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East London Group: From Bow to Biennale book review

David Buckman’s interest in twentieth century art was awakened when, as a freelance journalist, he read a feature about the East London Group in a 1931 issue of “The Studio”.  
He couldn’t understand how such a highly thought of group of painters had sunk without trace.  It niggled on his mind and triggered an odyssey of research and collating.
Over the years he amassed countless clippings, catalogues and correspondence, none of which was in chronological order or often even dated.  
Occasionally serendipity played a hand and gave him a huge leg up.  The most notable instance of this was meeting Alan Waltham whose wife’s uncle was Walter James Steggles, a noteworthy member of the Group.  The paperwork left by “Wally” Steggles on his death numbered countless Group show catalogues and press cuttings.

Both Waltham and Buckman were determined that this Group deserved a place in the History of Art and David soldiered on for many years in order to produce this definitive book on the artists of The East London Group.

From Bow to Biennale is jam-packed with information and colour plates.  You couldn’t ask for more.  Buckman has broken it down into chapters on the formation of the Group, leading to their successes and then biographies of the artists themselves.   With the data he has accumulated he has been able to include references to the costs of classes and materials, the prices of works sold and other nuggets of material information that give us a sense of fly on the wall to the realities of the struggles these artists endured.

A shining star that emerges from this narration is John Cooper, without whom The East London Group would not have existed.  He held classes here in Bow and would it not be fitting to erect a plaque in his memory?

It could be said that Buckman himself shares many of the qualities of the people he depicted and for that the art world, all art lovers, especially those eastenders who take a keen interest in the history and culture of their neighbourhood, should be very thankful.

The book itself counts 377 pages and has been produced to a very high standard and is more than worthy of a place on your art bookshelves.  It is published by Francis Boutle and costs £25.

N.B.  There is currently showing at Bow Art’s Nunnery an exhibition of the works of The East London Group until July 13th.

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Tabitha Stapely

Tabitha Stapely is the founder of Social Streets C.I.C, a not-for-profit media company using journalism to strengthen communities, particularly those in disadvantaged or neglected areas. Prior, Stapely was a writer and editor for national titles including The Telegraph Saturday Magazine, Elle and Red magazines.

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