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Artists & Writers

Exploring the achievements of the greatest figures of the 20th century. Lily Cole looks at Pablo Picasso, Virginia Woolf, Alfred Hitchcock and Andy Warhol.

This episode sees actress Lily Cole examine four of the 20th century's greatest artists and writers. Lily explores the lives of Pablo Picasso, Virginia Woolf, Alfred Hitchcock and Andy Warhol - finding out what inspired their most celebrated works, and why they still resonate today.

In the 20th century, history unfolded at a rate humanity could barely keep up with. Wars industrialised killing, science radically altered the way we live, and rampant consumerism and mass media swept across the planet. Helping us process these seismic shifts were a group of complex, sometimes dark geniuses: our artists and writers. Art had for a long time belonged largely to the elite, but in the 20th century it burst out of its gilt frame and into every aspect of our lives. These four icons each revolutionised their artform, unafraid to break with generations of convention. They sought to both reflect and change their times. Whether they were shining a light on the most brutal episodes of war, or holding up a mirror to the darkest aspects of post-war society, these four greats were unafraid to create bold and sometimes challenging work - work which forced society to take a long, hard look at itself.

Cofounder of the Cubist movement, Pablo Picasso possessed extraordinary talent from an early age. He could have had a brilliant career as a traditional artist but he chose instead to rip up the artistic rule book, creating defiantly sensual and provocative pieces, and one of the most powerful and enduring images of conflict that the world has ever seen.

Feminist, pacifist and trailblazer Virginia Woolf subverted expectations, both professionally and personally. She broke new ground in literature, was unafraid to write about mental health, and issued a rallying cry for artistic equality on behalf of women everywhere.

Nicknamed the master of suspense, Hitchcock's career spanned six decades, and he was behind some of the most famous moments in cinema. Not only was Hitchcock a prodigious film-maker but he was a pioneer of the industry, transforming the role of film director into that of an artist. His groundbreaking visual and storytelling techniques are ubiquitous in film today.

In an age of postwar prosperity, Andy Warhol's work - which explored consumerism and mass production - was so revolutionary that while some thought he had redefined art, others believed he had broken it. He turned the everyday into works of art, and began documenting every aspect of life decades before the selfie-obsessed culture we live in today.

At the end of the programme, the public vote for the greatest artist or writer of the century, who, along with the finalists from the other categories, will be put through to the live final at the end of the series.

59 minutes

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:03



  • 00:04

    Édith Piaf

    C'etait Une Histoire D'amour

  • 00:22

    Agnes Obel

    It's Happening Again

  • 00:46

    UNKLE & Ian Brown


  • 00:47

    David Bowie


  • 00:50

    The Velvet Underground

    Venus In Furs

  • 00:54

    Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

    Jubilee Street


  • Tue 29 Jan 2019 21:00
  • Fri 5 Jul 2019 01:15

Explore how impactful icons are and discover the truth behind their reputations

Explore how impactful icons are and discover the truth behind their reputations

Visit our interactive pages to uncover the real people behind iconic figures

Discover a free collection of portraits of iconic figures from the 20th century

Discover a free collection of portraits of iconic figures from the 20th century

Visit the Gallery and pick up a free booklet or download from the link above