT a universal truth.
    I am afraid there ARE very old prejudices in certain elements of the arts establishment.....it harks back to the tendency to revere ALL things classical>> Graeco Roman and the tendency to elevate second rate artists with arty and usually foereign and exotic names....take for exampleVan Dyke,Holbein, Monet,Degas,and Bonnard...all sound pretty arty but personally I only have respect for ALL but the last.Why? poor draughtsmanship,horrendous use of colour and dull and uninteresting composition...perhaps that is just my view?.....Bonnard ??????
    Certainly with regard to the British Isles the celtic fringes tend to champion their visual artists and I think it fair to say that Scotland suffers less from class barriers and dare I say it PC nonsense....and the standard of art esp in Scotland is generally disproportionately strong ...not because the Scots are naturally more gifted but because they DO champion their local talent(regardless of class) and still have a greater emphasis on art teaching based on discipline and genuine technique as opposed to bull**it.
    Unlike the pseudo left I believe in equa

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 23.

    cut off the second half of my posting
    my point is we need to get back to art education which has a strong practical element useful not only in nurturing fine artists in their truest sense but also arming creatives with the skills necessary to be truly world class>>high class design,high class illustration,high class fashion,high technical expertise in film,video games etc
    I am afraid there needs to be a stronger emphasis on quality both in teaching which is AFFORDABLE and AVAILABLE to those with the greatest TALENT....unfortunately gifted individuals from poor backgrounds have impoverished opportunities and perhaps instead of spending MILLIONS on galleries run by an for a pretentious and self interested elite we perhaps need greater balance and a massive shift in emphasis with the arts council to 1)make it more accountable and 2)make it more meritocratic and help Britain acheive even greater prowess in the field of art and design by supporting the very best irrespective of background...and by best I mean the quality of the work as a opposed to an often lame qualification.Some art graduates ARE gifted others are NOT.And many of the greatest creatives are NOT overly academic....Monet wasn't Van Gogh wasn't and a great many more weren't either...perhaps that is why a practical based education makes more sense
    I found the programme to be very informative and didn't feel he was forcing an agenda other than perhaps a tendency to put British art down.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 24.

    I meant counteract the age old prejudice against British culture

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 25.

    I have to agree with a number of General Ludd's points. I live in Belgium and have taken art lessons and visited many exhibitions here. A number of 20th century British (English?) artists are held in high esteem here, and we do know that a Francis Bacon exhibition in Paris in the fifties was stormed with enthusiastic crowds chanting "Bacon, Bacon, Bacon" ...

    I find it astonishing to hear it claimed that British artists caused the British public to feel a certain way about their culture. I don't believe art creates cultural trends, but rather that it reflects them.

    Finally, while I appreciate the value of making serious art accessible to the public (and teenagers in particular), the use of glamorous settings, music, and overdramatic narration does feel like dumbing down to me.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 26.

    Does anyone know the name of the music playing during the piece on Sir Alfred Munnings? Been trying to find out what it is for ages the strings are so beautiful.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 27.

    Isn't it just a shame that the presenters ego and corporeal existance gets in the way of the images throughout the programmes. Coupled with standard BBC film technique of artwork, with slow detailed panning in close up and zooming its really impossible to get a good look at these paintings via this medium.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 28.

    I don't know much about art history but have enjoyed this series immensely. However, can someone please explain the complete absence of significant & influential women artists?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 29.

    I have just watched "A New Jerusalem" and was so moved by the presentation of Keith Vaughan's work and your comments about painting at the end. It's just a shame there aren't more female painters up there with the greats - Prunella Clough?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 30.

    Thank you for a truly engaging programme. The story telling if the human element, weaving through the passage of British history, the superb soundtrack all proved to enhance the beauty of new and familiar paintings.

    The Cornfield, 1918 by John Nash, has remained with me since your second programm. It may not be a gritty or difficult subject such as last nights examples but far better, it evokes the same bright optimism I find in my now rather old Raoul Duffy print of 'The Wheatfield', so I am spending this morning trying to acquire Nash's print. I can't wait to have it on my wall, thank you for the introduction!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 31.

