Willam Strang (1859–1921), The Opera Cloak, 1913.
BRITISH REALISM BETWEEN THE WARS
By Peyton Skipwith
“Realism” is a virtually meaningless term as far as art criticism goes. Primitive man in the caves at Lascaux was striving for realism, as were Holbein and Dürer in the 16th century, and Ingres and the Pre-Raphaelites in the 19th. Each period has its own nuanced approach as to what constitutes reality and how to interpret it.
This year British museum visitors have enjoyed extraordinary encounters with 1920s and 1930s realism. First came America After the Fall, with great works by Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, and others, including Grant Wood’s masterpiece, American Gothic. It was presented at London’s Royal Academy of Art, as was Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932, while Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933, which included a major showing of works by Otto Dix, appeared at Tate Liverpool. These three exhibitions provided an international context in which to view, and assess, True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s & 1930s, the exhibition mounted by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for this summer’s Edinburgh Festival. This ambitious show included nearly 100 works by 58 artists, many of whom have largely been ignored by scholars and critics, and whose names are virtually unknown.
The coincidence of these four exhibitions is symptomatic not only of a general reappraisal of 20th-century realist painting, but also of an underlying questioning of the too-long-accepted linear progression of art and design pioneered in London by Roger Fry with his 1910 exhibition Manet and the Post Impressionists, then reinforced by the 1913 Armory Show in New York, Chicago, and Boston. In his Pioneers of Modern Design, first published in 1936, Nikolaus Pevsner added weight to this linear concept of history, presenting it in Old Testament terms of “so and so begat so and so, who begat...” This further marginalized artists who stood outside what he regarded as the inexorable march of history, in the process rendering realism irrelevant to the 20th century.
To be fair, by the 1960s Pevsner, as chairman of the Victorian Society, had modified the rigidity of his earlier thesis, if not its historical validity, but for realist painters of the inter-war years, it was too late: the damage had been done and many suffered years of neglect. It has taken decades, and a new generation of art historians, to establish that there are more ways than one of being modern; during the 1920s and ’30s, not all of them were abstract. Today it is widely accepted that American Gothic (1930) is as much an icon of its time as Picasso’s Guernica (1937).
DETAIL OVER SWAGGER
Realist artists have always been faced with the dilemma of whether to depict every detail and risk getting swamped, or to be selective, or even to improve. In one of his Discourses – the lectures he delivered at the Royal Academy between 1769 and 1790 – Sir Joshua Reynolds advocated the latter when he commented on the fact that “All the objects which are exhibited to our view by Nature, upon close examination will be found to have their blemishes and defects. The most beautiful forms have something about them of weakness, minuteness, or imperfection.” His goal in drawing attention to these imperfections was to put artists on guard so they could correct or eliminate them. A century and a half later, C.R. Ashbee, the British teacher, craftsman, and social idealist, commenting on the portraits of his friend William Strang, noted that “in each of them there is some touch of his sitters’ ugliness revealed in the beauty of his draughtsmanship.” He went on to say that for those, like himself, who had submitted to Strang’s penetrating gaze, his drawings make one “grimly conscious of an unpleasant something in ourselves that we don’t like to mention but that our love of truthfulness would not have us conceal.”
Strang is one of the immediate precursors of the type of hard-edged, unremitting realism that epitomized much British art between the wars. He had trained in the 1870s under Alphonse Legros at the Slade School, part of London University. Its first two professors, Edward Poynter and Legros, were both Paris-trained, so its teaching methods (unlike those at the Royal Academy Schools) were based on French principles. Like Legros, Strang was a superb draughtsman and a prolific etcher, as well as an experimental painter. The Opera Cloak (1913) is a prime example of his austere and rather puritanical approach to portraiture, which had already prompted the Art News to write: “If you like Lavery and Sargent you will hardly care for Mr. Strang. If you are tired of these wonderfully clever artists it is possible Mr. Strang will interest you not a little. He is not slick, he never takes your breath away with one stroke, but his work is always the outcome of a genuine impulse; he is, we feel, more interested in the thing painted than in the actual manner of painting it.”
This concentration on detail over swagger is a distinguishing feature of several of the best portraitists of the ’20s and ’30s: Gerald Brockhurst, James Gunn, Gluck, and (at his best) Gerald Kelly. Yet apart from Meredith Frampton, none was as puritanical in approach as Strang. Frampton’s portraits, particularly those of men, are not only time-warps, they are detailed studies of his subjects, treating them as if embalmed at a precise moment, along with the essential attributes of their lives and careers. Of the others, only Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) begins to approach him: her firmly structured self-portrait has been adorning London this summer as the poster for Tate Britain’s exhibition Queer British Art 1861 – 1967, and her work will be seen again in the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery’s exhibition Gluck: Art & Identity (November 18 – March 11, 2018).
Edward Halliday (1902–1984), Hypnos, 1928
Brockhurst and Gunn tended to veer toward the lush end of portraiture, at least when depicting women. Brockhurst particularly combined an austerity of technique with a Hollywood glamour that is often disconcerting. His famous drypoint, Adolescence, depicts a naked 15-year-old girl absorbed in self-contemplation before her dressing-table mirror, while By the Hills, a portrait of a famous beauty, is so devoid of any hint of brushstrokes that it could have been breathed onto the canvas.
A RETURN TO ORDER
What Ashbee described as Strang’s “lexicographical” approach, his concentration on subject rather than the method of interpretation, was a stylistic harbinger of a principal feature of inter-war realism. Europe had just emerged from four years of bloodshed; guns, machinery, and warfare had been lauded by such Futurist painters as Wyndham Lewis and praised in the Vorticist manifesto BLAST. Theirs was a visual language of chaos and shattering. In the wake of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), however, there was an almost universal desire for peace, calm, and stability, not just in daily life but in the arts as well; artists turned away from visual aggression toward a renewed quest for order and discipline. In this new world, a return to the broad-brush impressionism that had delighted prewar audiences with images of sun-drenched idylls seemed inappropriate. So where, in this aftermath of death and destruction, should they seek a new order?
As Sacha Llewellyn points out in the Scottish National Gallery’s catalogue, artists as diverse as Picasso and Léger re-engaged with tradition while “parallel movements emerged across Europe including De Stijl in Holland, the ‘Valori Plastici’ and Novecento Italiano in Italy, and Neue Sachlichkeit in Germany.” In Britain, though there was no “movement” as such, there was a general yearning for stability, a reassertion of traditional values. There was no wish to turn the clock back, no nostalgia, but a clear-sighted recognition that the war had changed everything. It was now the artist’s job to assess this new world with fresh eyes, recognizing there had been both gains and losses. Despite the devastating fact that virtually every family had suffered bereavement, World War I had swept away the last vestiges of feudalism, and women had been liberated from domesticity to work in offices and factories and were gradually getting the vote, making Britain a more democratic society.
Artists did not shirk from depicting all aspects of this post-war world – from portraits of glamorous women and interiors to scenes of industrial unrest and rural squalor. (Gilbert Spencer and Stanley Lewis, respectively, painted near life-size portraits of rat- and mole-catchers.) Still lifes and landscapes continued to attract, but with a heightened intensity of detail and feeling, while new subjects, particularly those related to leisure and sport, found not only their recorders, but also a ready audience, particularly among curators of provincial museums.
The challenge to this new “realism” came when artists turned to allegorical and Biblical subjects. Could such works be more than just the pictorial equivalent of “Shakespeare in Modern Dress,” or was there something more fundamental to be read into them? The greatest British artist to overcome this challenge was Stanley Spencer; for him there was no dichotomy, as he regarded Cookham, the Thames-side village where he was born and raised, as Heaven. Thus it was perfectly natural that Christ should walk down the high street and preach at Cookham Regatta, and that the Resurrection should take place in Cookham churchyard, where locals, angels, and New Testament figures could mingle freely. Few other artists rose quite so successfully to this challenge apart from Winifred Knights, whose The Deluge, depicting a group of panic-stricken men and women fleeing the rising tide, was her 1920 prize-winning entry for the scholarship to the British School at Rome.
The British School had been expanded, in the wake of the 1911 Rome World’s Fair, to embrace painting, sculpture, and architecture, in addition to its traditional archeological and classical studies. An additional scholarship for engraving was added after the war. The painting scholarship was awarded in a category defined as “Decorative Painting,” with the specific intention of training artists to paint murals, especially in public buildings. The Palace of Westminster and the Bank of England, among other places, were to benefit from this scheme. This training, combined with three years’ study in Rome, played an important role in promotion of the hard-edged realism so distinctive of the 1920s and ’30s. Many of the Rome Scholars were former Slade School students who, like Strang, had already been trained thoroughly in drawing before even touching a paintbrush. By this time Legros was dead and had been superseded by the disciplinarian Henry Tonks, who was both a surgeon and a painter, but for whom drawing was equally paramount. During the war he had combined these two professions, making devastatingly truthful analytical drawings of seriously disfigured servicemen in order to help the pioneering surgeon Harold Gillies and his colleagues at Queen Mary’s Hospital with their task of reconstruction. The Slade’s rival in producing Rome Scholars was the newly renascent Royal College of Art, presided over by William Rothenstein, himself a product of Legros’s Slade.
The possibility of applying for the Rome Scholarship tended to encourage young artists to explore not only figure drawing, but also allegory and mythology. One such was the Royal College student Edward Halliday, who, in his haunting painting Hypnos, tackled the daunting, and not always comfortable, task of marrying allegory with realism, depicting the god of sleep casting his spell over workmen and beasts in the Roman Campagna. In the exhibition True to Life, this scene made an interesting contrast with a not dissimilar composition by the Yorkshire artist Harry Epworth Allen, The Timber Dump, with its strong, carefully orchestrated patterning of felled trees, buildings, and rutted pathways interspersed with loggers and horses. Allen, though largely unknown, is stylistically England’s nearest equivalent to Grant Wood. The Timber Dump and Hypnos can be regarded as representing the “natural” and “supernatural” extremes of inter-war realism, combining both landscape and figure painting. Like many of the finest pictures of the period, both were composed in the studio. One of the ironies of this new realism is that it was best achieved, not by painting en plein air before the subject, but rather by careful distillation from sketches, preliminary drawings, and even photographs. It is not coincidental that the inter-war years were the heyday of the etching revival, and also of wood engraving and direct stone carving – the latter stimulated by the urgent demand for war memorials. Both carving and engraving are disciplines that demand precision, with the result that clear definition, rather than bravura brushstrokes, became a key characteristic of the period.
In tandem with their concentration on modern life subjects, many young painters looked to earlier precedents, particularly such artists as Piero della Francesca, Mantegna, Bruegel, Dürer, and Holbein. These references are especially pertinent to the figure/portrait painters (Brockhurst. Gunn, Frampton, and Cowie); landscapists like McIntosh Patrick and Algernon Newton (though Canaletto was the primary influence on the latter’s cityscapes); and also those who painted figures in landscape. Winifred Knights set her Marriage at Cana in Rome’s Borghese Gardens while Gladys Hynes’s Noah’s Ark, with fashionably clad Mrs. Noah welcoming a kangaroo, is set before the South Downs and Sussex coastline. The latter, a delightful but slightly archaic work, was shown this summer in Edinburgh, where it made an intriguing contrast to several more overtly contemporary al fresco scenes depicting hikers map-reading and families picnicking, the modern-day equivalent of Gainsborough’s elegant renderings of squires’ families on their country estates. In his strikingly à la mode, and brilliantly clever, Spray, Harold Williamson clearly owed more (in terms of artistic heritage) to Leni Riefenstahl than to Raphael.
Re-examination of the artists featured in this year’s exhibitions – British, American, Russian, and German – will undoubtedly intensify in the next few years, opening our eyes further to the many unjustly overlooked talents who flourished between the world wars.
Victor Moody, The Day War Broke Out, Mom, 1939.
An exhibition of interwar realism by a little-seen group of artists is a joy of rediscovery
By Rachel Spence
At a time when market forces are hungry for fresh blood, the rediscovery of forgotten talent is all the rage. However, it is often an excuse for serving up the second-rate with a side-dish of hogwash masquerading as curatorial critique.
Happily, the decision by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to dust off nearly 100 canvases by British artists between the wars needs no defence. Its True to Life exhibition presents a tranche of art history that genuinely merits closer attention.
To all but connoisseurs, only a handful of these painters is familiar. Stanley Spencer is the headliner. Otherwise renown has been scattered only across Laura Knight, Edward Burra – who gained critical respect due to his affinities with Germany’s Neue Sachlichkeit movement – and the remarkable Winifred Knights, who leapt to prominence thanks to a Dulwich Picture Gallery retrospective last year. (The expertise of that show’s curator, Sacha Llewellyn, who has also co-curated True To Life, is responsible for much of today’s interest in this era.)
In its own time, British realism was both lauded and derided. The critic RH Wilenski railed against the “degenerate, romantic and ... descriptive techniques of the nineteenth century.” Yet Henry Tonks, an influential professor at the Slade School of Art, described geometric abstraction as “obscene nonsense” and opined that to “try and find inspiration outside the experience of everyday life seems the sign of a feeble artist”.
Truly, the style embodied a paradox. On the one hand its lucidity made it the conservative cousin of European modernism, where the likes of Picasso, Mondrian and Kandinsky had overturned the old figurative tradition. Yet after the first world war, realism came back into fashion with the so-called “return to order” as artists including Picasso (again), Giorgio de Chirico and George Grosz embraced figuration with new enthusiasm.
Winifred Knights, Boat With Three People on a Lake, 1924-30.
If the British realism of the period has looked weaker than its European counterpart, it’s because the UK never embraced the avant-garde in the first place. As a result, the UK’s postwar realists seemed to be serving up the “same old, same old” rather than genuine innovation. Nevertheless, the wind of change undeniably breezes through the opening gallery in Edinburgh. The centre-piece is Colin Gill’s “Allegory” (1920-21), a surreal, storm-threatened picnic scene that unfolds across an eerie, ebullient colour spectrum from fruity pastels to earthy browns and greys. Against Arcadian hills, the dumbstruck protagonists are oblivious to each other and to the bread on the cloth in front of them. Imagine Manet’s “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” with spiritual overtones, or a Last Supper given secular bite, and you have a sense of the chaste yet sensual spell Gill has cast on his diners.
The undisputed enchantress is Knights. Gill, who fell in love with her when they studied together in Rome, cast her in “Allegory” as the handsome, detached beauty holding a birdcage above a reclining nude and her lover. (He once penned a sonnet to Knights – a gift for imprisoning his heart in such a trap.) Knights was as seductive an artist as she was a woman (she eventually married the painter Thomas Monnington, of whom more later). Her masterpiece is “The Deluge” (1921), which belongs to Tate. On display in the second room, it’s a mystifying image whose subject – figures fleeing a flood – is rivetingly at odds with its atmosphere of frozen calm. Rearing waves, houses and people – especially the women’s broad skirts – are composed from the blank rectangles and triangles familiar from Suprematist abstraction; Knights’s hybrid idiom feels more genuinely contemporary than any other British artist of the period, including Spencer.
