This season Channel 4 have been celebrating the way in which art has shaped and forged Britain and it’s identity with its “Genius of British Art” series. Narrated by cultural icons such as David Starkey and John Snow the weekly series has been run in conjunction with The National Gallery as part of their Friday Lates programme. Each week a chosen presenter has delved into a specialist theme on how art has influenced British culture and helped nurture our national psyche. Beginning during the reign of Henry VIII and ending with the YBA era of Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst the landmark series spans half a millenia baring witness to unprecedented shifts in attitudes and values.
The shows present us with some classic dinner table fodder such as David Starkey’s comparison between Hans Holbein and Mario Testino (and their portraits of Henry VIII and Princess Diana respectively) as well as recent Booker prize winner Howard Jacobsen challenging the cultural assumption of the “Victorian prude” with his exposé of an erotic underbelly of provocative, sexual art (though with a moral conscience of course!).
We managed to have all 6 national treasures at MC Motors for the publicity shots by Jude Edgington. Below is a synopsis of all six episodes of which you can watch any by following this link through to the 4oD website.
Episode 1 “Power and Personality”
Historian Dr David Starkey examines how royal portraiture from Henry VIII to Princess Diana has had an enduring influence on the iconic power of personality.
Episode 2 “Art for the People”
Dr Gus Casely-Hayford shows how our sense of identity was changed forever by the most distinctively British artist this country has ever produced: William Hogarth.
Episode 3 “Flesh”
Writer Howard Jacobson celebrates the way British artists depict sex and desire, and argues that the most compelling expression is to be found where we might least expect it: in the art of the Victorians.
Episode 4 “Visions of England”
At a time when Britain’s contemporary art world has been dominated by the ‘Sensation’ generation of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, it’s easy to dismiss English landscape art as nothing more than tea towel culture. That would be a big mistake, argues Sir Roy Strong.
Episode 5 “Modern Times”
Modern Art has made us who we are and it has certainly made Janet Street Porter who she is. Beginning in the stifling 1950s, Janet revisits her teenage years to show how modern art has been at the forefront of social and cultural changes, which define Britain today.
Episode 6 “The Art of War”
Former war reporter Jon Snow presents a timely reminder of how British artists have expressed and defined our response to the horror of war and, in the process, have triggered a debate about the role of art in British life. As the grandson of a First World War general, it’s a story with a personal resonance for Jon.