    Watched the last installment " A New Jerusalem " , I unfortunately missed the first episode, look forward to it being repeated at a later date.
    Last nights episode was very interesting, handled very well by James Fox , I have loved his style of making the programmes, not getting bogged down with his own views and opinions as so many other presenters tend to do.
    Finally, during the discussion on Francis Bacon ...... who was the woman talking about him, and what a brilliant sketch book she had with those excellent sketches of Bacon.
    Well done James Fox

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 32.

    Thank you James, your program last night 25th July, the last few moments made me cry. Your program was wonderful.. thank you so much .Nel

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 33.

    Thanks for your comment karlo (#31),

    If you want to catch up on British Masters, the episodes are currently available to watch and download in iPlayer until the following dates:

    Episode one: We Are Making A New World - Saturday, 6 August
    Episode two: In Search Of England - Saturday, 6 August
    Episode three: A New Jerusalem - Monday, 1 August

    Thanks,

    Gary
    Assistant Content Producer, BBC TV blog

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 34.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this series. A fresh pair of eyes and a lucid, fresh approach.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 35.

    A most enjoyable final programme and a well argued defence of the status of painting in the face of onslaughts from the fashionable art world.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 36.

    I've just been catching up with this series on iPlayer. The subject matter sounded fantastic to me, already having some interest in a few British painters of the 20th Century; having no in-depth knowledge whatsoever but a desire to learn more. This sounded like exactly the sort of programme for which I am so grateful for the existence of the BBC. But, my word, episode one was a struggle. Such were the heights of the absurdity reached by the grand sweeping statements about history, the wild exaggeration of individual paintings' impact on wider society and the simply relentless hyperbole of the presenter in the first episode that, I regret to say, I don't think I could stand two more episodes like that. Does the presenter calm down a little as the series progresses? Things can surely be interesting for their own merit without everything necessarily having to be utterly ground-breaking, unprecedented or expecting the audience to believe that a (relatively little known) nude portrait genuinely shocked an entire nation. I'm not sure if this is an example of the BBC dumbing-down, or the presenter's own natural tendencies, but I'm afraid that the ceaseless hyperbole simply made it impossible to take any of his arguments seriously. A wasted opportunity, but I do hope that that the BBC follows up on this fascinating period of British art in future.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 37.

    British Masters????!. I sincerely hope that this is never seen abroad, especially in the USA, where most of the population think that the UK is called England. This series of programmes, especially the second episode, would only bolster that view....nice to know that during the second world war, we were all fighting for England. no wonder the SNP are so popular.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 38.

    Anyone know what's the song on the sound track of the third programme is at 46.45? Thanks for any help you can give.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 39.

    Great series. Would have liked to see a bit more of Ravilious, Bawden etc also women like Winifred Nicholson, Mary Newcomb but I am definitely convinced of the power of British 20th C painting! Please anybody who has not yet, go to Sandham memorial chapel it is outstanding and very moving as well as glorious

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 40.

    Thank you to James for a fresh and iconoclastic view of British art. Now how about looking at the work of Cecil Collins, visionary (rather than Surrealist)painter and extraordinary educationalist? He continues the visionary thread of some great British artists like Blake and Samuel Palmer, and deserves a program in his own right.

 

Page 2 of 3

This entry is now closed for comments

Share this page

More Posts

Previous
At the mercy of The Great British Weather

Wednesday 13 July 2011, 11:20

Next
Restoration Home: Being the private eye of the past

Tuesday 26 July 2011, 12:20

About this Blog

Get the views of cast, presenters, scriptwriters and crew from inside the shows. Read reviews and opinions and share yours on all things TV - your favourite episodes, live programmes, the schedule and everything else.

We ask that comments on the blog fall within the house rules.

Blog Updates

Stay updated with the latest posts from the blog.

Subscribe using:

What are feeds?