Italy provided a rich diet of imagery and ideas for the British realist brigade. The country’s treasures served not only for Gill’s Tuscan-pretty hills but also for the wood-smooth, white-limbed figures that people so many of these paintings. In a work such as “The Wine Press” (c.1923) by Thomas Monnington, the pristine spinal curve of the man bending to trample grapes echoes that of the figure shedding his shirt in the Baptism of Christ by Quattrocento master Piero della Francesca, while the baby nestled in a crib below the barrel references the same painter’s Nativity.
The quasi-abstract mysticism of early Renaissance painting was most organically absorbed by Spencer. His paintings “St Veronica Unmasking Christ” (1921) and “Christ Overturning the Money Changers” (1921), designed as triptych wings, borrow Italian primitivism’s reductive aesthetic to simplify bodies down to the bare planes of their robes yet also set geometric shapes – hills, veils, table legs – into harsh, criss-cross patterns, thereby lending the paintings a vorticist charge.
Artists who eschewed Italy’s neo-Platonic strand had to work harder. Portraiture, which occupies a generous gallery, flourished in interwar Britain as a growing clientele from aristocrats to statesmen and businessmen commissioned their own images for posterity. However, Gerald Brockhurst, despite borrowing the misty, steel-blue mountains beloved of Leonardo as a backdrop, falls on the sword of his own perfectionist technique. Bafflingly chosen for True to Life’s catalogue cover, his portrait “Dorette” (1933) ramps up his model’s glamour by contrasting her fuchsia lipstick with marble-smooth skin and gleaming mahogany curls but the result is as shiny and superficial as a B-movie starlet.
By contrast, John Bulloch Souter’s portrait of a woman in an interior, “The Day’s Arrangement” (c1930), boasts the glassy clarity of Vermeer and the spectral moodiness of Hammershoi. Reaching out one limpid hand to tweak a bouquet on a plinth, the model is a grave-cold, column-still beauty whose skirt, with its rippling waterfall of black satin and frothy lace sleeves, makes a sumptuous contrast to the calm, faceted rectangles of the stone-white door.
Yet British realism also served to highlight a world less privileged. An early instance is “A Scene in a Village Street with Mill-Hands Conversing” (1919), in which Knights arranges an informal semi-circle of pale, watchful figures in front of spartan factory buildings. The figures, who are mainly female, stare glumly at the encounter between a man and a woman, her scarlet cardigan the only flash of colour among the otherwise murky hues. Part feminist tract, part Visitation, the painting typifies Knights’s unnervingly original gaze.
Knights anticipates the wave of socialist art that came in the so-called “Hungry Thirties”. Spearheaded by communist painters such as Clifford Rowe, who spent time in the Soviet Union, this movement softened the bleak graphics that characterised Russian socialist realism. The customers in Rowe’s “The Fried Fish Shop” (1936), all sport the square jaws and broad shoulders that typify Soviet style, yet the painter’s gift for sloshing sky-blue shadows over white counters and tabletops in contrast to the sinister dark oblongs of the diners’ greatcoats gives his painting a mobile luminosity that transcends political rhetoric.
Across Europe, art was changed utterly by the second world war. The final room here contains two paintings which, in their grave yet unassuming humanity, feel like anticipations of the tragedy to come. One is Charles Spencelayh’s “Why War?” (1939), a Victorian-style portrait of an elderly, moustachioed ex-serviceman – his chest bears first world war ribbons – staring into the gloomy depths of his parlour next to a newspaper announcing Neville Chamberlain’s vain attempt to make peace with Hitler.
The other is “The Day War Broke out, Mom” (1939), Victor Moody’s portrait of his wife painted on the day that war was declared. Captured in profile to accentuate the coppery shadows pooling in the hollows of her neck, the woman glances sideways with an air of vulnerable alarm. She could be an elegy for an age in which European painters led the world. When the war ended, it was the Americans who would show the way forward.
Until October 29, www.nationalgalleries.org
View of exhibition at Watts Contemporary
Discover ‘Lost Studio’
Watts Contemporary, in partnership with Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, presents the first selling exhibition of studies, illustrations and paintings by Evelyn Dunbar (1906-1960), an artist now considered to be among the most important in 20th century British art history.
Bringing together 150 pictures – more than half of which have never previously been shown, including many from the ‘lost studio’ collection which, in 2013, brought to light works that had not been seen since the artist’s lifetime (death) – the exhibition will demonstrate why Dunbar deserves recognition as a major figurative artist of the Modern British era.
Evelyn Dunbar was born in Reading, Berkshire, into a merchant family. I childhood she moved to Kent, where she lived for most of her life. While at school she won national awards for drawing. Between leaving Rochester Grammar School for Girls and going to art college she spent a year or two writing and illustrating children’s books, mostly featuring winsome children.
Dunbar studied at the Royal College of Art between 1933 and 1936. Included in the exhibition are Dunbar’s sketches for a 12-metre frieze of the local landscape and for two of 24 spandrels illustrating Aesop’s fables and other moral instances.
Dunbar died suddenly at the age of 53, leaving behind a studio collection of some 800 works which only came to light in 2013 when a painting by Dunbar appeared on the BBC Antiques Roadshow. Having seen the show, Ro Dunbar, a relative of the artist, set to exploring the extraordinary hoard of paintings, drawings and studies hidden in the attic of her Kent home. The unrecorded works were identified with the help of Christopher Campbell-Howes, the artist’s nephew and biographer (Evelyn Dunbar: A Life in Painting, on sale at the exhibition), who had been tracking the contents of the ‘lost studio’ for some ten years.
The discovery of the Hammer Mil Oast Collection doubled the known body of Dunbar’s work overnight and has enabled a reappraisal of the artist’s place in 20th century art history.
Paul Liss, Director of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, appointed by the Dunbar family to sell the Hammer Mill Oast Collection and organizer of the acclaimed museum exhibition Evelyn Dunbar: The Lost Works (Pallant House, 2015), said: “Through a display of 150 works, this exciting exhibition at Watts Gallery-Artists’ Village examines all aspects of the output by Evelyn Dunbar. This is the largest group of works by Dunbar ever to be exhibited for sale.”
‘Evelyn Dunbar: Studies, Illustrations and Paintings’ continues the Watts Contemporary programme that provides a unique opportunity for visitors to discover and buy affordable art and craft that resonate with the Arts and Crafts heritage of watts Gallery- Artists’ Village.
All picture are offered for sale with prices starting at £135.
Winifred Knights: The Deluge, 1920, oil paint on canvas, 60 x 72 ¼ in. (152.9 x 183.5 cm). © Tate London 2017.
Sacha Llewellyn - Winifred Knights
Sacha Llewellyn is an independent researcher and curator and Director of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art with a particular interest in in interwar British Modernism. In 2016, she curated the first retrospective exhibition of Winifred Knights at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. In addition, Sacha is a writer, her recent publications including catalogue essays for “British Realist Painting between the Wars” at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Winifred Knights (1899–1947), the subject of Sacha’s talk, has been described as “Britain’s unknown genius”. Her 6 foot painting The Deluge, 1920, is one of the most instantly recognisable art works of the 20th century. It has become part of our visual landscape having been reproduced repeatedly thereby posing the question why, until recently, she has been relatively unknown. She had a promising start in her artistic life being accepted into The Slade where the eminent Henry Tonks took an interest in her work. She was outstanding winning the prestigious scholarship to the British School at Rome.
CASW Saturday Lectures and Lunch – Lisvane Memorial Hall, Heol y Delyn, Lisvane, Cardiff, CF14 0SQ
Saturday, 2 September 2017
The British artists who kept it real
Between the wars realism ruled in Blighty, yet this era was soon forgotten. A new exhibition is bringing it to life again, says Nancy Durrant
When you think of the great British artists of the Twenties and Thirties, who springs to mind? Henry Moore, obviously, and his pal Barbara Hepworth, maybe her husband, Ben Nicholson. Stanley Spencer, definitely. Vanessa Bell, at a push, although her best was perhaps behind her. How about Albert Rutherston? Or Mark Lancelot Symons? Unforgettable, surely – at least, if you’d ever heard of Symons, which you almost certainly haven’t.
And yet he was a genius, at least according to Patrick Elliott, the chief curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Symons is among 58 artists whose work is about to be showcased in a lavish exhibition at the gallery, True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s – and all but a few of them (Spencer, say, or Laura Knight, or Edward Burra) have more or less vanished from view until now. It’s not, let’s face it, a great selling point.
Elliott cheerfully agrees. “The names are completely unfamiliar to most people,” he says – and that includes the people who give the go-ahead to exhibitions. “If you go into a meeting and mention Malcolm Milne, Harold Williamson, or even someone like Gerald Leslie Brockhurst or Meredith Frampton, you get glazed looks. But if you’ve got the pictures with you, everyone understands it immediately. They’re technically brilliant, you can see that they’re going to appeal to a wide public, and no one’s ever done anything like this before.”
This will be the biggest exhibition of British Twenties and Thirties realist art since, well, the Twenties and Thirties.
That might be because “realism” isn’t really a thing. These artists have never been treated as a group, says Elliott, “partly because they weren’t a group... it’s not an ‘ism’. It’s not like futurism or cubism, it’s lots of people who didn’t necessarily know each other or paint in the same style. It’s not even a style.”
Elliott has narrowed his concept by focusing on a type of draughtsmanship popular at the time, known as “the brushless style” – smooth, glossy, with a flawless finish achieved by painstaking work. Some of the paintings in the show, such as Brockhurst’s luscious 1933 portrait of his lover Kathleen Woodward, known as Dorette, took years. He worked on it for two, It comes out of a time that focused obsessively on draughtsmanship then after it was sold, asked for it back so that he could continue fiddling.
What it creates is the kind of pictures that will make anyone who has walked round a modern art gallery despairingly, thinking “but what does it mean?”, sigh with relieved pleasure. Immaculate, highly detailed and luminously beautiful, it speaks to what Elliott acknowledges is a particularly British fondness in art for both beauty “and also well-made work; you can see that they’ve spent ages doing drawings and preparing”. It comes out of an era of art education that focused obsessively on draughtsmanship.
Many of the artists here attended the Slade School of Art where, under the ferocious surgeon-turned-art-tutor Henry Tonks, the first two of the three years of study could be spent armed only with a pencil, learning to draw, and draw, and draw, and “if you even looked at or thought about Picasso, Tonks would send you home”, says Elliott. When Tristram Hillier, whose 1939 harbour scene Le Havre de Grace is in the exhibition, made some slightly cubist drawings, Tonks called it “obscene nonsense” and never spoke to him again.
The influences on display are equally traditional. As Elliott writes in the exhibition’s catalogue: “The interwar period was a period of rapid change, but being a period of change, there was value in looking back to traditions that were fast disappearing, and the British did that with relish.”
The early Renaissance held a particular fascination for, among others, Thomas Monnington, Colin Gill, Harry Morley and Winifred Knights, whose The Deluge, from 1920, will be one of the show’s high-lights. In their work can be seen shades of Piero della Francesca, Masaccio and Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo. Brockhurst was a Leonardo da Vinci devotee (just look at Dorette’s Mona Lisaish position in front of a landscape). Hillier valued Van Eyck above all, and other early Netherlandish painters wield their influence throughout the show. James McIntosh Patrick’s landscapes owe much to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, while the ghost of Vermeer haunts Leonard Campbell-Taylor’s 1932 Still Life of a jug and a knob of butter.
Much of the work shares with, say, Vermeer, a strong streak of the contemporary in the subject matter (not so much with the early Renaissance – too many angels). Despite their interest in the past, these artists were painting their own changing world.
A section of the show will be devoted to paintings of leisure pursuits – John Cosmo Clark’s 1933 English Country Fair, Harold Williamson’s 1939 Spray, of a startled swimmer, or his chaste Picnic from 1938, and Colin Gill’s rather more bacchanalian alfresco lunch, Allegro, 1920-2]. It was a growing part of life, says Elliott –“sport, travel – the weekend away. People have cars and bikes, there’s a lot of interest in getting fresh air. The Ramblers’ Association was created in 1935, suncream went on sale in 1936.” Rutherston’s near-six-metre folding screen depicting country pursuits will be shown, Elliott thinks, for the first time since it was bought by the V&A from the Paris International Exhibition in 1937.
Spray, 1939 by Harold Williamson © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum. Photo credit: Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
What they don’t address, however, is war. “There were articles just after the First World War, asking, ‘Why aren’t there any pictures about the war?’ “says Elliott. “Apart from those that were commissioned as war art, there’s not an awful lot, and if you look at the late Thirties you wouldn’t get much of a sense that the war was coming.”
Artists, of course, did have to make a living and buyers wanted “solace and comfort” in their art, thinks Elliott. “Who’s going to buy a picture that tells you about a war that has happened or a war that is coming?”
The works also have a curious lack of drama, probably because “that was seen as Victorian. Victorian narrative wasn’t popular, it was too signposted, it was relying too much on literary things and they wanted to be more painterly.” Only a few artists told stories, among them Spencer, a “brilliant” artist. “We’ve got him next to Clifford Rowe and Clive Branson – one isa Victorian sentimentalist [Spencer] and the others are agitprop communists and Spray, 1939 by Harold Williamson © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum. Photo credit: Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum they’re basically painting the same way. But in general, big story and subject matter pictures rather went out the window.” So, it’s beautiful, well executed and not wildly challenging. Why then don’t we see this work in galleries any more? It was popular in its time, not just with the public but with museums – they paid up to £600, then a huge sum, for a work by Brockhurst at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. (Although not, apparently, the Tate, which relied then on only one bequest for its acquisitions and was therefore at a financial disadvantage compared with, say, Hull, Rochdale, Preston or Manchester. You can just imagine the trustees’ fury at being pipped to the post by Stoke.)
Elliott thinks their disappearance stems from the times the artists lived in – it was almost inevitable that they would fall out of fashion. “Many would have been born in the latter part of the 19th century, in some instances before electricity was invented or cars were on the road,” he says. “They were Victorian artists and yet they died in the Fifties when Sputniks were circling the world. I think it’s the period of the most radical change that has ever happened, and they lost traction. They modernised in the Twenties and Thirties, but by the Fifties and Sixties pop and abstract art had taken over and these people, in the last stage of their lives, were pretty much forgotten, consigned to minor auctions and the basements of museums.”
Elliott hopes that this exhibition will change that, and open the eyes of visitors to “the depth and range of British art. If you pick up pretty much any book on British art of the 20th century, this stuff is largely absent. Stanley Spencer gets in there, but none of the others.”
