BACK in 1913 a group of artists came together in a protest against the stuffy world of the Royal Academy.

More than 100 years later, that initial group is littered with names that carry a huge amount of heft in the pantheon of British art.

Percy Wyndham Lewis, Walter Sickert, Paul Nash, Vanessa Bell, Jacob Epstein – these are just some whose work has inspired generations of artists, and continues to do so today.

Daily Echo:

Hometown artist Victoria Arney with her piece Interrupted Landscape

Now many of them have work hanging in Southampton's City Art Gallery where the largest collection of London Group artists outside of the Tate is housed.

Their work makes up “the core” of the gallery's collection so to have two rooms representing the work at the Civic Centre can only be something of a boon for the organisers.

Fed up with the rules set down by the unadventurous Royal Academy which had found itself stuck in a rut where rules dominated art the group were a revolutionary force to be reckoned with.

Formed by graduates predominantly from the Slade School of Art in London, it was set up in 1913 when the Camden Town Group and the unruly English Vorticists banded together.

One of the group's primary motives was that there was no selection committee, something which still remains in place to this day.

Current president of the group, Susan Haire, said: “It is something we still pride ourselves on. At our open exhibitions any one of our members can put whatever they want forward for the show.”

Pushing the boundaries of avant-garde, the group was one of the few to accept women artists among its ranks.

With more than 40 per cent of women enrolling on art courses it is surprising that it is the men whose names shine out among the London Group.

This is something which clearly the group has felt it needs to correct and certainly something which co-curator Victoria Rance feels strongly about.

She said: “We wanted to include as many women as possible, and there were seven women artists who fitted into our remit of former members now deceased.

“They are all in our show, especially fitting as the character of The London Group was formed by being open minded and inclusive of women and émigré artists, and this has enriched the group immeasurably.”

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CRW Nevison loading timber at Southampton Docks

When you consider how stuffy and rigid schools can be it can refreshing to see talent being unleashed with no parameters.

This is plain to see in CRW Nevinson's 1917 painting Loading Timber at Southampton Docks.

One of the founding members of the group, he was profoundly influenced by the Futurist movement who celebrated the dynamism of the machine age.

Like Wyndham Lewis's The Vorticists, the painting's dynamic diagonals crisscrossing the canvas is exemplary of the modernist movement for emphasis on shapes rather than figures.

While not part of the opening exhibition in 1914, it shows how radical the group was, and how innovative they would become.

But after fighting in the First World War and being invalided out of the army medical corps in 1916 Nevinson became critical of the Futurist stance.

With him, though not because of him, that fire which had raged in that early independent spirit of the group was dampened.

Thankfully the group managed to limp through a Second World War and came to Southampton in 1954.

Rance added: “It was a surprise to us to discover that one quarter of the artists in our selection were in the 1955 show.”

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Susan Haire, president of the London Group

This was the golden era of the group when it held an exhibition every year and large enough for its members to show more than one work.

Sixty years later and the group are still managing to draw some of the best names.

Anyone with a smattering of art knowledge will have come across Manchester-born LS Lowry who's Floating Bridge is a “jewel in the crown” of the gallery's permanent collection.

Part of Southampton’s rich urban folklore, the bridge was one of a pair of chain linked ferries crossing the Itchen river, connecting Woolston with the city.

Better known for matchstick men littering northern industrial landscapes, Lowry’s oil painting shows the view towards the city from the eastern side of the river when he visited Southampton in 1955.

It was between 1950 and 1970 that Southampton curator, Maurice Palmer spotted an opportunity and collected work by these artists when they were unfashionable and good value.

Now holding one of the finest collections of the Camden Town Group in the world, Southampton has long championed the promotion of that formative era.

Contemporary names stand out too, names like Paula Rego who show that you don't have to be abstract to make an impact.

Others, like Bryan Benge and Southamptonborn Victoria Arney show that there is plenty of innovation in the group.

Tim Craven, curator at Southampton City Art Gallery, says it is little wonder that so many London Group members are represented in Southampton.

He said: “I have long believed it essential that Southampton was somehow included in The London Group centenary celebrations and I am delighted that this exhibition has been realised.

“I hope that our idea of showing the old alongside the new does justice to the vibrant history and legacy of The London Group.

“Long may they continue to make great art of the time.”

  • From David Bomberg to Paula Rego is on at Southampton City Art Gallery until November 1, 2014. Open Monday to Friday 10am to 3pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm. Free admission.