Field to canvas: Louisa Buck on wild Mayfair and Cork Street’s unflinching arrival

During House of Voltaire’s Cork Street residency, celebrated art critic and CATALOGUE – the Cork Street Galleries magazine – contributor Louisa Buck held court with a monologue on locale history.

Arriving as “a parlour light of creativity” beginning with The Mayor Gallery in 1925, Fred Mayor shouldered moral support to the radical European avant-garde. And when pre-illustrious Peggy Guggenheim opened Guggenheim Jeune, her first gallery at 30 Cork Street in 1938, she brought a show by Jean Cocteau, selected and hung by Marcel Duchamp. The exhibition’s catalogue was by then-unknown poet Samuel Beckett – and the works deemed outrageous enough to be held in customs at Croydon.

The atmosphere of Cork Street was largely self-contained, beyond broader conservative taste of the time. At The London Gallery’s Surrealist Objects and Poems opening in 1938, sausages and whisky were offered at midnight. Herbert Read, the leading critic of the day, gave a speech about bizarre objects he described as ‘angels of anarchy’ and ‘machines for making clouds’ – Eileen Agar titled her sculpture, Angel of Anarchy, after Read. It was the image of the show.

While back in 1936, the International Surrealist Exhibition that took place at the New Burlington Galleries was a seminal event in the pre-war climate. Now the restaurant Cecconi’s, the show fea-tured Méret Oppenheim’s Le Déjeuner en fourrure and works by Miro, Masson, Dalí and Picasso, to name a few – “the whole roll-call of major international surrealists.”

History of Cork Street from Cork Street Galleries on Vimeo.