Swingeing London 67 (a)
by Richard Hamilton, 1968–9
© Richard Hamilton

While the early 1960s were years of optimism, in both Britain and America hopes of a brighter future were tainted by events and developments of a darker hue. Monroe’s suicide, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Cuban missile crisis, growing anxiety about nuclear war, the Vietnam war, civil rights demonstrations and conflict in Northern Ireland were all part of a pattern that suggested deeper political, social and humanitarian problems remained.

Pop Art reflected the changing atmosphere and the portraits in this section are noticeably harder, more critical and more ambivalent in tone. They reflect an age in which confidence was eventually replaced by uncertainty.