Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Percy Horton (1897-1970)   BIOGRAPHY

Portrait of James Fitton, circa 1950
Passe-partout (ref: 4992)
Red chalk
30 x 27 cm ( 39 x 36 cm framed )


Both Horton and Fitton lived in Dulwich.  Known as a painter and designer, Fitton, (1899-1982) was born in Oldham, the son of  an iron plater and union leader, and  a mill weaver. He was educated at the Watersheddings Board School until 1913, having learnt to draw after losing time at school after a bungled operation which left him partly deaf. Fittons’ father was involved in the Fabians, and through this Fitton met James Keir Hardie and Emmeline Pankhurst. Fitton worked for six year sorting textile samples in Manchester, whilst attending Manchester Art School in the evenings. He was taught by Adolfe Vallette, one time assistant to Degas, and Sam Rabin and L.S. Lowry (with whom he drew the countryside) were fellow students.

Fitton went to London in 1921, where he was employed by the printer J. S. Riddell for eighteen months. Fitton learnt his trade on the job, although he left when offered the opportunity to design a large mural. Afterwards, one of his jobs involved designing a poster for the Russian trade delegation, which brought him under police observation just before the Arcos raid. Fitton designed oil paintings for film stills, then worked for two years as an illustrator on an adventure magazine, which gave him time to visit London museums. In 1935 he attended evening classes in lithography at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, and ‘became absorbed in the world of young London artists’.

In 1928 he married Margaret Cook, a fellow student, and painter and illustrator. Moving near Dulwich, Fitton took a job with a small advertising agency, Vernon’s. In 1930 he was appointed Art Director of Vernon’s, a post he held for fifty years converting it into one of the most successful pre-war advertising agencies. The same year he also became a member of the New English Art Club, the London Group, and the Senefelder Club. Fitton, along with Misha Black, James Boswell, James Holland, Pearl Binder and Clifford Rowe were founders of the AIA in 1933. Those in the AIA were ‘appalled by mass unemployment, Nazi aggression, and the threat of war, and inspired to action by the graphics of Krokodil, Simplicissimus, and the drawings of Grosz’. The AIA produced cartoons, posters, banners, pamphlets, and exhibitions, and ‘by 1935 virtually all respected London artists had become members’. The revival of satirical drawing was initiated by cartoons drawn, from 1934, by ‘the three Jameses’ in the Left Review. This revival continued through the war, and ‘led to a new age of British caricature exemplified by Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman’. Fitton was therefore already well known before the war as a left-wing cartoonist, and had done designs for the Empire Marketing Board (EMB).

Fitton was not a modernist, but was sympathetic to advanced European Art, and was one of few British artists ‘who revolutionised commercial graphics by an infusion of modernism, and brought the art of the poster to a peak in the 1930s’. Fitton was commissioned by Frank Pick in 1937 to design two posters for London Transport and, in 1938, murals for the United Kingdom government pavilion at the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow. He undertook free-lance magazine and newspaper illustration work in the 1940s, and produced many designs for the MOI and MOF in the Second World War . He was also the chief assessor for the Ministry of Education diploma in design from 1940 to 1965 at the Royal Academy.

Information taken from: Darracott, J. and Loftus, B., Second World War Posters, 1981, p.27; Campbell, p.155; and Gore, F., ‘Fitton, James’, National Biography, 1990. (Taken from the IHR Database.)

Percy Horton (1897-1970)

Born in Brighton, Percy Horton attended the School of Art there from 1912-1916. During the First Word War he became a conscientious objector and was sentenced to two years hard labour in Carlton Prison, Edinburgh, from 1916-18. After the war, he took up his studies again at the Central School of Art 1918-20 and the Royal College of Art 1922-24. In 1925 he was appointed art master at Bishop's Stortford College and also began giving classes at the Working Men's College in London.

As a member of the AIA (Allied International Artists) during the 1930's he believed that artists should be socially committed and he painted a series of portraits of the unemployed during the Depression. He taught at the RCA between 1930 and 1949. During the Second World War the college was evacuated to Ambleside and he produced a series of paintings of the Lake District and its people. At the request of the War Artists Advisory Committee he drew portraits and painted scenes in war factories and this collection is now in the Imperial War Museum. In 1949 Horton was elected Ruskin Master of Drawing at Oxford University and remained in this post until his retirement in 1964. His favourite areas for his paintings were the South Downs around Firle and the farmsteads of Provence.

His style was restrained and traditional; in 1973 came this quote - "the landscapes of his maturity are carefully composed and closely observed, the artist's strong sense of form and pictorial structure making them serious works which require time to assimilate and appreciate. As a figure draughtsman, he was outstanding and his portrait drawings and paintings are the work of a sensitive artist of intense concentration, intellectual power and human understanding."

Percy Horton painted many scenes of Dulwich . He and his wife, Lydia lived at 11 Pond Cottages for many years. His neighbours were fellow artists James and Margaret Fitton who lived at 10 Pond Cottages. After the Hortons left the two cottages were amalgamated and the Fittons took over the entire property. One of Horton's pupils at the RCA was the North American-born artist, R.B. Kitaj, who also lived in Dulwich, in the 1960's, in Burbage Road.

Horton exhibited in numerous group shows, including the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Arts Council travelling exhibitions, Royal Society of British Artists, New English Art Club, Ashmolean Museum and the Brighton Art Gallery. A memorial retrospective was held at the Mall Galleries in 1971. His work may be seen in the permanent collections of the Tate, National Portrait Gallery, Arts Council, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge., and a number of city art galleries.

We are grateful to Professor Edward Chaney for assistance.

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