It’s easier for publishers or galleries to think in terms of styles and groups. “With this lot it’s more complicated. People will be surprised by the quality of the work, by the number of artists and hopefully enthused by the fact that here is a huge topic that this opens up.
“There are dozens of solo shows struggling to get out of this exhibition. Alan Beeton, for example, amazing artist. Hillier? When did you last see a Hillier show? You visit the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull and they’ve got two of the best Brockhurst and Framptons. You look at them and you think, well someone’s got to do a show. The amazing thing is that no one has done it before.”
True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (0131 624 6200), from July 1 to October 29, 2017.
Stanley seated in his studio, in an early Victorian lady’s button-back chair.
Photography: Antony Crolla
Drawn from Life by Sacha Llewellyn
Centenarian Stanley Lewis looked back on his artistic output as a kind of ‘pictorial diary’, a social history down the decades. Till recently the work has been rolled up in cellars, hidden in sketchbooks or pinned up in his studio in the South Pennines. But now, as Sacha Llewellyn reports, a posthumous exhibition will at last bring to public view this rich personal chronicle of the 20th century.
‘If you look at my work from the 1920s to the present day you can see the social history of each decade, a pictorial diary if you like – nothing is make-believe or fantasy, it is what I saw as I lived my daily life.’ From 2003 until his death in 2009 at the age of 103, Stanley Lewis lived at his daughter’s home in a large studio overlooking Yorkshire moorland, with ‘vast oak beams holding the roof up, and fabulous views. I sleep, eat, work, smoke, read, dream and meet visitors in my room. This is my world now – here I can be free,’ he said. He surrounded himself with thousands of his drawings and paintings (much of his life’s work), as well as art books and objects collected over a lifetime. ‘I call it organised chaos and I know exactly where everything is.’ In this room, Stanley shared his remarkable anecdotes – about his close friendship with Dylan Thomas, his encounters with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, his recollections of World War I and II – with frequent visitors, his perfect memory effortlessly recalling the names of the characters who appeared in his canvases.
Stanley Lewis was born in 1905 on a large farm in Monmouthshire. His mother was fascinated by books and had a large collection ‘all marvellously illustrated’. From an early age, Stanley was captivated by these drawings and tried to imitate them. He would also spend hours ‘capturing the animals and all the things around me, and even the farm workers would remark: “Stanley is marvellous at drawing eyes.”’ This passion for the land and animals remained a strong influence throughout his life.
Having spent three years at Newport School of Art, in 1926 Stanley entered the painting school at the Royal College of Art. Here his love of drawing flourished and he spent hours in the National Gallery copying old masters and in the British Museum drawing ancient statues and studying the prints and drawings in the Print Room. He had books on Rubens, Titian and Puvis de Chavannes stacked on his bedside table up until his death.
The early 20th century was a time of experimentation in British art. New styles and subjects expressed the changing dynamics of society, leaving behind the more traditional concerns of art. But the RCA reflected only the conservative outlook of its principal, Sir William Rothenstein, ‘a small, unobtrusive-looking man whose head hardly came above the edge of the table’. Along with his teaching staff (‘Hubert Wellington, Alfred Kingsley Lawrence, Randolph Schwabe, Colin Gill and Allan Gwynne-Jones [Wol Feb 1999] were among the teachers with whom I had a tremendously close contact’), Rothenstein instilled in his students the vital and basic need for disciplined technique, useful in every artistic style. Stanley’s meticulous skills were firmly rooted in this doctrine, and he remained grateful ‘to have studied art in the 1920s and spent years struggling to learn my craft the hard way’. The lack of ‘good old-fashioned drawing skills’ in art schools and modern painting is a subject close to his heart. ‘At least Banksy, the graffiti artist, has skill in the use of an aerosol, and his stencilling technique is second to none.’
Stanley became part of a strand of British 20th-century art which sought to breathe new life into narrative and landscape painting. ‘I felt an inner force burning to capture my world around me exactly as I saw it in the reality that it was.’ He took a detached view of the battle of styles raging in his day. ‘I couldn’t bear the new stuff. It all started with Dali and his Melting Watch... How can you make a good painting out of that subject?’ However, his disillusionment with modern art is mostly centred on how money takes precedence over talent. ‘Damien Hirst auctioned off his collection of stuffed and pickled animals and paintings and raised £111 million. Hirst should place himself and Saatchi in a tank of formaldehyde together with their millions and install it among a herd of cows. Now that would be more like it.’
In 1929 Stanley applied for a scholarship at the British School in Rome with Allegory, a large painting celebrating ‘country life and animals, and man’s respect for Nature’. He missed by one vote, ‘which made Augustus John furious’. He then assisted at the studio of A.K. Lawrence, but found his bouts of depression wearisome. ‘Lawrence had been in the trenches and had it rough.’ So he accepted a teaching post at the Newport School of Art, a move to which Sir William Rothenstein was fiercely opposed, feeling that Stanley should focus on his own art. Rothenstein wrote in a letter: ‘I am rather surprised at you applying for a full-time teaching post of a general nature.’ Coming from a farming family, Stanley had had the need to be a salaried working man instilled in him from early on, but ‘I felt cut off... and often wonder what would have happened to my art career had I stayed there [with Lawrence].’
Convinced that Stanley was still worthy of a Rome scholarship, Rothenstein persuaded him to enter one last time in 1930. He came a disappointing third, but it resulted in the epic canvas Hyde Park. Stanley appears centre stage, reclining with his artist’s satchel, while Muriel Pemberton, his first girlfriend (later head of fashion at St Martin’s School of Art), appears behind him. The Chinese paper parasol she’s holding Stanley ‘bought especially for the painting, to add a bit of colour’.
While Stanley was never an accredited war artist, his time spent in the Royal Artillery from 1939 gave him ample opportunity to paint. ‘I was always sketching – one of my army colleagues told me I’d better give that stuff up until the war was over. “Don’t be so bloody silly,” I said, “I’m an artist.”’ In addition to drawing scenes of army life and portraits for soldiers to send home to their girlfriends, Stanley was also given commissioned work such as a commemorative oil painting of the bombing of the Tirpitz in Norway, now in the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset.
In 1946, Stanley took the job as principal of Carmarthen School of Art, where he stayed until he retired in 1968. His marriage (to one of his students, Minnie Wright), his need to provide for three children and his 40-year teaching career all possibly prevented him from achieving his full artistic potential. ‘Sometimes I wonder how I managed to find the time for my painting. But my little pocket book and pencil kept my head straight, and I recorded everything that occurred around me.’
Until 2008, Stanley’s life’s work, including Allegory and Hyde Park, remained in his possession, nailed to the walls of various barns or rolled up in cellars. Their restoration has revealed a magnificent cycle of historically important works by an artist who deserves recognition. Now he is about to have his first exhibition. Asked whether, after 103 years, he would have liked more time to prepare, Stanley replied: ‘No, that’s fine!’
This article appeared on the occasion of the exhibition ‘The Unknown Artist. Stanley Lewis and his Contemporaries’ organised by LLFA in collaboration with the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in 2010.
Every year the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History is awarded to a scholarly publication that demonstrates outstanding achievement in the field of British Art History. Awarded jointly by The British Art Journal and the Berger Collection Educational Trust, the Berger prize is recognised as the most prestigious award in its field.
We are proud to announce that our publications
War Pictures by British Artists
have been nominated for this year’s prize.
Sacha Llewelyn’s book, Winifred Knights, published by Lund Humphries, has also been nominated for this year’s prize.
Canal Basin, 1929, by Algernon Newton RA
Return to order
SIMON WILSON hails a revelatory exhibition of the forgotten Realist art that flourished in Britain between the World Wars
‘This exhibition is ground-breaking in Britain since, as the excellent catalogue introduction by Sacha Llewellyn reminds us, this kind of art has been largely airbrushed out of history....’
In the years before the First World War, the successive waves of innovation in art that we call modernism reached an almost frenzied climax, with the near simultaneous explosion of Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism and the emergence of various forms of abstraction.
But in the wake of the horrors of the war these avant-garde movements, already bewildering to the wider public, came to seem excessive even to the community of artists and critics. This reaction was quickly recognised as a significant cultural phenomenon, and in France was given the name Le retour à l’ordre – the return to order. In Britain, where public and critics alike had anyway largely resisted continental modernism, the reaction seems to have been more clear cut than abroad, particularly in the decade of the 1920s. The result was a vigorous development of what for convenience can be called Realist painting. A new exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, ‘True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s’, charts this development, showing its extraordinary range and variety.
This exhibition is groundbreaking in Britain since, as the excellent catalogue introduction by Sacha Llewellyn reminds us, this kind of art has been largely airbrushed out of history. By the 1960s, the British art establishment, having resisted modernism for so long, had undergone a radical conversion. Abstraction ruled. Vivid evidence of this is the notorious attack on the ‘Isate’s acquisitions policy launched by an exasperated David Hockney RA in an article published in the Observer in 1979. In it he charged the Tate with ‘deliberate bias in favour of non-representational art’.
Pauline Waiting, 1939, by James Gunn RA
Ironically, it was a senior Tate curator, Richard Morphet who, not long after, produced a magisterial reassessment of the British contribution to the `return to order’. This was in a long, passionate essay published on the occasion of the pioneering 1980-81 Centre Pompidou survey of the whole movement, titled `Les Realismes 1919-1939’. Morphet first established a critical framework by which to judge and describe this art, then identified the key artists and comprehensively mapped the range of their preoccupations, as well as the social and political context. The Edinburgh show admirably builds on and extends this work. Both Morphet and Llewellyn identify what has always seemed to me too a key compelling aspect of the best of this art. This is the way that these artists were obsessed with the idea of drawing and painting from life and from nature, and equally obsessed with the traditional techniques of drawing and painting. Yet their depictions of reality often take on mysterious, dream-like qualities and, in paintings of people, often great psychological intensity. An outstanding example of the latter is Pauline Waiting (1939) by Herbert James Gunn RA, on loan to the exhibition from the Royal Academy Collections. Who is this incredibly beautiful woman, this modern Mona Lisa, with her faintest of smiles and veiled look of secret sensuality? For whom or for what is she waiting in this grand hotel lobby?
This kind of approach was taken to hallucinatory lengths by Meredith Frampton, also RA. Perhaps inevitably, given the Academy’s conservatism at the time, many of these artists were RAs. Frampton emerges as a star of this show, as does – this time in the field of landscape – yet another RA, Algernon Newton, whose cityscapes and industrial scenes (Canal Basin, 1929) possess an uncanny stillness and emptiness that gives them an almost surreal sense of poetry and mystery. In the end, what matters is not what you paint but the way that you paint it. In other words an artist must have vision. Newton understood this and I shall leave the last word to him: ‘A gasometer can make as beautiful a picture as a palace on the Grand Canal in Venice. It simply depends on the artist’s vision.’
True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh
1 July - 29 October 2017
LLFA are delighted to have lent paintings by Maxwell Armfield (1881-1972), Cosmo Clarke (1897-1967), Colin Gill (1892-1940), Henry Arthur Riley (1895-1966), Edward Halliday (1902-1984), Winifred Knights (1899-1947), and Victor Moody (1896-1990) to the National Gallery of Scotland and works by Douglas Percy Bliss (1900-1984), Phyllis Dodd (1899-1995), Barnett Freedman (1901-1958), Percy Horton (1897-1970), Charles Mahoney (1903-1968) and Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) to the Towner Art Gallery.
photomontage, pen & ink and watercolour on paper, 19 ¾ x 28 ¾ in. (50 x 73 cm).
Up in the Air, photomontage on paper, 12 ½ x 13 ¾ in. (32 x 35 cm).
David Evans (1929-1988)
The first ever book on an exceptional British watercolourist who captured the period charm of the glam - rock era and shift ing political landscape of Thatcher’s Britain.
Before his tragic early death in a road accident David Evans had six solo exhibitions at The Redfern Gallery, London, between 1979 and 1988. While powerfully evoking the period charm of the glam-rock era Evans showed a conscious awareness of the shifting political landscape around him. His compositions convey a kaleidoscopic vision of Thatcher’s Britain: an era of urban re-development, the Falklands war, industrial unrest, nuclear power, and the Cold War. In Evans’ huge watercolours (typically measuring one meter in height or bredth) transition is everywhere: new roads carve their way through the countryside; fighter jets cast their shadows across the landscape; the scars left by industrial plants, pylons and landfill permeate throughout.
Comparison to the large, idiosyncratic watercolours of Edward Burra (1905- 1976) is inevitable, but in Evans’ paintings there are also other clear generational influences, from Keith Vaughan (1912-1977), who Evans was taught by, to Peter Blake (b.1932), David Hockney (b.1937), Alan Reynolds (1926-2014), Lucian Freud (1922-2011), Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) and Edward Paolozzi (1924-2005). Alistair Hicks’ essay, which considers the post-war art scene in Britain, describes the essential context from which Evans’ vision was to emerge; at the same time it creates a compelling argument that Evans’ vision remained essentially his own. Pete Gage, best known as the vocalist from the R&B band Dr. Feelgood, has written an intimate account of his friendship with David Evans. His recollections recreate a unique picture of the artist that might so easily have been lost. The previously unseen collage and pen and ink compositions of the 1950s and 1960s, found in the studio alongside the more familiar large scale watercolours of the 1970s and 1980s, are a revelation. and complete the previous unchartered account of his artistic journey. Welcome to the lost kingdom of David Evans.
Air Escape, watercolour on paper,
29 x 46 in. (74 x 117 cm).
Pot au Fer (British Steel), watercolour on paper, 30 ¼ x 48 in. (77 x 122 cm).
Cloth of Tin, watercolour on paper,
26 ¾ x 41 in. (65 x 93 cm).
View through open window, 1944, signed and dated 44,
Watercolour on paper, 16 ½ x 22 in. (42 x 56 cm).
‘A KIND OF SIMPLICITY’ Kenneth Rowntree
An introduction to the exhibition by Peter Riley, Young Gallery
Broad interest, keen eye, natural ability, intellect, capacity to distil images, approachable person, depth of character, sense of colour and moment in time, a feeling of adventure and discovery. These are terms which could describe a number of notable artists; what makes Kenneth Rowntree special is his capacity to bring them together in ‘a kind of simplicity’, which is very refreshing.
There is something that is quite straight forward about this artist’s development and sense of belonging, oeuvre. ‘May be it’s because he’s a Northerner….’ gritty, determined, self-assured, that his works finds a resonance to us today and still holds a special relevance.
As a curator you are always looking out for that special work, I found it for our collection in a watercolour by Rowntree titled ‘View from an Open Window’ 1944, undoubtedly part of the Recording Britain series. Rowntree captures through economical watercolour technique, a singular moment in time that is evocative of those perplexing days.
Come and see it yourself, along with a representative collection of his works. A centenary exhibition, organised by Harry Moore-Gwyn, Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss.
