THE mood of the region has been captured in a new exhibition called ‘Art and optimism in 1950s Britain’ featuring iconic paintings by Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.
A new-found confidence following the trauma of the Second World War was contradicted by feelings of fear and austerity which are reflected in more than 50 pieces that have gone on display from today (Friday, February 21) at Mima in Middlesbrough until June 29.
The show opens with a look back at the Festival of Britain of 1951 which aimed to project an era of ambition and showcased modern designs using revolutionary materials including fibreglass, plywood and Formica.
However, despite the optimism much of the fine art of the decade was melancholic, and even the lights have been dimmed to add to the air of sadness in the room of oil paintings such as ‘Girl in a green dress’ by Lucian Freud, and ‘Study for portrait number six’ by Francis Bacon.
As well as raiding its own archives, the institute of modern art in the town’s Centre Square also features loans from galleries including Tate, National Galleries of Scotland, Museum of London and the Arts Council Collection.
Space in the exhibition, which takes over the ground floor, also focuses on the region’s cultural change. It was during the 1950s that Middlesbrough secured its first permanent gallery and a ‘friends’ group set up to support Middlesbrough Art Gallery donated 14 major works to its collection including LS Lowry’s ‘The old town hall’ and ‘St Hilda’s Church Middlesbrough’ painted in 1959.
Works can also be viewed by Victor Pasmore who created the Apollo Pavilion in the developing town of Peterlee, County Durham.
“Many artists of the time recorded a sense of apprehension and anger in their work while the Festival of Britain and designers of homewares and advertising were embracing the new," said curator, Alix Collingwood.
"The exhibition explores all this through paintings, posters, sculpture, furniture and ceramics."
A corner of the exhibition, which takes over the gallery’s ground floor, has been turned into a 1950s room where visitors can make themselves at home by watching television clips from yesteryear from the comfort of a 60-year-old settee while dressing up in vintage hats and stoles.
For those keen to get even more hands on, Mima is hosting a 1950s Festival on Saturday, March 1, from noon to 4pm featuring retro fashions and ‘make do and mend’ activities.