Back in the 1920s, a collection of working-class people began an art group in Bethnal Green Men’s Institute in east London. From around 1928, these men and women became known as the East London Group and their wonderful realist, often spooky, artworks appeared in The Whitechapel Gallery in 1931. Since September this year, many of these works are on display once again in their homeland, exhibited in the Nunnery Gallery in Bow.
The East London Group were a prolific and prodigious 35-member strong group who exhibited their paintings alongside their day jobs. Walter Sickert was among their teachers and this exhibition includes works by William Coldstream, Elwin Hawthorne, Brynhild Parker, Harold Steggles, Walter Steggles and Albert Turpin. This exhibition, with its wealth of previously un-exhibited material, sheds new light on many of the characters of the group, who were accomplished artists – lauded by the art world – but also active war artists, heroes of east London politics and avid chroniclers of the changing face of the London of their time.
The exhibition is made up of 50 works selected and curated by writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen and radio producer and film-maker Emma-Louise Williams. It includes three new public works of art from Lindsey Mendick, Marcus Orlandi and Maxima Smith. These were commissioned to commemorate the group and will be unveiled alongside the show. They will be installed on Bow and Mile End Road, visible to passers-by throughout the exhibition. Walking tours of the local area will guide visitors around these new public artworks, finishing at Queen Mary University of London, where remnants of a mural painting by East London Group member Phyllis Bray can still be seen in the People’s Palace.
The exhibition also focuses a lot on the work of Turpin, not only a critically acclaimed artist but also a prominent figure in local politics. Turpin was a leading force in the East End anti-fascist movement and Mayor of Bethnal Green, and his works tell the story of the East End’s resilience through a turbulent time of war and peace. They will be shown alongside sketchbooks and political pamphlets that haven’t been seen for 70 years, providing a vivid and contextual narrative to the paintings.
The Working Artist is running until 17 December at The Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ. Opening hours 10am-5.