The Grosvenor School of Modern Art: A Hidden Gem of British Modernism

Cyril Edward Power - Tube Station Cyril Edward Power - Tube Station

Emerging from the ashes of World War I, The Grosvenor School of Modern Art’s energetic, fast-paced linoleum cut prints captured a unique and vibrant moment in British Modernism that showcased the new, frenetic rhythm of modern mechanised life as part of a short-lived movement that still resonates nearly a century later.

Established by Scottish wood engraver Iain Macnab at his house along with Claude Flight, Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews in 1925, The Grosvenor School enjoyed a brilliant but all too short-lived popularity, as it followed in the artistic footsteps of Futurism to help capture the spirit of the time and immortalise the rapidly changing world of the 1920s and ’30s.

Flight held informal classes on his method of linocutting and pioneered an artistic revolution at a time of huge social flux and technological change. The Roaring ’20s, prohibition, the Wall Street Crash and the rise of Nazi Germany in Europe provided a backdrop, as students from across the globe, including Swiss artist Lill Tschudi, shared their linocut representation of the modern age from their base at 33 Warwick Place, Pimlico, London.

Cyril Power – The Eight. Sold for $75,000 via Sotheby’s (April 2017)

Cyril Power – The Eight. Sold for $75,000 via Sotheby’s (April 2017)

Together this group, preoccupied with speed, thrust forward as a leading force in the production of modern printmaking works. And while The Grosvenor School had no formal curriculum, it did teach a foundation in art history, with Flight lecturing on the art of linocutting, Cyril Power teaching architecture, Sybil Andrews serving as the school secretary, and Helen Wingrave (Macnab’s wife) giving a dance course. By 1940 though, the Grosvenor School had closed and merged with the Heatherley School of Fine Art, which is still in operation today.

The work of the students portrayed a wonderful sense of the busy excitement of a new mechanical age, but the process of linocutting has been used since the early 20th century by German Expressionists like Erich Heckel and Gabriele Münter, as well as by Russian Constructivists Wassily Kandinsky and Alexander Rodchenko. Along with Australian students Ethel Spowers, Dorrit Black, and Eveline Syme, Grosvenor School artists led a linocut revolution that revived interest in printmaking in the years between the wars, which has endured into the following century.

Claude Flight

Claude Flight- Speed. Sold for £19,375 via Sotheby’s (April 2017)

Claude Flight- Speed. Sold for £19,375 via Sotheby’s (April 2017)

Claude Flight – Brooklands. Sold for £35,000 via Bonhams (December 2020)

Claude Flight – Brooklands. Sold for £35,000 via Bonhams (December 2020)

By the time he made his first linocut print in 1919, Claude Flight had tried farming, engineering, library work, and even beekeeping, before establishing himself as a 20th century pioneer of linoleum. Flight completed at least 64 linoleum cut pieces, for which he would become renowned, and in doing so, elevated the form from an unheralded medium to what he saw as a democratic art form thanks to the inexpensive nature of the materials and tools.

Influenced by Italian Futurism, Flight’s art was a new celebration of the speed and dynamism of the new machine age. It was perhaps the short-lived British abstracted Vorticism movement that had the greatest influence, as his art was full of rhythmic lines and geometric forms typical of the British movement. Flight’s preoccupation with modern technology and urban life can be seen in his depiction of the four seasons, as well as in Paris Omnibus, which expresses the busy life of the new modern age. “Time seems to pass so quickly nowadays,” wrote Flight in 1925. “Everybody is in a hurry… this speeding up is one of the psychologically important features of today. Traffic problems, transport problems, everybody is on the rush either for work or pleasure; business is hustle, the Cinema all movement.”

Cyril Power

Cyril Power - Whence & Whither? Sold for £97,250 via Bonhams 3 (April 2013)

Cyril Power – Whence & Whither? Sold for £97,250 via Bonhams 3 (April 2013)

Power’s art fizzed with the energy of movement. Expressive to the point that the viewer is swept up by the movement and energy of his art, Power produced some of the group’s most iconic pieces. Among them was The Tube Station, which encapsulated the hustle and bustle of modern life, as the faceless crowd sway in unison with the movement of the train carriage. Carved into linoleum blocks with a sharp knife, The Tube Station’s (Tube is a popular term for the underground rail network in London) contrasting curved lines and jutting diagonals convey speed alongside feelings of alienation.

