Coldstream Guards Van (art)

This is another post about art and trains.

This is a painting by the British artist William Coldstream. It shows St Pancras Station, London, from 1937.

Coldstream is an interesting artist for a number of reasons…

He was a founder and member of the Euston Road School in London. This was a group of artists who worked in a new realist style at the end of the 1930s. They were based in and around the Euston Road and Fitzrovia – Historically and geographically the Euston group are between Camden Town and the School of London.

You can see form the style of the painting that it is all very carefully observed. There’s a note in this diary entry about the original photograph used by Coldstream

Actually, it’s so carefully observed that is can seem all a bit tentative. There’s a sort of anxiety in the painting which comes from a repression of feeling. It’s odd because the muddiness is also a characteristic of the later, expressive, paintings of the School of London. The paintings don’t look the same, but they are each equivocal in their way.

After WW2, this kind of approach to painting moves to the Slade School and to Camberwell.

I’m also interested in Coldstream because he was part of the GPO Film Unit. This group was an important part of cinema history in Britain and made a huge contribution to the development of the documentary film movement.

Peculiarly, the surrealist movement and cinema history are closely linked in Britain. For various reasons, the Jungian idea of “collective unconscious” was important in Britain during the 1930s. (I guess it was to do with an anxiety about the scope of emerging popular-front politics in Britain and around Europe).

Mass Observation was an anthropological group established to map the collective unconscious and to get a handle on the identity issues of the mass of the population in Britain. MO used literary and cinema forms to record the subjective reality of British national identity and the temper of society. This task was given even greater urgency during WW2.

I’ll be coming back to the GPO Film Unit because they made on of my favourite films, “Night Mail.” This is a film about the Travelling Post Office (TPO) and combines music, verse and film in the documentary form. You’ll see that, in this film at least, travelling and trains are the same.

Anyway, Coldstream was part of this conjunction of art, film and surrealism in the 1930s.

Later, Coldstream was influential in the development of art education and its integration to the systems of the University.

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