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Birkbeck art historians release two new books

The Tiger in the Smoke by Professor Lynda Nead and The Conversation Piece by Dr Kate Retford will be published this year by Yale University Press.

Two new books from Birkbeck art historians are set to be published by Yale University Press this year, each focused on highly disparate eras, styles and themes.

The Tiger in the Smoke by Professor Lynda Nead, Pevsner Chair of History of Art at Birkbeck, takes an interdisciplinary approach to art and culture in post-war Britain by looking at film, television and commercial advertisements, as well as more traditional media such as painting.

Nead explores the influence of the Great Fogs of the 1950s on the fashion for atmospheric cinematic effects, and discusses how the widespread use of colour in advertisements was part of an increased ideological awareness of racial differences.  

She said: “I wanted to capture the incredible atmosphere of art and culture in post-war Britain and to understand how artists, photographers and filmmakers drew on the experiences of war and its aftermath to create some of the finest and most memorable images of British art. It was a period of recovery and reconstruction and these historical processes are woven into the culture of the years between 1945-60.”

The second new title, The Conversation Piece by senior lecturer in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century art, Dr Kate Retford, looks at an important mode of portraiture, showing groups posed in landscape or domestic settings, which was pioneered by William Hogarth and his peers in early eighteenth-century England. Retford considers the various ways in which the conversation piece engaged with the rich material culture of Georgian Britain, as well as looking at how these portraits served a wide array of interests among familial networks and larger social groups. 

Retford says: “The conversation piece has often been seen as a rather quaint mode of portraiture, showing stiff little figures theatrically posed around tea tables, or card tables. In my book, I have been keen to show how innovative these portraits actually were, when they began to be produced in the early eighteenth century, and how much they can tell us about politeness, fashion, material culture, family, friendship, and even humour in the period.”

The books will be celebrated, along with other new releases from Yale, at an event at the Paul Mellon Centre on 6 December. Book tickets here

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