Evelyn Dunbar, An English Calendar, 1938, Oil on canvas, 72 x 72 in. (183 x 183 cm) Exhibited: Wildenstein’s 1938 Collection: Archives Imperial College London; Photograph: Richard Valencia © Christopher Campbell-Howes, Courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
Modern British Art.
Guy Schooling said: “My first pick for 2017 is the same as last year – the rising fortunes for the likes of John Nash, Cedric Morris and Kenneth Rowntree. Morris saw major auction records set and his star continues to rise, while the others also did well. Depending on the availability of works, in 2017 we will see Morris pursued to greater heights, and I would also keep an eye on Christopher Wood, who shot to prominence in 2016 and whose catalogue raisonné is in the offing. John Nash, John Aldridge of the Great Bardfield artists, who is already on the rise, and – again if works become available – John Nash, Peter Schmidt, William Roberts and Evelyn Dunbar, are all in my sights.”
The search for new names and the best works continues to grow. Expect high prices for female artists who have been written out of the history of art, and whose newly-discovered work will be central to future museum exhibitions. This will, as ever, affect the art market. Gallery owners, dealers and museums will place great emphasis on finding new, hidden artistry like Hilma af Klint, and the best work by artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Irma Stern and Frida Khalo, who already enjoy high profiles, will continue to achieve strong prices at auction. Frida Kahlo’s Dos Desnudos en el Bosque sold for $8m (£6.5m) at Christie’s in 2016. Not only was this a world auction record for Khalo, it was also the highest price paid for a work by a Latin American artist.
Frank Brangwyn, study for Man the Master, 1930-1934.
Oil on canvas, 108 x 72 in. (274.3 x 182.9 cm).
Provenance E Kenneth Center; William de Belleroche
© David Brangwyn, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
Liss Llewellyn Fine Art has been dealing in works by Frank Brangwyn for the last 30 years. Company director and founder Paul Liss gives his view of the current market
IN THE EARLY 1930s one of the richest men in the world, Nelson Rockefeller, set out to persuade the most famous artists of the era to paint murals for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) building situated at the heart of the new Rockefeller Center.This prestigious commission was first offered to Picasso and Matisse, but when they both turned it down the Spanish artist José Maria Sert and the Mexican Diego Rivera were appointed to carry out the scheme alongside the internationally renowned British artist Frank Brangwyn. Two of Brangwyn’s full size studies in oil for this work now hang in my kitchen in the South of France (right).They might have a value today of a few thousand pounds, but not more. How is it possible that, some 60in keeping with Joseph’s usual practice of building strongly delineated but flat colour areas without chiaroscuro (very slight shadows are glimpsed in the drapery and behind the handbag chain): the image has the look of a dull day, despite sunshine and blue sky. The subdued hues are tonally harmonious, relieved only by touches of brighter colour. Although years after his death, Brangwyn’s star has fallen so far that works of such obvious historic worth are of relatively little commercial value?
Brangwyn had an international reputation during his lifetime, admired by such luminaries as Kandinsky, Klimt, Toulouse-Lautrec, Tiffany and Bonnard. His work was purchased by the newspaper magnate R. D. Elliott (now housed in the Mildura Arts Centre, Australia); the wealthy Japanese industrialist Kojiro Matsukata (many of which are now in the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo); and Sergei Shchukin, the visionary Russian collector. Anyone who has time to visit the blockbuster exhibition of Shchukin’s collection Icons of Modern Art, currently on at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris (until February 20) will see Brangwyn’s The Market (1893) alongside the dozens of celebrated Cezanne’s, Gauguin’s and Picasso’s. There are many museums worldwide dedicated either fully or partially to Brangwyn – in the UK alone the British Museum has 684 Brangwyn’s while the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow (which owes its existence to Brangwyn) includes 388 of his works.
A cursory glance at the Brangwyn auction market shows that about 2,000 Brangwyn’s have passed through the major auction houses in the last 30 years. The highest price, £160,000 (hammer) was for a modest sized oil painting entitled Fowey Harbour (Christie’s 2002). The next highest price, £65,000, (Christie’s 2010) was for the larger and grander The Cider Press followed by £55,000 for Above the Fishing Village (Christie’s 2012). On all three of these prices the hammer fell at the reserve figure. From this it might be surmised that auction houses feel instinctively that Brangwyn ought to be worth more – but have difficulty persuading the market to follow suit. Another striking fact about prices at auction is that most records were achieved some time ago – overall prices have not risen substantially for Brangwyn over the last 30 years. The highest price for a work on paper, Cafe in Montreuil, £9,000, was achieved in 1999 (Christie’s) and, of the 15 other works on paper at auction that have made over £5000, nothing has been more recent than 2007.
The highest price for a Brangwyn etching is a very modest £2,200, for Cannon Street Station, (Sotheby’s 2001). Iconic might be too colourful a word to apply to anything by Brangwyn, but highly desirable prints include Breaking Up of The Hannibal (1904) which was priced at 10 guineas when exhibited at the Rembrandt Gallery, London in 1905. Santa Maria della Salute (1905), arguably Brangwyn’s most famous print of all, which won the Grand Prix at the 1906 Milan International Exhibition and a gold medal at the 1907 Venice International Exhibition. In 1907 copies sold for £15 guineas. Liss Llewellyn Fine Art (LLFA) currently has a copy of this for under a thousand pounds (lbelow) the vast majority of Brangwyn’s prints sell for under £500. And yet in his day he was one of the most sought after printmakers of his generation. Why is Brangwyn so undervalued today and what might change that?
Frank Brangwyn, Santa Maria della Salute. Unmounted. Etching. According to Walter Sparrow, this etching won the gold medal at the 1907 Venice International Exhibition and the Grand Prize at the 1906 Milan International Exhibition © David Brangwyn, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
2006 marked the 50th anniversary of Brangwyn’s death and resulted in a spate of exhibitions. To mark the occasion LLFA organised the largest ever commercial exhibition of his works at The Fine Art Society and published, in collaboration with Brangwyn expert Dr Libby Horner, A Mission to Decorate Life - The Brangwyn Handbook. Prior to 2006 numerous books and articles had been written about Brangwyn but none of them involved original scholarly research and unfounded myths were perpetuated. Even the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on Brangwyn included 25 factual errors, including the wrong date of birth. Libby Horner is currently compiling the catalogue raisonné of all Brangwyn’s work, estimated to be in excess of 12,000 pieces. She has to date published Frank Brangwyn: Stained Glass (2011), the first catalogue in the world to be produced as a DVD, and Brangwyn at War! (2014).
The greatest problem with the market for Brangwyn revolves around questions of authenticity. Libby Horner and I estimate that more than 25 percent of what appears at auction described as Brangwyn is not by him. Almost any bad painting of North Africa or Belgium will inevitably be attributed to Brangwyn. Fortunately the larger auction houses now routinely seek Libby Horner’s advice and every genuine Brangwyn has or will have a unique reference number in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné. But if ever the much cited caveat emptor has reason to be written in Hollywood-size letters, then Brangwyn would be a natural cause. Misattributions aside the market is not without other complications. Brangwyn’s popularity meant he was hugely copied by art students and admirers. Even D H Lawrence wrote: “To copy a Frank Brangwyn is a joy, so refreshing.” And these are, of course, not fakes – unless a signature is added later. In a nutshell, by definition, all fakes are signed, to which end attaching too much importance to a signature is fateful.
If a picture is by Brangwyn it should be obvious because of the idiosyncrasies that are rarely missing from his works. These are typically visible in his abbreviated drawing of hands and faces, the rapid handling of medium, trademark compositional devices, and his typically saturated palette. There is almost always a fluency in the execution that copies and fakes fail to replicate convincingly – an economy of line that is inevitably missing in the mimicry of overly self-conscious copies. There are further complications which go beyond the issue of authenticity: Kenneth Centre, one of Brangwyn’s many assistants, is known to have completed works that lay unfinished in Brangwyn’s studio. Promoters like William de Belleroche at times let their enthusiasm for Brangwyn blur the edges of propriety. Part painter, part dealer, and fulltime socialite, de Belleroche built up a remarkable collection of works by Brangwyn which were sold at Christie’s in 1961. De Belleroche definitely recovered quite a lot of works that Brangwyn would have in the normal course of events thrown away. And the market is the merrier, but more complicated, for it.
Frank Brangwyn, Man with Cross bow, c. 1927. Unmounted. Black, white and brown chalk over a lithographic base, 46.5 x 36 cm (18 x 14in). From the collection of Count William de Belleroche until 1961; private collection until 2001; © David Brangwyn, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
In 1927 the Brangwyn Portfolio was published by E. F. d’Alignan and Paul Turpin in a limited edition of 120, costing 100 guineas each. Responding to a demand for high quality reproductions of his work Brangwyn himself chose 100 items which he felt were representative of his range of disciplines, including 12 original etchings and three original lithographs. The remaining 85 works were lithographic reproductions of watercolours, pastels and drawings produced by photomechanical means to which Brangwyn and his assistants added chalk or watercolour through stencils, giving the impression of original works. In fact such is the quality of these reproductions that they are frequently mistaken for the real thing – even by the top auction houses. As such they often fetch at auction far more than they are worth. LLFA typically sells these for between £50 and £500 which, given their quality represents excellent value, provided the buyer knows what they are getting.
Milestones in the collecting of Brangwyn drawings include the Christie’s sale of Belleroche’s collection and Edgar Horn’s sale of Edgar Peacock’s collection in 2000. The recent discovery of works belonging to Brangwyn’s admirer, Father Jerome Esser marks a further watershed for collectors. The latter was commemorated in the 2015 publication Drawings from the Collection of Father Jerome Esser. The drawings in Esser’s collection, which were hidden for more than half a century, were made up of works that Brangwyn, with characteristic modesty, had left in his studio with a written instruction, “most of this lot destroy”. Never intended for presentation, they explore and resolve alternative compositions and the relation of figures to each other and to the space they occupy. Brangwyn’s vigorous approach to drawing and directness of observation place him among the greatest draughtsman of 20th-century British art.
WILL 2017 BE THE YEAR OF REVIVAL?
As well the LLFA initiative in 2006 and the Brangwyn exhibition at the William Morris Gallery, the 50th centenary of Brangwyn’s death was marked by a major touring exhibition, curated by Libby Horner, Frank Brangwyn 1867-1956, and a book of the same name edited by Gillian Naylor and Libby Horner. This was followed in 2010 by a major exhibition at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, co-curated by Libby Horner and attended by nearly 100,000 people. It won an award for the best researched exhibition by the Western Arts Foundation, Japan. When LLFA sold the rights to Brangwyn’s Cider Press to a popular Japanese manufacturer of apple pie I thought that a major Brangwyn revival might finally be underway…but the eureka moment failed to materialise. More recent initiatives have included the William Morris Gallery’s 2014 war-themed exhibition, Help is Better than Sympathy; a recent exhibition at Court Barn, Chipping Campden, Brangwyn 1856-1967, and Man of the People at Scarborough Art Gallery, which ended in January (again co-curated by Libby Horner and accompanied by a catalogue). It is too soon to say that this year will mark another milestone. What can be said with certainty is that Brangwyn deserves all (and more) of the critical attention he is getting and his work remains fantastic value for money. But for any reader hoping to get rich on Brangwyn a quick a note of caution – one of Brangwyn’s masterpieces, The Printed Word Makes the World One commissioned by Odham’s Press in 1935, among his largest, most colourful and characteristic works, has just been consigned to LLFA for sale (below). Twice on the market previously, in 1977 and 1987, it was on both occasions offered to Tate Britain. In the first instance an internal memo read: “Though it is certainly a very typical work, I am afraid that there is not much chance of our being interested in buying it.” Tate 4/2/130/1. The painting was again offered in 1987 when the Tate internal memo read: “In theory we need this … but I find the picture rather ridiculous.” Tate 4/2/130/1. I will be offering the painting to Tate again, some 30 years after it found its way to a private Canadian collection. What, I wonder, will the internal memo in 2017 have to tell posterity?
Frank Brangwyn, The Printed Word Makes the People of the World One, mural for the entrance hall of Odham Press, London, 1935-36. Framed.
Oil on tempera canvas washed-in with tempera, 396.2 x 548.6cm (156 x 216in); © David Brangwyn, courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
I am grateful to Dr Libby Horner for supplying extensive information used in this piece, without which it would have been impossible to put together. Her website, which is the best source of information on Brangwyn and gives details of her forthcoming publications and projects, can be found at www.frankbrangwyn.org. Dr Horner and Hilary Chapman’s book Yoshijiro Urushibara: a Japanese Printmaker in London will be published by Brill this spring. For more details of the Liss Llewellyn Fine Art visit www.LLFA.gallery. Subscribers wishing to receive a free catalogue of the collection of Father Jerome Esser should email email@example.com.
The Agate (Portrait of the Artist and his Wife), 1911
Signed with initials and dated 1911
Tempera on linen, 38 3/4 x 19 3/16 in. (98.4 x 48.8 cm)
© Estate of Joseph Edward Southall / National Portrait Gallery, London.
Liss Llewellyn Fine Art are delighted to have negotiated the sale of Joseph Southall’s The Agate to The National Portrait Gallery, on behalf of a client.
Joseph Southall (1861–1944)
Southall was born in Nottingham of Quaker parents, and was taken by his mother to Birmingham when his father died the following year. In i874 he entered the Friends’ School. Bootham, where he was taught painting by Edwin Moore (brother of Albert and Henry). Four years later he joined the Birmingham firm of architects, Martin and Chamberlain, but in 1882 he left to concentrate on painting, attending the Birmingham School of Art where he met A J Gaskin, henceforth his closest friend, and other members of the Birmingham Group. About the same time he settled at 13 Charlotte Road, Edgbaston, his home for the rest of his life. In 1883 he spent eight weeks in Italy, absorbing the early masters, and on his return he began to experiment with tempera. Meanwhile, through an uncle, he had made the acquaintance of Ruskin, who commissioned him to design a museum for the Guild of St George at Bewdlev (1885); this came to nothing but took him again to Italy. He also received encouragement from W B Richmond and Burne Jones, to whom he paid visits in London (1893-7). In 1895 he began to exhibit at the RA (Cat. 72), showing there till 1942, while also supporting the New Gallery (1897-1909), the RBSA (Associate 1898. member 1902) and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society shows (1899-1923). In 1901, together with J D Batten, Walter Crane and others, he helped to found the Society of Painters in Tempera, and he was undoubtedly the single most important exponent of the tempera revival. Though never, like so many members of the Birmingham Group, on the staff of the local Art School, he gave lessons on tempera painting in his Edgbaston studio and lectured on the subject widely. As well as literary figure subjects, he painted genre scenes, portraits and landscapes; his wife Anna Elizabeth, a first cousin whom he married in 1903, appears in many of his pictures, and often helped to decorate their elaborate gilded frames. Southall was a leading figure among Birmingham Quakers, a Socialist and pacifist; he campaigned vigorously against the conduct of the Great War, during which he painted the fresco of ‘Corporation Street, Birmingham, in March 1914’, on the staircase of the Birmingham Art Gallery, (completed in 1916). In later life he joined the NEAC and RWS (1925), participated in joint exhibitions with other Birmingham and tempera painters, held a number of one-man shows (notably at the Alpine Club 1922), and, building on the success of an exhibition at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris in 1910, established a considerable international reputation. He and his wife paid frequent visits to Italy, sometimes with Charles and Margaret Gere; also to France, Southwold and Fowey, where he found many subjects. In 1933 he was appointed Professor of Painting at the RBSA (President 1939), and in 1937 began a fresco in the Council House. It was not, however, completed; that August he underwent a major operation and never fully recovered, dying in 1944. A memorial exhibition was held at Birmingham, the RWS and Bournemouth the following year.
