Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford – review

A superb biography of the postwar painters whose fresh techniques and ideas energised art captures their resolve – and the bond between them

In 1942, which is roughly when Martin Gayford’s capacious new survey of postwar art begins, London was partially in ruins, many of its streets reduced to piles of rubble and buckled iron. “The silence, the absolute dead silence,” remembered Graham Sutherland of his first encounter with such desolation (commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to record the devastation of the blitz, he had travelled into the city from his house in Kent). Its buildings seemed to him to resemble living, suffering creatures; a lift shaft, twisted and yet still clearly visible in the remains of one structure, looked like “a wounded tiger in a painting by Delacroix”. Where, though, did art fit among all this? Even as Sutherland sketched, this must have seemed an impossible, not ...