A New Identity to Meet the World

Moving away from its imperial past and engaging with a new postwar world order, Britain began building and shaping a new identity at home and abroad.

An atrium showing two works of art

Dancing Columns a sculpture by Tony Cragg and behind Wall Drawing (for the British Embassy) by David Tremlett can be seen in the atrium at the British Embassy, Berlin © Image: Crown Copyright

In the past, the impact of visual representations of British culture made their mark in the everyday lives of millions of people across former colonial territories – for instance, the king or queen’s portrait was reproduced on postage stamps, coins and even school exercise books. In a changing post-colonial landscape, this was no longer appropriate.

a coronation procession moving through Admiralty Arch in London

Coronation Procession: Admiralty Arch from Trafalgar Square by Richard Ernst Eurich, oil painting © image: Crown Copyright

Today, representations of contemporary British life and culture have become part of the cultural conversations in embassies that help to build international relations support the diplomatic ‘soft power’ of Britain.

Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Two, Twos, 2016 © Michaela Yearwood-Dan

Drawing on the ‘split screen’ film technique, Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s painting, Two Twos (2016) unites two different reflections of personal identity – a scene inside a London pie and mash shop, and a view of palm trees blowing in the wind outside her late great grandfather’s home in Barbados. Presenting both side by side, she wanted to create ‘… a physical representation of of not only Black British individuals, but of all people who identify with more than one cultural background.’

Today, artworks from the Collection tell a multiplicity of stories and histories of British art viewed through a lens that is different from many other national collections. Artworks shed light on a national identity in flux and Britain’s ever shifting place in world history. Often holding a cultural resonance or association to a specific place, person or event, these works generate interest in the many different audiences who encounter them.