A trained architect who won The Sloane Medallion, awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1900, Power’s early linocuts focused on architecture, such as At Lavenham (1928) and Westminster Cathedral (1928). The dynamism of contemporary urban life soon enraptured Power and he developed this in a Vorticist style, which can be seen in Whence and Whither?, The Merry-Go-Round, The Sunshine Roof and the superb The Eight, which depicts an overhead view of rowers racing along the River Thames.

Sybil Andrews

Sybil Andrews – The Gale. Sold for CAD 35,100 via Heffel (November 2008)

Sybil Andrews – The Gale. Sold for CAD 35,100 via Heffel (November 2008)

Sybil Andrews – Hyde Park. Sold for CAD 23,400 via Heffel (January 2009)

Sybil Andrews – Hyde Park. Sold for CAD 23,400 via Heffel (January 2009)

Sybil Andrews worked as a welder in both world wars, but in between she forged a working relationship with the architect Cyril Power, who became a mentor figure, and the pair attended Claude Flight’s linocutting classes and produced posters for London Underground under the portmanteau, Andrew Power. It was at the Grosvenor School that Andrews honed her rhythmic illustrations of human figures, which was typified by her depiction of the swirling mass of commuters marching through London’s Hyde Park.

Sharing her tutor’s fascination with motion, Andrews didn’t just focus on the thrill of the new mechanized age, as while her compositions expressed vigorous movement, they also focused on people and animals too. The Gale depicts two people battling against nature’s strength and dynamism and utilises the crescent-shaped curves to depict people in Straphangers and Rush Hour, while Michaelmas shows the energy and vigor of rural life.

Lill Tschudi

Lill Tschudi – Sticking up Posters. Sold for £22,500 via Bonhams 3 (April 2012)

Lill Tschudi – Sticking up Posters. Sold for £22,500 via Bonhams 3 (April 2012)

After seeing the work of Norbertine Bresslern-Roth, Lill Tschudi studied with Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School and began a love affair with linocut art. Linocut became her preferred medium and represented nearly her entire output in the 1930s. In total, she produced over 450 linocuts, but still found time to study at L’Académie André Lhote, Académie Ranson with tutor Gino Severini and at the Académie Moderne in Paris under the tutelage of Fernand Léger.

It’s her linocuts that have lasted longest in the memory and remain popular at auction, with Fixing the Wires (1932), Ice Hockey, Sticking up Posters (both 1933), and London Buses (1935) all expressing the dynamism and movement typical of The Grosvenor School.

Reflecting Modern Times

Conveying the dynamism of modern urban life with unconventional materials and processes, artists from The Grosvenor School perfectly captured a unique and vibrant moment in British modernism that blended essences of Futurism, Cubism, and Vorticism with the trials of modern life in the ever-evolving inter-war years.

Lill Tschudi – London Buses. Sold for $29,000 via Doyle New York (May 2007)

Lill Tschudi – London Buses. Sold for $29,000 via Doyle New York (May 2007)

Following in the footsteps of Futurism, the school’s encapsulation of the time that immortalised the rapidly changing world of the 1920s and 1930s remains surprisingly relevant a century later, as their cutting edge prints still carry a wonderful sense of the excitement and movement of life which has translated effortlessly into the ever-changing technological world of the 21st century.

This excitement and energy in linocutting has also been reflected at auction, as the 21st century has seen prices for the associated artists thrust into an exciting new league of collectability. A linocut of Claude Flight’s Speed sold at Phillips for £7,400 in 1999, but by 2009 another version achieved £26,400 at Bonhams. Similarly, Cyril Power’s much sought-after The Eight sold for £2,000 at Redfern Gallery in the 1980s and then reached a record £57,600 at a Bonhams sale in 2011, proving that art from The Grosvenor School remains as visually arresting and as relevant today as it was a century ago.


Sources: ArtRepublic.com | Sotheby’s | ArtBiogs.com | MoMA | MetMuseum.org | Art-of-Illustration.co.uk | ArtUK.org | SybilAndrews.com | Lill-Tschudi.com | OsborneSamuel.com