Isobel Atterbury Heath, Woman Operating a Lathe, c.1944.
Where to buy...
WWII: War Pictures by British Artists
at Morley Gallery
Seven decades on, the horrors of the Second World War still resonate and pictorial records of the conflict have lost none of their power to shock. Nevertheless, many of the official war artists subsidised by the British Government have been unjustly forgotten – a travesty that this new exhibition of works produced during the conflict aims to set straight. While familiar names (Eric Ravillious and Edward Ardizzone among them) do crop up, most of the works on show are by artists long since forgotten. The exhibition features explosive depictions of aerial warfare, shell-cratered moonscapes and, perhaps most interestingly, paintings that chronicle the humdrum slog of civilian life in these extraordinary circumstances.
Best of the lot is Cliff Rowe’s sparkling depiction of parachute flares over a Blitz-ravaged city, a painting that finds beauty even in the most threatening conditions. Prices start at £200.
61 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 (020 7450 1889)
Until 23 November.
Morley Gallery, 61 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1,
28 Oct-23 Nov, Mon-Fri 11-6, Sat 12-4.
A show to mark the 75th anniversary of the War Artists Advisory Committee (mission: ‘to keep artists at work on any pretext, and, as far as possible, to prevent them from being killed’.)
This painting by Michael Ford shows men from the 3rd Infantry Division – the first British division to land at Sword Beach on D-Day.
What to see and read this week:
WW2 – War Pictures by British Artists is at Morley Gallery, Morley College, 61, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1, until November 23 (020–7450 1826; www.morleycollege.ac.uk/gallery)
Marking the 75th anniversary of the OUP books of the same title, this show is organised around the themes of the original wartime series – War At Sea, Blitz, R.A.F., Army, Women, Production Soldiers and Air Raids. An accompanying book includes an essay on the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC) by Dr Brian Foss and an illustrated catalogue of the 150 pictures by 70 artists in the exhibition (right). For details of associated lectures and study days, visit www.lissfineart.com.
Louis Keene completed Alert near Aldershot during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Keene was commanding officer of the Lorne Scots during the Second World War and his war pictures were exhibited at a National Gallery show in May 1942.
Barnett Freedman was one of the first artists to be commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee and was posted to France. The illustrator and painter was interested in recording operational methods. This proof lithograph, 15-inch Gun Turret, HMS Repulse, was finished in 1941.
Second chance to go into battle
Dealers follow Great War show with 1939-45 exhibition featuring many lesser-known names
“PEOPLE talk about the Second World War, their memories of fighting or the Blitz and there’s a huge amount of nostalgia around it. But it’s the art created around the First World War that most resonated with people.”
Paul Liss, co-founder of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, is recounting how he grappled with the subject of his newest exhibition, WWII: War Pictures by British Artists, a show that has been 15 years in the making.
Following the success of his exhibition The Great War as Recorded in the Fine and Popular Arts of two years ago, the question for his new show was: how can we portray this very different war in a wholly new way?
“I didn’t want to just be a dealer with 150 pictures to show,” Liss adds.
The solution came from the same source as the exhibition’s namesake, the eight-volume War Pictures by British Artists, which recorded the work of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee (WAAC) – and which opportunely celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. The categories that divided the volumes provided the eight sections of the exhibition: war at sea, Blitz, RAF, army, women, production, soldiers and air raids.
The result of this work will be exhibited from October 28 to November 23 at the Morley College Gallery in Lambeth, a stone’s throw from the Imperial War Museum.
All the paintings in the exhibition have passed through Liss Llewellyn’s hands at some point. Liss estimates that 75% are pieces they acquired during the past decade and a half and purposefully held on to with a show such as this in mind. The other 25% are loan items from clients who have previously purchased the same work from the dealers.
The production of a catalogue is an integral part of the overall project. Part of the reason the firm has remained without a gallery, Liss explains, is to devote itself to the production of such books. The proceeds for any book sold during the course of the exhibition are then donated back to the institution that hosts the show, in this case Morley College Gallery.
Morley College will be staging a number of relevant talks during the exhibition, including one on the orchestras of Auschwitz by Leo Geyer and Lady Ester Gilbert, and another on Lambeth midwifery during the war by Robert Holden.
Liss Llewellyn devotes much of its time to curating exhibitions hosted in museum settings – after which it often carries out some low-key trading. WWII is unusual in being predominantly a selling show.
And this leaves the online gallery in an advantageous position, even compared to large museums.
“If a museum held a Second World War exhibition they would have to focus on the big names in order to bring in the required footfall,” Liss says. “The joy of this project is that it brings together the names of so many artists whose work is today unfamiliar to the majority of art lovers.” While some of the most familiar names (Dunbar, Ardizzone and Ravilious) are represented, less familiar artists also feature, such as Frank Potter, Michael Ford and Louise Keene. The result, Liss hopes, is an exhibition that is at once engaging and provides visitors with “a real sense of discovery”.
WWII War Pictures by British Artists is on display from 28 October until 23 November 2016 at Morley Gallery in London.
Address: Morley Gallery, Morley College, 62 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7HT
Opening times: 11am – 6pm Monday – Friday and noon – 4pm Saturday
Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss have edited and published a catalogue and essay collection to accompany the exhibition.
War Pictures by British Artists
Artwork commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC) during the Second World War is due to go on display at a new exhibition in London. Established by the Ministry of Information in 1939, and chaired by National Gallery director Kenneth Clark, the WAAC hired some 403 artists to document the conflict. The committee’s self-stated aim was to ‘draw up a list of artists qualified to record the war at home and abroad’.
The exhibition takes its name from an eight-volume pocket-sized pamphlet series called War Pictures by British Artists. The series was published by Oxford University Press to help promote official war art at the height of World War II. The original booklets were issued in two batches, each comprising four themed titles. War at Sea, RAF, Army, and Blitz were published in 1942, and Soldiers, Production, Air Raids and Women were issued one year later.
Owing to the booklets’ small size and the limitations of 20th-century printing, the artworks were reproduced in low-resolution and without colour. But the first series was so popular that the initial print run of 24,000 copies sold out in just six months.
Many other wartime illustrators drew and painted privately, their works gaining much less exposure. However, these artists added to the richness of the artistic record of the war, portraying it in a variety of styles and mediums, using different materials to emphasise the messages of their pictures.
This October, in conjunction with Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, the Morley Gallery in London will showcase many original WAAC pieces alongside unofficial war art from the same period. Housed in Morley College, which was home to a number of beautiful British murals destroyed during the Blitz, the display is a fitting tribute to the devastating but not insurmountable damage wrought by the Second World War.
WWII War Pictures by British Artists is on display from 28 October until 23 November 2016 at Morley Gallery in London.
Address: Morley Gallery, Morley College, 62 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7HT
Opening times: Monday-Friday 11am-6pm and Saturday noon-4pm
Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss have edited and published a catalogue and essay collection to accompany the exhibition.
By Marina Vaizey
A forgotten Slade alumnus restored to prominence
Winifred Knights (1899-1947) was an impeccable draughtsman: her portrait drawings are compelling. She deployed fine webs of lines, her sure hand applying gradated pressure resulting in mesmerising studies of people that are hypnotically fascinating. Who knew pencil could do so much? But she was also a painter, a slow worker using techniques that were deliberately old-fashioned.
As much of her surviving work as it is possible to retrieve is on view at Dulwich in an act of inspired re-discovery. The exhibition also tells us much about women artists near the beginning of the 20th century and of the emphases on skill, technique and the ability to make public paintings – notably murals – that were integral components of the curricula a century ago. Scrutinising her rare art is an example too of how we must continually refresh the story of art as we look at those major and minor artists – a Dulwich speciality – who have slipped from the collective memory.
Winifred Knights had vanished almost completely. Her output was small for several reasons: she was of a nervous disposition, she had a passion for intense relationships, and she was a very slow and deliberate artist. She had a breakdown in the First World War partly as a consequence of the zeppelin raids over London, and she stopped working almost entirely in the latter part of her short life. Her subjects, allegorical in idioms that recalled perhaps most strikingly the still and captivating poses of early Renaissance painting, were by the 1930s in Britain – in spite of a neo-classical revival – almost completely unfashionable.
Her rediscovery casts light on art education at the volatile and highly influential Slade School in the early part of the last century (think Professor Henry Tonks, a superb portraitist who was crucial in helping surgeons with pioneering plastic surgery after the war, and Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer amongst others). She was precocious; born in south London, she started at the Slade aged 16. She was gifted at illustration, slowly moving into work that was less specific and more meditative. She painted scenes of English life – an allotment, a Bank Holiday in a village, a market square with a sheep auction – giving them a curiously seductive, ritualistic flavour. Leaving the Munition Works, 1919, is replete with a variety of social interactions that serve as subtle notations of class.
The main reason, of course, to look again is the skill and quality of her work.Knights was the first woman ever to win the fiercely competitive Rome Scholarship in Decorative Painting, subsequently spending three years at the British School in Rome. In the 19th century almost every respectable and significant town hall, let alone major libraries, schools and religious buildings, commissioned murals, so it was not bizarre for artists to immerse themselves in the necessary techniques. The decorative mural, a wall painting that could be both decorative but also communicate a subject with a witty even profound visual intelligence, continued to be of import for the practice of art into the 20th century. The Deluge, 1920 (main picture), uses a palette more restricted than her later work inspired by Italy. It shows a barefoot group cascading upwards towards a hill that might help preserve them from the forthcoming cataclysm. The poses recall the new ways of using the body that were being exploited in modern dance.
Her five years in Italy, when she naturally and at the time unfashionably fell under the spell of Piero della Francesca, were formative. It allowed her in her finest work to show a contained choreographed energy in the stillest of poses, a frieze of people caught in frozen moments, and projecting a fierce yet subtle intensity. Her people, looking like statues, holding a pose so hard they might be quivering if we could but see, have feelings that are suppressed, repressed and about to explode. Her captivating painting of haunted stillness, The Marriage at Cana, 1923 (pictured left), has journeyed from New Zealand’s National Museum in Wellington, gifted there by the British School in 1957.
Edge of Abruzzi, 1924-1930, is a calm Italian landscape, yellow sun-dried hills lie row upon row into the distance, underneath a quietly radiant, pale blue Italian sky while in the foreground a still lake bears a boat with a human trio. The Santissima Trinita, 1924-1930, shows curled-up figures again in a powerfully bleached Italian landscape. In an extraordinarily modern and fascinating variation on all she had absorbed from Italian Renaissance art is an ambitious Scenes from the Life of Saint Martin of Tours, 1928-1933, done for Canterbury Cathedral, bathed in an intense clarity.
This is an exhibition that slowly yields its pleasures, and in the frenetic time we currently inhabit, it is also curiously soothing. In a not uncommon paradox, her troubled life did not impair the serenity of her art.
Winifred Knights (1899-1947) at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 18 September
Compositional study for The Deluge, 1920. Credit: The Estate of Winifred Knights
Portrait of Winifred Knights, 1934. Credit: The Estate of Winifred Knights
Scenes from The Life of Saint Martin of Tours. Credit: The Estate of Winifred Knights
Santissima Trinita, 1928. Private Collection. Credit: The Estate of Winifred Knights
Winifred Knights, Dulwich Picture Gallery: these exquisite, never been shown artworks are a revelation: review
If the British artist Winifred Knights (1899-1947) is remembered at all today, it is for a single picture: The Deluge (1920), in the Tate.
This striking scene, with its dynamic sideways rhythm, in which 21 figures clamber away from a waterfall towards a mountain, won a prestigious award, and made her name.
Knights was declared a “genius” for fusing Italian Quattrocento painting with angular Vorticist modernity, transforming a Biblical subject into a lament for the First World War. Aged just 21, she was earmarked for great things.
Yet, even though she subsequently painted an altarpiece for Canterbury Cathedral, when she died suddenly of a brain tumour, she received no obituary.
During her lifetime, she never exhibited by herself. Moreover, since her death, there hasn’t been a single retrospective of her work.
All of which makes Dulwich Picture Gallery’s exquisite new exhibition a revelation. Around 95 per cent of the 120 artworks on display have never been shown before.
Knights was born into a modest, middle-class family in the south London suburb of Streatham. She grew into a beautiful young woman known for her singular sense of style.
She always wore her hair, for instance, in the manner of Renaissance bombshells such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Belle Ferronniere.
Prodigiously gifted at drawing, she wanted to become a book illustrator, and enrolled at the Slade art school in 1915. She quickly became a star student, mentored by her exacting drawing tutor, Henry Tonks.
Curated by the freelance art historian Sacha Llewellyn, this astonishing exhibition tells Knight’s story immaculately. All five of her major paintings, accompanied by fascinating preparatory studies, are presented together for the first time. These include The Marriage at Cana (1923), which ended up in New Zealand after the Tate turned it down during the Fifties.
This spellbinding canvas records Knight’s infatuation with Italian art as well as her husband, the artist Thomas Monnington, with whom she began a love affair in Rome. Evoking Italian “Primitives” such as Piero della Francesca, without descending into pastiche, it has a serene, graceful, otherworldly quality.
Moreover, the composition is animated by several slices of juicy watermelon that glisten on a banquet table with the radiance of pink gemstones, offset by the surrounding palette of subdued creams, fawns, olive greens, dusky pinks, and browns.
Despite ravishing craftsmanship, however, Knight’s last major painting, the Canterbury altarpiece of 1928-33, was less successful. Under pressure from the bullying architect who had commissioned her, she abandoned ethereal colours and poetic atmosphere for something brighter and more “finished”. The result was mannered.
By the Thirties, the early promise of Knight’s career had given way to frustration. Increasingly she suffered from anxiety, which had afflicted her ever since a breakdown caused by Zeppelin air raids in 1917. Following the birth of a son in 1934, she effectively stopped painting.
