School of London was a term invented by artist R.B. Kitaj to describe a group of London-based artists who were pursuing forms of figurative painting in the face of avant-garde approaches in the 1970s

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Introduction to School of London

In 1976, at the height of minimal art and conceptual art, the American painter R.B. Kitaj, then based in Britain, organised an exhibition titled The Human Clay at the Hayward Gallery in London. It exclusively consisted of figurative drawing and painting, which proved to be highly controversial to an art world which was dominated by abstraction. In his catalogue text, Kitaj used the term School of London loosely to describe the artists he had brought together. The name has stuck to refer to painters at that time who were doggedly pursuing forms of figurative painting.

The chief artists associated with the idea of the School of London, in addition to Kitaj himself, were Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis BaconLucian Freud, David Hockney (although living in the USA), Howard Hodgkin, and Leon Kossoff. The work of these artists was brought into fresh focus and given renewed impetus by the revival of interest in figurative painting by a younger generation that took place in the late 1970s and the 1980s (see neo-expressionism and new spirit painting).

School of London artists in focus

R.B. Kitaj

R.B. Kitaj, 'Isaac Babel Riding with Budyonny' 1962
R.B. Kitaj
Isaac Babel Riding with Budyonny 1962
Oil on canvas
support: 1829 x 1524 mm
Purchased 1963© The estate of R. B. Kitaj

Artist biography
Read our biograhy for R.B. Kitaj.

R.B Kitaj in Tate’s collection
See artworks by the artist in Tate’s collection

Elaine Feinstein presents her poem, Isaac Babel Riding with Budyonny, based on R.B. Kitaj’s work of the same name.

Francis Bacon in focus

Francis Bacon, 'Three Figures and Portrait' 1975
Francis Bacon
Three Figures and Portrait 1975
Oil and pastel on canvas
support: 1981 x 1473 mm
frame: 2175 x 1668 x 98 mm
Purchased 1977© Estate of Francis Bacon

He seeks to paint the human condition which is both violent and violated, cruel and tender, vulnerable and touching.
Chis Stephens, curator

Francis Bacon interactive tour
Go on an interactive tour of the exhibition Francis Bacon which was on display at Tate Britain in 2009. View all the works in the exhibition and explore thematic relationships between Bacon’s paintings.

Perfect bedfellows
Read an interview between Tracey Emin and Tate Etc. editor Simon Grant about why she chose to display My Bed alongside two of her favourite paintings by Bacon.

Artist Damien Hirst discusses his long-lived fascination with Bacon’s depiction of horror, death and human fragility.

Work in Focus: Francis Bacon
Watch writer Toby Litt offers a personal view of Francis Bacon’s painting Figure in Movement 1985.

Francis Bacon (1909–1992)
Writers, museum directors, artists, musicians and filmmakers pay homage to Francis Bacon, some of whom knew him and some who came to his work through art books or exhibitions.

Lucian Freud in focus

Lucian Freud, 'Naked Portrait' 1972-3
Lucian Freud
Naked Portrait 1972-3
Oil on canvas
support: 610 x 610 mm
frame: 728 x 728 x 55 mm
Purchased 1975© The Lucian Freud Archive

Lucian Freud painted realist portraits of people in his life, including friends, family, fellow painters, lovers and children.

I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be
Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud
This exhibition, on display at Tate Britain in September 2002, covered more than sixty years of work by Lucian Freud. Read the room guide and find out what artworks were on display.

Lucian Freud in Tate’s collection
See artworks by the artist in Tate’s collection.

Turner Prize
Read about what happened at the Turner Prize in 1988 and 1989, when Lucien Freud was nominated.

School of London in context

In many ways art from this period defies categorisation
Helen Little, curator

Curator Helen Little discusses what was happening in the art world in the 1970s and 1980s, where political commentary and satire was at the forefront.

Related glossary terms

Figurative art, stuckism, Ruralist, neo-expressionism, new spirit painting, new figuration