Artists and Sitters: Britain 1960-90
© The National Portrait Gallery, London
From the early 1960s the pace of social, political and artistic change in Britain gathered momentum. Food rationing ended only in 1954 and a growing affluence and a new mood of prosperity gave rise to increasing consumerism. Television, cinama, radio, advertising and magazines fuelled these changes by swiftly communicating the latest developments in fashion, design, music, science and the arts. But the optimism of the early 1960s was, by the end of the decade, replaced by a sense that the dream of progress had somehow slipped away. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s inequality in material wealth increasingly created new hierarchies and social tension.
In the visual arts, too, traditional values were challenged. The need to reflect modern society’s changing standards, and a growing emphasis on the individual’s freedom of expression, led to a succession of artistic movements. Pop Art, Op art, Conceptual art, and the revival of interest in expressive figurative painting in the 1980s created a profusion of styles. Some sense of these artistic changes can be seen in the portraits displayed here. The display includes groups of portraits by particular artists, inviting the viewer to consider the range of contrasting approaches. While the challenge of depicting an observed sitter remained, a rich stylistic diversity characterises portraiture in the late 20th Century.