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Rhythms of Modern Life

The exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Rhythms of Modern Life

British Prints 1914–1939

September 23–December 7, 2008

Rhythms of Modern Life explores the impact of modern artistic movements—particularly Italian Futurism—on British printmakers between the outbreak of World War I and the beginning of World War II. The Futurists were fascinated by the accelerated pace of modern life—the dynamism of machines and the sheer exhilaration of speed and motion. The British artist C. R. W. Nevinson was for a time a follower of Futurism, as may be seen in a number of his wartime images. Futurism produced, by reaction, the short-lived but uniquely British style of Vorticism, which stressed not motion but rather geometric abstraction and the hard-edged precision of mechanical forms. This avant-garde style is represented here by the elegantly austere and crisp geometric woodcut abstractions of Edward Wadsworth.

In the 1920s and 30s Claude Flight of London's Grosvenor School of Modern Art introduced a colorful "pop" version of modernism, using the new block-print medium of the linoleum cut. Paralleling Art Deco design and streamlining, these color linocuts by Flight, Cyril Powers, Sybil Andrews, and Lill Tschudi focus on the contemporary urban scene, with its anonymous crowds, and on modern diversions: speed trials, sporting events, and other amusements. While the imagery of these linocuts is distinctly Machine Age, they were in fact lovingly hand-crafted, printed by hand-rubbing on thin translucent Japanese papers.

The prints in the exhibition are organized around themes that profoundly preoccupied these artists and dominated their imagery during this period: Vorticism and Abstraction, World War I, Speed and Movement, Urban Life/Urban Dynamism, Industry and Labor, Sport, Entertainment and Leisure, and Natural Forces.