Still, despite the fact that she was the polar opposite of prolific, it is shocking to discover that an artist blessed with this much talent could have been neglected for so long. Bravo, Dulwich Picture Gallery, for rescuing Knights from the deluge of obscurity.
From June 8 until September 18. Information: 020 8693 5254
Winifred Knights was an artists’ model as well as a painter in her own right. Photo courtesy of the Estate of Winifred Knights.
‘The Marriage at Cana,’ which Knights completed in 1923, is now in the collection of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.
By Frances Allitt
Sacha Llewellyn is a co-founder of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, which specialises in reappraising under-represented artists of the past.
But five years ago she took the task of reintroducing an artist back into the public eye to new lengths when she began her pursuit of the life and works of Winifred Knights (1899-1947).
“I’ve always felt since I knew about Knights’ works that she deserves greater recognition, even though she was so well known during her life,” Llewellyn told ATG.
With her fully illustrated biography of Knights’ life, published by Lund Humphries, released in late May, and the Knights retrospective – the first ever – now open at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Llewellyn looks back on the past five years with pleasure.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be privileged to work on something as wonderful as this again,” says Llewellyn. Encompassing Knights’ paintings, studies, drawings and photographs, the exhibition, which runs to September 18, gives visitors a look at an artist with a lot to show and a distinct way of showing it.
Knights grew up in London and became an award-winning student at the Slade School. In 1920 she became the first woman to win the Scholarship in Decorative Painting from the British School at Rome.
She studied the compositional processes of Renaissance painters. Still, the dreamy quality and geometry of her works make them distinctly modern. So too does their subject matter which explores women’s autonomy through the reinterpretation of biblical and mythological tales.
“She is the protagonist in every picture she painted, so each one shows what she was living through at that minute,” Llewellyn explains.
Despite the slightly eerie quality that some of the works have, Llewellyn feels that walking through the halls of the gallery where the works are hung is calming.
Yet she estimates that 95% of the 120 works on show have never been seen in public before.
And until now, the only one of Knights’ major works that could easily be viewed in the UK was The Deluge at the Tate.
Llewellyn’s search for Knights’ five major paintings led her to international galleries such as the Museum of New Zealand which has held The Marriage at Cana since the Tate turned it down in 1957. It has not been in the UK since.
When people do see them, they are “completely bowled over”. And, Llewellyn adds, “what I’m very much hoping is that some works that aren’t known will come to light”.
During the time she worked on putting the book on Knights’ life and the exhibition together, she took a hiatus from her role at Liss Llewellyn, and when she returns, it’s unlikely that any of the works currently on loan in Dulwich will come up for sale on the gallery’s website.
Knights’ work is seldom on the market. “Those who have the few existing tend to hold on to them,” Llewellyn says.
Every year the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History is awarded to a scholarly publication that demonstrates outstanding achievement in the field of British Art History. Awarded jointly by The British Art Journal and the Berger Collection Educational Trust, the Berger prize is recognized as the most prestigious award in its field.
We are proud to announce that our publications
Evelyn Dunbar – The Lost Works
Kenneth Rowntree – A Centenary Exhibition
have been nominated for this year’s prize.
Notre-Dame and le Pont de l’Achevêché, oil on paper, 33 x 55.9 cm
© The Artist’s Estate c/o Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
Charles Cundall 1890-1971
Edited by Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss
(Liss Llewellyn Fine Art (www.llfa.gallery), £25)
“Twentieth-century Grand Tour”: Notre-Dame and le Pont de l’Achevêché is one of many Continental scenes by the subject of Charles Cundall 1890-1971, edited by Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss, which accompanies an exhibition of the artist’s work at Sotheran’s, 2-5 Sackville Street, London W1, until Saturday 7 May (and online at www.llfa.gallery) (Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, £25, ISBN: 978-0-9567139-8-8) The fine colour plates include, nearer to home, wartime and industrial scenes and his portrayal of the opening of Coventry Cathedral.
This is thought to be a study for Bordeaux refugees at Falmouth
© The Artist’s Estate c/o Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
Charles Cundall 1890-1971
Edited by Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss
(Liss Llewellyn Fine Art (www.llfa.gallery), £25)
Charles Cundall RA was a brush for all seasons. Like the late Julian Barrow, despite being a working artist, he painted as much for pleasure as for gain – it was his lifeblood. His lightness of touch and sensitiveness to the nuances of tone are immediately evident in the many oil-on-paper sketches that form the bulk of a new exhibition in Salisbury. Most of these sketches are shorthand notes made en plein air to be worked up later in the studio. The resulting large canvasses were regularly shown in the RA Summer Exhibition, in which Cundall appeared for more than 50 years, or created to be shown to prospective clients. He was a safe pair of hands, who could be trusted with any commission, particularly crowd scenes – state occasions, Derby Day, football at Stamford Bridge, Henley Regatta, the withdrawal from Dunkirk, the wartime Operations Room at Uxbridge or more mundanely, the building of power stations and steelworks.
Artists like Cundall are the bedrock of art: sound, not especially original, but capable of giving lasting pleasure and creating records of historic importance. This excellent, copiously illustrated book/catalogue, produced by Liss Llewellyn Fine Art to accompany the exhibition, includes William Gaunts 1967 typescript for a previously unpublished monograph on Cundall commissioned by Sir Harald Peake.
‘Charles Cundall: A Working Method’ is at Young Gallery, Market Place, Salisbury, Wiltshire, until April 21 (01722 343275) and then at Sotheran’s, 2-5 Sackville Street, London W1, April 28-May 7 (020-7439 6151)
Study for a painting of the Steel Company of Wales, Newport, c.1958,
oil on canvas, 26 x 30 in. (66 x 76.2 cm)
Provenance: Acquired directly from the Artist’s Daughter
Literature: Charles Cundall – A Working Method, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss,
published by Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, February 2016.
Charles Cundall – Salisbury & London
Charles Cundall – A Working Method, Young Gallery, Market Place, Salisbury SP1, until 21st April 2016 then at Sotheran’s, 2-4 Sackville Street, London W1, 28th April – 7th May 2016.
Charles Cundall (1890-1971) was without doubt a talented and well-travelled artist. He started as a designer at the Pilkington Pottery, before studying art at the Royal College of Art and then eventually at the Slade. Panoramic pictures were one of his specialities and they reveal his skill in handling texture and light as well as depicting people. He was also a war artist in World War II. We are fortunate that this exhibition is also coming to London in a week or two.
By Robin Simon
Charles Cundall – A Working Method
This is a chance to rediscover a master of 20th-century British art. Cundall died in 1971, just as the centuries-old tradition of proper art training was being lost. His supreme technique made him a brillaint war artist and, in his haunting landscapes from London to Assisi, he evoked a distinctive poetry of place.
Young Gallery, Salisbury, until 21 April.
Liss Llewellyn Fine Art has organized an exhibition of Frank Brangwyn’s Stations of the Cross at Rochester Cathedral.
On view from 18 February to 30 March 2016.
FRONT COVER : Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956),
The Three Kings, 1934, oil/board, (29.1 x 24 in.) 74 x 61 cm
©The Artist’s estate, c/o Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
November- December 2015
Some of the biggest British artists of the 20th Century indulged their whimsy by creating Christmas cards.
Cards from 20th-Century artists offer a tantalising glimpse of their private life, as well as a microcosm of the changes in British art. While some designs were true to the artists’ professional output, many reflected their more humorous side.
All images are courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art where many of the cards are on sale or have recently been sold.
“... I would like everything in Chichester’s terrific Pallant House Gallery bookshop but will settle for Evelyn Dunbar: The Lost Works (Liss Llewellyn Fine Art), Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss’s catalogue of the revelatory Dunbar exhibition.”
Evelyn Dunbar, Self portrait, 1930
The discovery of a hoard of lost works by Evelyn Dunbar has inspired an exhibition at Pallant House Gallery. We speak to Curator Katy Norris about Dunbar’s legacy as one of the most significant British figurative artists of the 20th century
In September 2012, the BBC Antiques Roadshow was held at Cawdor Castle and among the dolls, furniture and bric-a-brac that were brought by the queues waiting in the inevitable rain was a painting by Evelyn Dunbar (1906- 1960). As the only salaried female official war artist during WW2, Dunbar is celebrated for her wartime paintings, but she was also notable for her share in a public commission, the 1933-36 mural scheme at Brockley School, and for illustrations for several books about gardening and agriculture.
“It was the kind of moment that the television producers must cherish,” comments Katy Norris, Curator of the Evelyn Dunbar: The Lost Works at PallantHouse Gallery. For what was special about the Neo-Romantic painting entitled Autumn and the Poet (1960) was that it was part of a collection that had been missing for over 20 years.
After the programme, Autumn and the Poet was purchased and donated, through the agency of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, to Maidstone Museum (the donor wishing to anonymously record his gratitude to Dunbar for the kindness she had shown him as a foster mother).
But the story didn’t end there.
Watching the Antiques Roadshow broadcast, another relative, Ro Dunbar, felt inspired to look again at works which for years had been stored in her attic – and was amazed to find an extraordinary hoard of over 500 Dunbar paintings, drawings and studies. Evelyn Dunbar threw very little away and on her unexpected death in 1960, when she was 53, it transpired that her husband Roger had given the contents of her studio to her brother Alec for safe keeping. The unrecorded works were identified with the help of the artist’s nephew Christopher Campbell-Howes, who had been trying to track the contents of the ‘lost studio’ for over 20 years. The discovery doubled the known body of Dunbar’s work overnight.
Dunbar is so important because “her work demonstrates extraordinary talent,” explains Katy. “She was incredibly diverse and could at one time or another be described as a muralist, painter, illustrator and an official war artist.”
The wide-ranging exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, in association with Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, is a rare chance to encounter such a large quantity of previously unseen work by an important 20th-century artist. It is also in line with the gallery’s continuing commitment to the reappraisal of overlooked modern British artists.
An English Calendar, 1938
Dunbar trained at the Royal College of Art (RCA), where she was taught a blend of observational drawing and traditional painting techniques. Her pictures at this time reflect a growing interest among contemporary painters and illustrators in the art of the Renaissance, in particular the figurative paintings of Leon Battista Alberti.
Portraits of Dunbar and her family in the garden of their home, The Cedars, in Strood, Kent, show her use of classical compositions knitting together a casual family group. These works also reveal how easily she managed the transition between drawing and painting, with a mixture of detail and broad handling that later informed her work in illustration.
Among the individual portraits that Dunbar produced at this time was her own self-portrait (1930), in which she adopted the cool, critical gaze of the painter. Between 1933 and 1936,
Dunbar was among a team of recent graduates from the RCA who were invited by their tutor Cyril (Charles) Mahoney to create a mural design for the hall of Brockley County School for Boys in Lewisham. United by their dislike for London and yearning for the country, the chosen theme, Aesop’s Fables, gave the group scope for narrative subjects in landscape settings.
Working closely together at Brockley, Dunbar and Mahoney fell in love, brought together particularly by their mutual love of plants and gardening, which was reinforced by their friendship with artist colleagues such as Edward Bawden. In 1936, Dunbar invited Mahoney to share a commission from Routledge & Sons to write and illustrate Gardeners’ Choice, a guide to 40 unusual or unconventional flowering plants. As an exciting consequence of the show at Pallant House Gallery, it has been republished in facsimile by Persephone Books.
Dunbar’s work for Gardeners’ Choice led to a further commission from the editor Noel Carrington to compile the Country Life 1938 Gardener’s Diary.
A highlight of the exhibition is the painting An English Calendar, held in the collection of Imperial College, London. Katy says, “It is really valuable to see how the final painting grew out of her initial ideas, as they reveal the genesis of perhaps her most accomplished work.
I think it also perfectly illustrates the bounds of Dunbar’s imagination and her ability to push a creative idea to its limit. There is a wonderful sense of joy in the series; it seems that above all, Dunbar really relished making it.”
Sketch for Milking Practice with Articial Udders, 1940
Katy says Dunbar “captured all of her subjects with wonderful sensitivity whether they were her friends, family, or the plants in her garden. In that way she was also very democratic in her approach. There is a message in Dunbar’s work that human beings are part of the natural world and nature’s cycle, which I think in some way is very relevant to the environmental questions that we are facing now.”
For Dunbar, WW2 offered new opportunities to explore the relationship between people and the natural world. “Dunbar was appointed an official war artist in April 1940 and was the only woman known to have been employed on a category A basis, which meant that she received a salary for a prolonged period of time. There were a few other women involved with the War Artists Advisory Committee (WAAC) in Britain, but none were employed in this way that we know of.“
For example, Dame Laura Knight was employed at category B, which meant that she was employed for designated commissions or projects. There is some difference in this, as the WAAC showed extraordinary confidence in Dunbar’s ability by committing to a fixed salary and allowing her to find her own subjects within the remit of women’s activities on the Home Front.“
For three weeks in June 1940 Dunbar went to the Sparsholt Farm Institute near Winchester to make drawings and paintings of the training undertaken by recruits to the recently reformed Women’s Land Army. Her work led to important paintings, such as Milking Practice with Artificial Udders, now held in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, for which there is wonderful sketch in the exhibition. She returned to Sparsholt in October 1940 to collect more information, during which time she also met her husband Roger Folley.”
Katy continues: “The paintings that Dunbar created as an official war artist perfectly illustrate the statement given by the art critic Eric Newton that ‘the most successful of our war artists are not so much eye-witnesses of spectacular happenings as poets trying to catch the mood below the surface’. Works such as Men Stooking and Girls Learning to Stook and Milking Practice with Artificial Udders reveal ordinary women adapting to manual work that was often unfamiliar to them, and in this they provide an important social record of the time.
“Dunbar documented women’s changing role in society, but with such flair and imagination that they can equally be appreciated for their masterful use of colour and form,” says Katy. “For me, her stylised depictions of women working on the land are comparable to Stanley Spencer’s paintings of male soldiers in army camps during WW1, created for the Sandham Memorial Chapel during the late 1920s and early 1930s, an exhibition that we staged at Pallant House Gallery in 2013.
“It is no surprise that Dunbar’s later work has often invited comparison with that of Spencer and I hope that by drawing attention to Dunbar’s achievements in this exhibition she will be viewed more equally with her male peers in the future.”
By Robin Simon
The sight of a painting by Dunbar on the Antiques Roadshow prompted a relative to look at the artist’s 500 paintings and drawings.
This show is the result.
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester,
Until 14 February
Descubren en un ático, gracias a un programa de televisión, 500 obras de la artista Evelyn Dunbar
Autumn and the Poet, 1948-60, by Evelyn Dunbar.
