Boris Anrep: The National Gallery Mosaics by Lois Oliver (Curatorial Assistant, National Gallery, London)
The first picture that meets visitors to the National Gallery at its main entrance is not an Old Master, nor an Impressionist and it does not hang on a wall. Set into the floor of the first landing in the Gallery's main entrance is The Awakening of the Muses, a marble mosaic laid in 1933 by the Russian-born artist Boris Anrep (1885-1969). The subject is worthy of an Old Master and of a place of honour in a noble palace, but Anrep's modern Muses take their chances underfoot in a busy public place, and are the centrepiece of a celebration of everyday life, with mosaics of The Labours of Life to the west, The Pleasures of Life to the east, and The Modern Virtues to the north. Anrep was an associate of the Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers, who notoriously championed modern art and modern attitudes. His Muses are not heavenly immortals, but portraits of contemporary figures. Sir Winston Churchill is shown as 'Defiance', Dame Margot Fonteyn as 'Delectation' and Bertrand Russell as 'Lucidity' in the Modern Virtues. Greta Garbo stars as Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy, and other characters are played by Anrep's Bloomsbury friends, among them Virginia Woolf wielding an elegant pen as Clio, Muse of History, and the art critic Clive Bell as (a rather sober) Bacchus. In this beautifully illustrated book Lois Oliver discusses the history of the mosaics - and the fascinating story behind their construction - as well as providing a fascinating biography of the artist. There is remarkably little already published about Anrep's life and work and this the first publication on the National Gallery mosaics since 1979. Includes colour photographs of all the mosaics and a floor plan.