“The particular cauldron of intensity into which Haycock plunges is the Slade School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture… and the students who experience this ‘crisis of brilliance’ – a phrase coined by their bristly, austere professor of drawing, Henry Tonks – are Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, CRW Nevinson, Paul Nash and Dora Carrington. All studied at the Slade between 1908 and 1912. Their fate was also decreed by a trial of fire, the first world war, that would define their art for the rest of their lives.
“As their names became known, so the artists were swept into the orbit of avant-garde movements such as Wyndham Lewis’s vorticists, the craft work of Fry’s Omega Gallery, and the ‘Georgian painters’ patronised by the stylish, monocled civil servant and collector Eddie Marsh.
“The war smashed into their lives as well as the old order. Haycock follows the hostilities with powerful economy, while tracing the artists’ own splintered trajectories… Haycock’s narrative of this entangled, war-defined group is so strong that it often has the force of a novel, hard to put down.”