Photograph: The artist’s estate / Courtesy of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art
Autumn and the Poet was one of the last works ever painted by Evelyn, before her death in 1960 at the age of 53. It was a gift to her husband, the second world war airman and leading horticultural economist Roger Folley, and its whereabouts had been unknown for half a century. Evelyn, however, was not quite unknown. She was celebrated as the only salaried woman war artist, commissioned to record the work of land girls on the home front. Her war paintings hang in Tate Britain and the Imperial War Museum.
Persephone Books publishes facsimile of Evelyn Dunbar’s & Charles Mahoney’s Gardeners’ Choice
To coincide with the exhibition Evelyn Dunbar – The Lost Works at Pallant House Gallery, this autumn Persephone Books will be publishing a facsimile of Evelyn Dunbar’s and Charles Mahoney’s Gardeners’ Choice (1937).
This will include the hitherto unpublished preface for the book by Edward Bawden. The afterword is by Christopher Campbell-Howes.
A selection of the original designs for Gardeners’ Choice, by Charles Mahoney and Evelyn Dunbar, will be on display and offered for sale throughout October and November at Persephone Books:
59 Lamb’s Conduit Street
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7242 9292
Opening hours 10 to 6 Monday to Friday
Saturday from 12 to 5
Milking Practice with Artificial Udders,
Oil on paper, 22 x 30 in. (56 x 76cm)
Men Stooking and Girls Learning to Stook,
Oil on canvas, 30 x 19 in. (76 x 49 cm)
Sketch for the frontispiece of the
Gardener’s Diary for 1938,
pen and ink over pencil on paper
She was the only salaried female official war artist during the Second World War, and a contemporary of household names such as Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious. Yet Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60) is barely known today outside a circle of devotees.
It’s a common tale: female artists from the earlier 20th century being underappreciated and lesser-known than their male contemporaries.
However, in Dunbar’s case her relative obscurity is perhaps due to the fact that so much of her work has been hidden from view since her death.
But thanks to a series of serendipitous events, a ‘lost studio’ of her work has been uncovered that will form the backbone of an exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, organised in association with the art dealers Sacha Llewellyn and Paul Liss of Liss Llewellyn Fine Art.
Evelyn Dunbar: The Lost Works runs from October 3 to February 14 and includes a hoard of over 500 unrecorded paintings, studies and drawings found in the attic of a house on the Kent coast owned by Ro Dunbar, a relative of the artist. Overnight, the discovery doubled the known body of Dunbar’s work.
Its unveiling was sparked in January 2013 when Dunbar’s Neo-Romantic painting Autumn and the Poet (1960) appeared on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow and was appraised by the dealer Rupert Maas.
Ro Dunbar was watching. It encouraged her to reflect on the works in her possession and in turn led to her meeting Dunbar enthusiast Christopher Campbell-Howes, the artist’s nephew, who had been trying to trace the contents of the artist’s studio after it was dismantled following her death in 1960.
Campbell-Howes put Ro Dunbar in touch with Liss who, realising the potential of the collection as an exhibition, contacted Simon Martin, artistic director of Pallant House, who was enthusiastic from the off about having the show in Chichester.
As Martin writes in the foreword to the catalogue, the discovery of ‘unknown’ works is rare: “When it happens it can animate and punctuate a show, bringing freshness and providing new insights into an artist’s working methods and deepening our understanding of their life and work.
“What then, when the entire show is composed of ‘lost works’, not seen in public for decades, if ever?”
Dunbar’s work rarely appeared on the market, until a small collection belonging to a fellow Royal College of Art student and friend, Margaret Goodwin, came up at Diss Auction Rooms a few years ago.
This led to the re-emergence of two major ‘lost’ works depicting the Women’s Land Army during the war, both in the Pallant House show: Milking Practice with Artificial Udders and Men Stooking and Girls Learning to Stook.
The Pallant House exhibition of more than 80 works shows the breadth of Dunbar’s artistic endeavour, from the war works for which she is best known, through preliminary studies for public commissions, such as the 1933-6 mural scheme at Brockley School, to commercial advertisements and shop signs, and illustrations for various books about gardening and agriculture. Alongside these are some of her larger paintings and a large group of family portraits.
To coincide with the exhibition, Persephone Books will publish a facsimile of Dunbar and Charles Mahoney’s Gardeners’ Choice (1937), with an unpublished preface by Edward Bawden and afterword by Campbell-Howes.
Evelyn Dunbar, An English Calendar, 1938,
oil on canvas, 72 x 72 in. (183 x 183 cm)
PALLANT HOUSE GALLERY
3 October 2015 – 14 February 2016
In January 2013, Dunbar’s painting ‘Autumn and the Poet’ (1960) appeared on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, leading Ro Dunbar, a relative of the artist, to explore the extraordinary hoard of over 500 paintings, drawings and studies hidden in the attic of her Kent home. The unrecorded works were identified with the help of the artist’s nephew Christopher Campbell-Howes, who had been tracking contents of the ‘lost studio’ - dismantled in its entirety after Dunbar’s death in 1960 - for over 20 years. The discovery doubled the known body of Dunbar’s work overnight.
This exhibition, in association with Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, is a rare chance to encounter such a large quantity of previously unseen work by an important 20th century artist. It is also in line with the Gallery’s continuing commitment to the reappraisal of overlooked Modern British artists.
The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of an illustrated book published by Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, with contributions by Gill Clarke, Andrew Lambirth, Alan Powers, Peyton Skipwith and Christopher Campbell-Howes.
Naming of Parts, 1987
Peyton Skipwith enjoys a centenary exhibition that highlights an English Romantic’s road to Modernism
In the wake of the recent revival of interest in the 1940s Recording Britain project, a fresh spotlight has been turned on the work of the participating artists: Barbara Jones, Malvina Cheek and Kenneth Rowntree (1915-97) among them. A watercolour of a pub, The Duke’s Head, Farnham Royal, from this period serves as a suitable introduction to the evocative, although modest, Rowntree centennial exhibition covering 50 years of his work as painter and designer, currently on show at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.
Rowntree was a multi-faceted artist, whose dexterity often obscured his talent. I went to visit him in the 1980s with a view to mounting a retrospective exhibition of his work, but came away baffled as to how to make sense of the several 90° stylistic turns that had marked his career. Evolution didn’t seem to be part of his make-up: when he felt he had exhausted the possibilities of one style, he ruthlessly put it aside and adopted another. In his studio, neo-Romantic images jostled for attention with sunny landscapes, designs for Vogue covers and hard-edged abstracts. Thirty years on, and nearly two decades after his death, the disparity between these conflicting styles seems less dramatic.
He was a figure of his time, whose technical command enabled him to speak with authority in a variety of visual languages, permitting neither the agony of indecision nor aesthetic struggle to interfere with his work. This diversity in his paintings was underpinned by his work as a designer, especially in his textile designs for Edinburgh Weavers, in which the influence of both Ben Nicholson and Eric Ravilious are to the fore.
Rowntree first met Ravilious when he enrolled as a student at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford, where the latter was teaching part-time, and his example remained an enduring influence throughout the younger man’s life. Their friendship prompted the Rowntrees to settle in Great Bardfield at the beginning of the Second World War and it was memories of Great Bardfield that inspired the School Print, Tractor and Landscape, which proved to be one of the most popular exhibits in the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibitions at the V&A in 1946 and continues to have enduring appeal.
The priapic figure of the Cerne Abbas Giant, familiar to visitors to the current Ravilious exhibition at Dulwich, makes his bold presence felt in the bright, sunny painting that graces the cover of the Rowntree centennial book/catalogue. As a Quaker, Rowntree was a conscientious objector, although this didn’t stop Sir Kenneth Clark from employing him, through the War Artists Advisory Committee, and commissioning him to paint several home-based works: CEMA Canteen Concert, Isle of Dogs, London E14 and A Polo Ground in War-time, the latter depicting Hurlingham’s elegant grounds turned into allotments for the duration. Both works are now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.
He was also employed as a muralist, as evidenced here by his spirited and patriotic design for the decoration of the British Restaurant at Acton. Aware of this strand of his work, Robin Darwin appointed him head of mural painting at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1948. A few years later, Rowntree collaborated with fellow members of the RCA staff, particularly Robert Goodden, Dick Russell and Edward Bawden, on the design and decoration of the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion at the Festival of Britain, for which he painted a quirky mural of ‘British Freedoms’ from Magna Carta to the suffragettes.
During the 1950s, while on holiday from his teaching and other commitments, he painted a number of delightful, informal, and family-oriented landscapes and interiors, such as Holiday Bedroom, Little Haven, Pembrokeshire and A Family in their Garden near the White Cliffs. The latter, with its decorative details – kite-flying, apple-picking and so on – was, as the catalogue informs us, a preliminary study for a hospital mural and is now in the collection of the V&A. In 1959, Rowntree became Professor of Fine Art at Durham University and it was there that he came into contact with Victor Pasmore, precipitating a further 90° turn in his work. During the 1960s and 1970s, he created a series of bright, hard-edged, geometric, non-figurative works, often incorporating lettering, either painted or collaged. He also delighted in recycling and reworking objets trouvés and bits of old packing cases, complete with stencilled names and addresses.
Despite this, he never totally relinquished his earlier Romantic vision, switching back, albeit in a more simplified vein, when the mood took him, as in such 1980s works as Findochty and Falling Rain with Raised Flag. The Naming of Parts, a beguilingly playful late landscape painted close to his Northumberland home at Acomb, is variously inscribed ‘Victoria Plum’, ‘Holly’, ‘Hawthorn’ and so on, as if it was an illustration to a young person’s manual for the identification of trees.
Today, surveying the full range of his work, it is this quality of whimsical playfulness that gives it its coherence and defines it as the product of a unique consciousness. Once seen, Rowntree’s work is unmistakable.
‘Kenneth Rowntree: A Centennial Exhibition’ is at Pallant House Gallery, 9, North Pallant, Chichester, West Sussex, until October 18 (01243774557; www.pallant.org.uk). A book to accompany the exhibition is published by Moore-Gwyn Fine Art and Liss LLewellyn Fine Art (£20).
A Centenary Exhibition
Pallant House Gallery
22 July - 18 October, 2015
‘From the late ’50s onward, Rowntree was on fire, dipping into modernism without ever bowing to faddishness.’
Art dealers Paul Liss and Sacha Llewellyn, who together form Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, and Harry Moore-Gwyn have long felt that Rowntree’s work should be reassessed, and for the past five years have been working on putting together a major exhibition of his work.
‘The real revelation here is his modernist-inflected late work, painted after he was appointed professor of fine art at Newcastle University. It is experimental, but retains all the character that made his earlier paintings so compelling and distinctive.’
‘He was no imitator, but an artist who went his own way, creating over the course of a long and productive career a diverse body of work that thoroughly deserves this centenary exhibition.’
Every year the William MB Berger Prize for British Art History is awarded to a scholarly publication that demonstrates outstanding achievement in the field of British Art History. Awarded jointly by The British Art Journal and the Berger Collection Educational Trust, the Berger prize is recognized as the most prestigious award in its field. This year the nominations for the long list include titles from publishers in England, Scotland and America.
We are proud to announce that our publication
The Great War
As Recorded through the Fine & Popular Arts
has been nominated for this year’s prize.
Kenneth Rowntree (1915-97) occupies an intriguing position in the history of 20th-century British art. As Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden were given their direction in the 1920s by the pioneering Paul Nash, so Rowntree was inspired a decade later by Ravilious – in part at least. He was no imitator, but an artist who went his own way, creating over the course of a long and productive career a diverse body of work that thoroughly deserves this centenary exhibition.
Born in Scarborough, the son of a successful Quaker businessman, Rowntree was taught by Ravilious and Barnett Freedman at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, graduating in 1935 before studying further at the Slade. By the outbreak of war he was married to architect and writer Diana Buckley, and achieving success as a muralist and painter; an early portrait of his wife shows him working in the naturalistic manner championed by Victor Pasmore and other friends at the Euston Road School.
Despite being a conscientious objector Rowntree found
opportunity during the war, notably as a contributor to the Recording Britain project. Having already proved himself adept in oils, he now demonstrated his skills as a watercolourist, offering landscapes, street views and interiors a low-key but strangely powerful vision of his country. The source of this power lies perhaps in the balance of detail and design, as we see in The Schoolroom (1940s). Yes, the blackboard with its hand-written attendance statistics offers an authentic touch, but it also plays a role in the composition, suggesting depth and providing a grid of white lines to contrast with the delicate black lines of the barrier around the furnace.
Leaving his early naturalism behind, Rowntree rapidly became a masterful composer of of pictures. In Adam with Pram (1943) the artist’s son is shown against a coastal backdrop, a splendid red sign providing a man-made equivalent of the setting sun. A witty visual intelligence is at work here, as it is so often in the exhibition; Rowntree takes the shapes, colours and contrasts of the world around him and combines them in delightful and surprising ways.
Through the 1950s, in paintings of coronation fireworks and water towers discovered on a trip to America, he continued to juggle representation and abstract composition. Only in the 1960s, when a teaching post in Newcastle introduced him to a more academic Modernism, did he go further towards pure abstraction, but paintings such as Putney Bridge Nightpiece (1967) are in the minority. Rowntree was undoubtedly an artist who took pleasure in his work, and there was more fun to be had juxtaposing geometric shapes and recognisable natural features. Having often marked up studies with colour notes, he playfully added text to paintings; thus labels replace botanical details in The Naming of Parts, Acomb (1987).
With magazine covers and fabric designs shown alongside drawings, paintings and collage, this widely-ranging exhibition celebrates the many achievements of an artist whose appetite for experiment never diminished.
Kenneth Rowntree: A Centenary Exhibition runs until 12 July
Tues, Thurs, Fri 2-5, Sat 11-5, Sun, Bank holidays 2:15 - 5
Kenneth Rowntree at the Fry Gallery
Ravilious’s view of England made me long to take a train journey out of London. So I stole an afternoon and headed to the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden to see a show by one of his students, Kenneth Rowntree (until 25 October). Rowntree’s early paintings are exciting, to be sure – even in his most conventional work, his use of perspective is unexpected and often dizzying. But it was only when he was appointed Professor of Fine Art at Newcastle University (and thus, a colleague of Richard Hamilton) that he really escaped the shadow of his tragically-deceased tutor. From the late ‘50s onward, Rowntree was on fire, dipping into modernism without ever bowing to faddishness.
Dulwich Picture Gallery launched a long overdue show of watercolours by Eric Ravilious (1903-42) last week, an artist unswayed by fashion whose paintings and designs encapsulate the spirit of inter-War England.
But while the work of Ravilious and Edward Bawden, his fellow student at the Royal College of Art, is enjoying fever pitch interest, that of their contemporary and friend Kenneth Rowntree (1915-97) remains a little more obscure.
