Entertainment & Arts

Five great but forgotten British artists

Some painters enjoy stellar success, while many others languish in the shadows. But why? Here are five great - but overlooked - British masters who should be superstars.

Modern art - overexposed, overrated, overpriced. Right? Wrong.

Because for each celebrity artist, there are thousands who never got the credit they deserved.

And many were quite a lot better than their more famous peers. Things just didn't happen to go their way.

Some chose to paint the wrong things in the wrong ways for the wrong people, and their work never caught on.

Others died too young, lived too long, lived in the wrong place or made terrible blunders that ended their careers in an instant.

And the most committed artists simply had more important things to do than run around promoting themselves.

British art of the 20th Century is littered with such unfortunate individuals - bashful and uncommercial talents ignored by their generation or forgotten by ours.

But the times are changing, and finally these overlooked masters are beginning to be looked at anew.

Here are five superb modern British artists who fell dramatically out of favour, but who may soon be back in fashion.

Sir Alfred Munnings, 1878-1959

Image caption Hunting Morning, 1913

Sir Alfred Munnings was once the most famous artist in Britain. Now barely anyone knows who he is. And those who do know him, hate him.

This might be because he painted unfashionable things like fox hunting and horse racing, as seen in Hunting Morning.

But his neglect is largely due to a huge scandal he ignited in 1949. After getting drunk, Munnings revealed in a speech - broadcast on national radio - that he would happily have joined Winston Churchill in kicking Picasso up the "something something".

His reputation plummeted and has never recovered. But his unashamedly old-fashioned paintings still fetch fortunes.

In 2004 one - his 1921 racing scene, The Red Prince Mare - sold in New York for nearly $8m (£5m).

Not bad for someone most people have never heard of.

Meredith Frampton, 1894-1984

Image caption A Game of Patience, 1937

A common misconception is that Meredith Frampton was a woman. He wasn't.

But he was one of Britain's finest ever portraitists - the Van Dyck of the 20th Century.

A famously slow worker, his exquisitely detailed pictures each took a year to make. And as soon as works like A Game of Patience were finished, they disappeared forever into the private homes of their buyers.

But, as Frampton's career was finally ready to take off, tragedy struck. His sight began to fail him and he painted nothing for the last 40 years of his life.

For this reason only a handful of his utterly glorious paintings exist - fewer than by Vermeer.

Not only that, but Frampton didn't get his first solo exhibition until he was 88 years old. Aspiring artists, take note.

John Bratby, 1928-1992

Image caption The Toilet, 1956

It's not surprising that we've forgotten John Bratby.

His favourite subject was the toilet, typified by this painting - titled, simply and aptly, The Toilet.

In fact, he liked to paint anything that was stained, spattered, smeared, sullied or just plain smelly.

He carved such a fetid niche for himself that his work spawned a phrase that all of us still use today - "kitchen sink".

It came to refer to artists and writers of the 1950s and 60s who tried to depict every aspect of working class life.

Bratby's own "kitchen sink realism" was a grubby rebellion against the glamour and flashiness of modern art.

It was a noble effort.

But as the world unanimously plumped for glamour and flashiness, Bratby's toilet paintings went down the pan.

Peter Lanyon, 1918-1964

Peter Lanyon was about to become one of the biggest names in international art. Then he crashed his glider in a Somerset field and died, aged 46.

Before then, the charismatic Cornishman had produced a series of scintillating landscape paintings of his home county, such as Soaring Flight.

Big, colourful and wilder than the Cornish winds, they amazed everyone who saw them.

The Americans were particularly impressed. Jackson Pollock was captivated, and the great Mark Rothko even crossed the Atlantic to Cornwall to see what he was up against.

Yet many now wouldn't even cross the road to see a painting by Lanyon.

Leonora Carrington, 1917-2011

Image caption Carrington with one of her sculptures

Leonora Carrington was born in Lancashire during World War I and died only a few weeks ago.

In between, she transformed herself from a high society debutante into one of the great female artists of the 20th Century.

She became an artistic superstar around the world. But in her country of birth, she remains virtually unknown.

This is probably because she left Britain in the 1930s after her father disowned her and spent the rest of her life hiding away in Mexico City.

But it's about time we took a good look at her beautifully terrifying paintings, such as her 1947 work The Old Maids.

It's like stumbling into a child's daydream. Or onto the film set of an Alice in Wonderland adaptation.

James Fox presents BBC Four's British Masters on 18 and 25 July at 2100 BST. Catch up with Episode 1 on the BBC iPlayer.

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