Documentary art is a term associated with the artists who documented the harsh realities of British life during the Depression in the 1930s

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  • Julian Trevelyan, 'The Potteries' circa 1938
    Julian Trevelyan
    The Potteries circa 1938
    Oil on canvas
    support: 604 x 735 mm
    Presented by Mary Trevelyan, the artist's widow 1996© The estate of Julian Trevelyan
  • James Boswell, 'The Family' 1939
    James Boswell
    The Family 1939
    Lithograph on paper
    image: 187 x 191 mm
    Presented by Ruth Boswell, the artist's widow 2000© The estate of James Boswell

In a decade dominated by mass unemployment and social deprivation, a new radicalism took hold of European politics and artists responded to these events by adopting a realist style that was easily understood. They believed that both the dominating art movements of the time, abstraction and surrealism, were too obscure to communicate effectively.

In Britain those who shared these beliefs congregated at the Artists International Association (AIA) and the Euston Road School. Some of these artists worked with Mass-Observation, an organisation set up to record the daily lives of ordinary working people.