The critical history of the New Group

Master Thesis


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This research had two aims; to clarify the history of the New Group, and to examine the way in which this history has been constructed and distorted. The first section of the dissertation presented a history of the New Group. Chapter One discussed general aspects of the Group's history such as their activities and administration, and Chapter Two focused on the reasons for the New Group's formation and its dissolution. It was indicated in these chapters that the Group formed in order to provide production and retail structures which would enable artists to earn a living from their work, and that once these had been established the Group disintegrated. Chapter Three considered the issue of nationalism and proposed that most art writers during the New Group's existence were primarily concerned with the development of a national South African art. Furthermore, that many of these writers considered modern European art movements after Post-Impressionism and African art, undesirable influences in the development of a South African art. chapter described the way in which these writers' concern for the development of a national art caused the history of the New Group to be linked to the history and institution of Post-Impressionist art movements in South Africa. Later writers, using earlier writings on the Group as source material, were led to believe that the New Group formed in order to promote art influenced by modern European movements such as Expressionism. The Group's existence was explained by these authors as resulting from a desire to institute art influenced by European, modern, Post-Impressionist art styles as an accepted art form. Part of this understanding of the Group included the belief that the New Group was as a whole a group of modern artists who had to battle for recognition and acceptance from the critics. Chapter One indicated this not to be true. Chapter Six found that the use of early writings as source material caused a further distortion in the history of the New Group. The first chapter indicated that African art was an important influence on the work of the New Group artists but, because this was not recognised in the earlier writings on the Group, this influence was not acknowledged in the later writings. The researcher concluded by indicating that a new approach to the history of the New Group was necessary. That is, that the New Group be seen in relation to the construction and extension of accessible production and retail structures in art, rather than in relation to the institution of European modern art in South Africa.