The East London Group is a band of artists composed of mostly self-taught, working-class, part-time painters. The members of the association came to John Cooper’s classes at London’s Bethnal Green and Mile End during the 1920s and 1930s. These artists depicted different melancholic scenes in Mile End, Clerkenwell, and other areas in London:
[...] Comparisons can also be made with two other urban-inspired London groups: the earlier Camden Town Group and the contemporaneous Euston Road School—some of whose prominent figures, including Walter Sickert and William Coldstream, made the journey east to lecture to Cooper’s classes and became members themselves.
The East London Group made its mark with an exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1928 and its ascent was rapid, with artists finding their work increasingly sought after, both by national collections and private buyers at exhibitions in the West End. The group’s high point was arguably the participation of Hawthorne and Walter Steggles in the 1936 Venice Biennale.
Cooper died in 1943 during the Second World War and the East London Group’s upward trajectory was rapidly curtailed, to the point that they practically vanished from the art world’s collective memory. “To be blunt, after the war, the world was moving into the jet age, the space age, electronic age,” says Alan Waltham, the curator of a new exhibition about the Steggles brothers and the East London Group at the Beecroft Art Gallery in Southend-on-Sea. “Most likely what the group were doing pre-war looked decidedly old hat. Whatever you’re doing has to appear to be relevant, otherwise people will move on.”
Image credit: The Art Newspaper