Victoria and Albert Museum, London
24 March-25 July 2004
Bill Brandt: Nudes
Pentagram Gallery, London
On the one hand we observe the echoing, but silent avenues of a depressed Glasgow (1948) but on the other we find a rearward view of an Eton boy, undignified and oblivious, spreadeagled on the playing field in full school uniform (1933). That can be compared, over the same subject, with the somehow more atmospheric and inspiring photographs taken for the book Eton Portrait by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (published 1937, but surely taken sometime earlier). Did Moholy-Nagy see these Brandt photographs? He almost certainly did and was inspired by them, but decided on a different, less socially aware treatment. They make an interesting comparison.
Brandt, in his evocative fruit stall picture (1929), which acknowledges Eugene Atget as his inspiration (as did numerous contemporary artists, including notably Man Ray), directly references his sources. One that is repeated in his work is the famous figure of late 18th century, Samuel Johnson. Johnson was also secretive (as the unexplained and unaccounted for Jacobite sword and buckler found in a closet in his London house exemplified).
It seems Brandt really did wish to be remembered by posterity for his female nude studies. These are available in profusion, as exhibited at the Pentagram Gallery, and run to the late 1960s. They seem to lack the profundity of the social chapter, however beguiling they appear in their cryptic physiognomy of the female form.
What equivalent of Brandt exists today? None, it seems. Most claimants lack the elusive, rare quality that was Brandt's hallmark. Brandt got in everywhere, silently. E.M.Foster, so recessed as to appear almost like a cornered quarry in his rooms in King's College, Cambridge; that too is captured by Brandt