How Modernism arrived in London

Specialist Rachel Hidderley on the small corner of London that became Modernism’s unlikely home — and a rare work that captures the movement’s ideals

‘Hampstead’s Mall Studios attracted artists, critics and architects,’ says specialist Rachel Hidderley, describing how a leafy enclave of London became a thriving centre for some of the 20th century’s most influential artists, from Piet Mondrian to Barbara Hepworth.

‘Hampstead became a hub for the intelligentsia,’ Hidderley continues. Many of those who gathered in the area were émigrés, forced to move as fascism swept through Europe. ‘The Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius moved to London in 1934, and Piet Mondrian arrived in 1938.’

‘The group was really spearheaded by Barbara Hepworth and her husband Ben Nicholson,’ says Hidderley. Among those who joined the Mall Studio artists was Hepworth’s cousin, Arthur Jackson. ‘He came to painting later in his career, having studied medicine at Cambridge University. Nicholson became his mentor and teacher.’

Jackson’s works came to epitomise the Modernist ideals pioneered by the Hampstead group. In this video, Hidderley looks at a rare 1937 painting by the artist that combines floating biomorphic forms with linear elements in a minimal palette. ‘He was very much at the centre of the group,’ the specialist concludes, fittingly describing the former medic’s canvas as a ‘perfect marriage’ between beauty and science.