Helen Saunders: Modernist Rebel
This welcome catalogue accompanies The Courtauld’s display of the work of Helen Saunders (1885–1963), the first monographic exhibition devoted to the artist in over 25 years. After years of obscurity, Helen Saunders: Modernist Rebel reconsiders her work as an important part of the story of British modernism.
One of the first British artists to pursue abstraction, Saunders was one of only two women to join the Vorticists, the radical but short-lived art movement that emerged in London on the eve of the First World War. Her extraordinary drawings capture both the dynamism of modern urban life and the horrors of mechanised warfare. Following the war, she turned her back on Vorticism and pursued her own path, working in a more figurative style. Due in part to the loss of a significant portion of her oeuvre, including all of her Vorticist oil paintings, this remarkable artist fell into obscurity. Only in recent years has her work begun to be rediscovered and celebrated as an important piece of the story of British modernism.
A group of 20 drawings gifted in 2016 by her relative, the artist and writer Brigid Peppin, has transformed The Courtauld into the largest public collection of Saunders’s work in the world. These drawings trace Saunders’s artistic development in the orbit of Roger Fry and the Bloomsbury Group, keenly attuned to contemporary art in France, to the ground-breaking abstraction of Vorticism. Following the disruption of the First World War and the disbanding of the Vorticists, Saunders turned again to figuration, developing her own approach to landscape, portraiture and still life which she would pursue alone for the rest of her career, exhibiting sporadically and never again joining a group of artists. This interest is revealed here in a group of landscapes created in L’Estaque in the south of France in the 1920s, which show the artist responding both to her surroundings as well as to predecessors such as Paul Cézanne and Georges Braque who had previously worked in the area.
Featuring essays by Brigid Peppin and Jo Cottrell on Saunders’s artistic education and career and on her relationship to the places of Vorticism in London, and catalogue entries by Rachel Sloan, this catalogue sheds light on an artist who steadily pursued her own path and whose contribution to the story of modern art is being newly appreciated.
Edited by Rachel Sloan
Paperback, 210 x 210 mm
84 pages, 40 colour illus.
The Courtauld Gallery, London
13 October 2022 – January 2023
About the authors
Brigid Peppin studied Fine Art at the Slade and Art History at Birkbeck. She taught Art History at the University of East London and now practises as a painter. She is guardian of Helen Saunders’s estate.
Jo Cottrell is an arts consultant and a postgraduate research student in Art History at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research is concerned with Vorticism, gender, and the cosmopolitan spaces of the avant-garde in pre-First World War London.
Rachel Sloan is Assistant Curator of Works on Paper at The Courtauld.