Prints and the British Arts Council Collection

Book Review

  • A Century of Prints in Britain

  • Foreword by Jill Constantine, essay by Julia Beaumont-Jones
  • 240 pages, 230 color illustrations
  • Published by Hayward Publishing, Southbank Centre, London, 2017
  • £22.50 / $30

A Century of Prints in Britain is a lively publication that looks at printmaking through the prism of the Arts Council collection, the largest loan collection of British art in the world. Julia Beaumont-Jones writes with both knowledge and enthusiasm, tracing the importance of printmaking for this national collection from the 1930s to the present, and through this, marking key moments in the development of printmaking in the UK. This includes the pioneering Schools Prints project, which commissioned artists such as Michael Rothenstein and Julian Trevelyan to produce accessible prints on subjects “from farming to funfairs” and later brought the likes of Picasso, Matisse and Leger to school corridors throughout the country.

Beaumont-Jones stresses the importance of color lithography in the early postwar years and how the commissioned Festival of Britain prints from 1951–52 served to reflect the national mood through the depiction of British landscape and heritage, in figurative modes rather than abstract. Prints such as Sheila Robinson’s Fair Ground (1951) and Leonard Rosoman’s Edinburgh (1951) now function as much as historical documents as artworks in their own right. Beaumont-Jones goes on to describe how the use of screenprint by the pop generation, including Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, challenged definitions of what a print could be, both in terms of subject matter and pictorial experimentation through collaboration.

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