Art dealers Paul Liss and Sacha Llewellyn, who together form Liss Llewellyn Fine Art, and Harry Moore-Gwyn have long felt that Rowntree’s work should be reassessed, and for the past five years have been working on putting together a major exhibition of his work. The result, Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997) - A Centenary Exhibition, opened last week, along with an accompanying book, at The Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, where it will stay until July 12. Then, from July 22 to October 18 it transfers to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester before moving to The Redfern Gallery in London’s Cork Street from October 20 to November 7, during which works will be available for sale.
As Moore-Gwyn, Liss and Llewellyn write in the foreword to the new book: “Rowntree’s early work reflects the inspiration and creative dialogue that came out of his friendship with Eric Ravilious (1903- 42) on account of whom Rowntree moved to Great Bardfield during the 1940s. During this period he was particularly preoccupied with Kenneth Clark’s “Recording Britain project.”
Like Bawden and Ravilious, Rowntree worked as an artist, graphic artist and illustrator. Born in Scarborough, he studied at the Ruskin School, Oxford, then the Slade, going on to work on Recording Britain and then as an official war artist.
It was in 1941 that he moved to Great Bardfield, an Essex village that was home to a number of figurative artists, including Bawden and Ravillious, during the mid 20th century. Here in 1945 he produced his well known School Print, Tractor in Landscape, which features in the show alongside numerous oil paintings, watercolours and collages, illustrations and designs for textiles, murals, ceramics and publications such as Vogue. Rowntree went on to teach at the Royal College of Art and Newcastle University in the 1950s and ‘60s, teaching and working alongside a generation of abstract and Pop artists. The exhibition includes his own later abstract works and mixed-media Pop art assemblages from the 1960s-80s.
The Fry Art Gallery opened in 1985 to promote the work of the
artists of nearby Great Bardfield. Alongside the Rowntree show,
until October they are hosting a 30th anniversary exhibition of
paintings, prints, ceramics, books, designs and objects produced
by Great Bardfield artists since the early 1930s.
The Week reviews an exhibition in a private gallery
Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997), whose work is celebrated in this centenary exhibition, was born into a family of Yorkshire Quakers, and was best known for his paintings of landscapes; buildings, boats and interiors - many commissioned by the Government for its “Recording Britain” project during the Second World War. At first glance, his work has much in common with that of his better-known friend and contemporary Eric Ravilious. Although many of his paintings from the 1940s are perhaps too greatly influenced by the whimsical stylings that informed British art of the era, Rowntree was always inventive, and as this exhibition proves, often thrilling. The real revelation here is his modernist-inflected late work, painted after he was appointed professor of fine art at Newcastle University. It is experimental, but retains all the character that made his earlier paintings so compelling and distinctive.
Prices range from £450 to £18,000.
Castle Street, Saffron Walden, Essex
Winter Garden Acomb
Through the church season of Lent and Easter 2015,
14 images depicting the Stations of the Cross by
Brangwyn will be displayed in St. John at Hackney Church,
in a project collaboration between St. John’s, the Diocese of
London and Less Llewellyn Fine Art, made possible
through the generosity of Tigger Hoare.
The year will start with our ONLY SALE of the year.
The spring will be dedicated to Frank Brangwyn.
LFA will publish two catalogues on his work,
Frank Brangwyn – Drawings from the Collection
of Jerome Esser
Frank Brangwyn – Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross, a series of 14 hand-coloured lithographs, will go on display at the Church of St John at Hackney, London thanks to a collaboration between Liss Fine Art and The London Diocese.
Kenneth Rowntree (1915-1997) – Centenary
Evelyn Dunbar Rediscovered
Art works from Great War Shown
The Great War as Recorded through the Fine and Popular Arts examines the difference between various responses to war and how groups such as pacifists and women were presented. This timely exhibition of paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture, posters, photographs and ephemera is at the Strand Gallery in Charing Cross for four days next week - Remembrance week.
It includes works by Richard Carline, (illustration) a member of a large artistic family who lived in Downshire Hill, Hampstead. An Official War Artist in WWI he became known for aerial paintings, together with his brother Sydney. Afterwards they were invited to go as war artists to the Middle East and made numerous sketches from the air and ground of the war zones in Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia in preparation for a series of large oil paintings for the newly-founded Imperial War Museum.
The exhibition has been put together by Liss Fine Art, who specialise in the unsung heroes and heroines of British art from 1880 to 1960, and David Cohen Fine Art, a husband and wife team based in North West London who have dealt in WWI art for 30 years.
Many of the 500 items for sale are from their collection of memorabilia, commemorative art and china, miniatures and trench art.
Until Saturday, November 15
at 32 John Adam Street WC2, 11 am to 6 pm.
The Art of War Colin Gleadell
Already up and running is The Great War, an exhibition of more than 200 examples of war-time art assembled over a 10-year period by Liss Fine Art and David Cohen Fine Art, and presented at the Morley Gallery, a former pub in Lambeth, a stone’s throw from the museum. Taking an encyclopaedic, al- most sociological, approach, the organisers have combined fine art (paintings, drawings and prints) with what they call “popular” art (postcards, documentary photographs pottery and such), and divided them into three sections: Combat, The Home Front, and The Aftermath, with 14 subheadings: Air, Sea, Land, Propaganda and so on. Presented as a non-commercial, museum-style exhibition, its contents will be for sale only when they move to the Strand Gallery near Charing Cross as part of an even larger war-art exhibition in November. Prices will range from £30 for a postcard to more than £100,000 for paintings by the best-known artists.
G. Boudard, Le retour de la chasse, 1916
The Great War as Recorded through the Fine and Popular Arts
Morley Gallery, 61 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 Until October 2
.. save your money for a really splendid catalogue: a hefty 240-page tome published by Liss Fine Art to accompany their fabulous Great War exhibition at Morley Gallery, just a few minutes’ walk from the Imperial War Museum. It costs £25, but is worth every penny, being packed with illustrations, anecdotes and history.
Liss Fine Art was founded in 1991 by Paul Liss and Sacha Llewellyn, and specialises in ‘the unsung heroes and heroines of British art from 1880 to 1980’. The firm operates from France and does a lot of dealing on the internet, but makes regular appearances in London, as well as taking an annual stand at the 20/21 British Art Fair at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, SW7, this year running from 10 to 14 September.
The Liss show is the product of several years’ work and presents a range of art and artefacts that is almost overwhelming in its diversity and richness. The catalogue illustrates more than 200 items and there are many more exhibits from the distinguished collection of wartime objects of David and Judith Cohen. (These include trench art, commemorative ware and sweetheart brooches, many of which are displayed in four large free-standing cabinets over the road in the foyer of Morley College itself.)
At Morley gallery, the paintings jostle with the photographs,the posters with sculptures, prints and drawings, the postcards with miniatures, silhouettes and ceramics. The catalogue is arranged thematically in three main parts: ‘Combat’, ‘The Home Front’ and ‘The Aftermath’, and, as the curators say, it is in the popular arts that they’vefound some of the most poignant and unfamiliar images.
I particularly liked some of the posters: the vast Frank Brangwyn lithograph ‘Field Hospital in France’, (see illustration) which Liss bought in three separate parts and reunited, is perhaps the most extraordinary. Outside, Lord Kitchener exhorts you to enlist from one of the gallery’s window displays (a lovely feature at Morley); in another are a group of small Brangwyn drawings and an army uniform; a moving religious triptych by Percy Jowett holds the eye in another; in a fourth are trench tanks.
The gallery’s interior is equally fascinating, with a handwritten copy of the naval signal announcing the surrender of the German fleet; a dramatic little oil of a dance of red-gold flames in a patch of darkness (a Zepplin shot down); a yellowish drawing of a gas bombardment; and a pugnacious greengrocer outside his shop, which bears the sign ‘Business as Usual During the Alterations of the Map of Europe’. And much, much more. The exhibition at Morley is a museum show, but when it transfers to the Strand Gallery (32 John Adam Street, WC2) for Armistice week (11-15 November), nearly everything will be for sale, with prices ranging from £50 upwards. Don’t miss it.
The Great War
Spectacular paintings and drawings, many never seen in public, are complemented by postcards, photos, posters and cartoons : a rich and moving array of some 300 exhibits.
Morley Gallery, 61 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 Until October 2
By William Packer
The Rome Scholarship still sends painters to study at the British School at Rome. Its original intention was that students might profit by exposure to the great art of the past, and in particular to the great mural schemes of the Renaissance, and that decorative schemes in the public sphere at home would be thereby encouraged. Many of our libraries, schools, hospitals and civic offices benefited. A concise study exhibition at the Soane Museum in Holborn is given to the Rome Painting Scholar of 1928: Alan Sorrell.
Sorrel’s mural for the HMS Compania, the boat that toured the country’s ports during the Festival of Britain, Working Boats from Around the British Coast, has miraculously survived in its entirety. Exigencies of space, however, mean that only its two end panels can be shown in this welcome exhibition. So this time it is left to just two hearty Old salts, each with his bevy of pert young mermaids, and one or two preparatory drawings for other schemes, to represent this major aspect of Sorrell’s work. The complete mural is a decorative masterpiece, in a entirely proper sense. At once robust and whimsical in both handling and spirit, it is a delight.
Sorrell was much more than just a specialist in the mural. Rather, the show, drawn mostly from his family’s archive, concentrates on his graphic work, and in particular his work as an illustrator, in which field he had no less distinguished a career. His reconstructive archaeological and architectural illustration regularly appeared in the Illustrated London News. The surprise is to see that the approach he made his own in these reconstructions, of the high bird’s eye view over such subjects as the Tower of London in Norman Times, the vanished cathedral of Old Sarum, Silchester or Roman London, all on show here,had developed quite naturally from the aerial views over airfields, camps and military installations, that he drew and painted during his wartime service withe the RAF.To coincide with this exhibition, Sacha Llewellyn and Alan Sorrell’s son, Richard, himself a notable painter, have edited a symposium on his father’s work, its several contributors each dilating on a particular period or aspect, all fully illustrated in colour (Sansom & Company: 208 pages: paperback: £25). In its introduction, Richard says that his father “was conscious of Modernism...but he seems never to have been drawn towards the great movements....his instinct was towards narrative painting, and he stayed with his beliefs with a stubbornness and determination that amounted to heroism. As the tide of fashion flowed more and more strongly against representational painting, he seemed to gain strength by opposing it.”
Perhaps so, yet to say as much, as Richard himself half acknowledges, is perhaps to say too much. For what we see, even within the comparatively small scope of this exhibition, is that Sorrell too was never anything but an artist - and a modern artist at that - of his time. He may have come to feel at odds with the world, yet his transition from his days as an early Renaissance classicist at the British School at Rome to a mid-20th century Neo-Romantic, is natural and unaffected. The close affinity his work bears to that of so many of his contemporaries, not as a follower in any sense, but on equal if idiosyncratic terms - from Ayrton and Minton to Ravilious, Bawden, even the young Keith Vaughn, and to Piper too, in certain aspects - is clear.Richard wonders why his father, who continued painting until his death at 70 in 1974, “was not more recognised and successful”. The answer can only lie with myopic prejudice that prizes avant-garde innovation above all else. “It is time to put such absurdity away, and to see the remarkable quality of Alan Sorrell’s drawing and painting for what it is...and rejoice in its quality.” Amen to that.
Alan Sorrell - A Life Reconstructed: Sir John Soane’s Museum, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, until January 25, 2014.
Recommended this week
In a bid to place murals and decorative art cycles at the heart of 20th century British art, The Fine Art Society, in association with Liss Fine Art, presents a major exhibition dedicated to work undertaken bewteen 1910 and 1970.
The society said: “The exhibition aims to highlight the significance of 20th century murals as one of the greatest inventive achievements in modern British art. despite the counter-intuitive evidence of the size, the murals have unjustly onstituted an almost hidden history in many accounts of 20th century British art. Over the course of the century many great works were destroyed, either by vandalism or the bombs of World War II, or simply as a result of eveolving tastes and chnages to building use. Today the murals that do exist are rarely seen as the artists intended, and are often partially obscured, completely covered up or painted over.”
As well as presenting celebrated paintings by artists including Edward Bawden, Frank Brangwyn, Gilbert Spencer, Colin Gill, Charles Sims, and Peter Lanyon, the exhibition will feature a number of significant works that have previously been overlooked or forgotten, and have only recently re-emerged. Examples include two newly discovered murals that were originally commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain; ‘The Englishman’s Home’ by John Piper and Alan Sorrell’s ‘Mural for the Nelson Bar of the HMS Compania’.
Also on view will be two murals by Mary Adshead, which were originally commissioned for Lord beaverbrook’s dining room, subsequently displayed at Peter Jone’s department store and then later listed as destroyed. Also included is ‘Man at Work’ by Barbara Jones, which was originally exhibited at the 1961 Turin Expo and considered by Jones to ne her masterpiece. It has only recently come to light, having spent the last 50 years concealed behind a stud wall in her studio.
British Murals and decorative painting form 14 February - 9 March at The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London, W1S 2JT
1 Where are you based?
We live in the Languedoc region of Southern France and operate exclusively from our website - so we are essentially a virtual operation.
2 What do you do?
My wife Sacha Llewellyn and I deal in British art from 1880-1980 concentrating on artists who are today little known but deserve to be brought back into the public domain: the unsung heroines and unsung heros of 20th century British art. Having no gallery, we work mostly in association with museums and aim to publish at least one themed catalogue or monograph a year.
3 Do you do any fairs?
Only the 20/21 British Art Fair at the Royal College of Art.
4 What has been your best buy?
Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s original designs from Miss Cranston’s Tea Room.
5 And your biggest mistake?
We owned Winifred Knight’s masterpiece Santissima Trinita for a day - it has gone to the right home but we should have lived with it for longer.
6 What is the biggest threat, in your opinion, to the trade at the moment?
The Artist’s Resale Right.
7 Any advice for those starting out in the trade?
In today’s trade there are fantastic opportunities - mostly because of the internet. Set up a website; find an area that you are passionate about and can build a business around. Do as much research as you can, (preferably before buying something); Don’t be afraid to pursue something which has outstanding quality even if you cannot initially find out much about it. There are still many artists, (especially women), who ‘don’t look up’ but whose stories are often more interesting than thoses of their better-known male contemporaries. Their stories just haven’t been told yet.
9 Which person, dead or alive, do you most admire and why?
My wife. I’d be a disaster without her. Also Peyton Skipwith - he has managed the difficult task of bridging the world of dealing and academia and being highly repected and successful in both fields.
10 What Gadget would you be lost without?
My treporter - a tricycle bike with a large box in front where chidren and stock can shelter whilst going around the puce (French flea markets).
Ruins and Clothes Line by John Banting (1902-1972), c. 1937, 20 x 17 in. (51 x 41 cm) oil on canvas - was £8500 now £4250 in Liss Fine Art’s online sale at www.lissfineart.com
When Paul Liss moved to France with his wife Sacha, 11 years ago he regarded having a website for Liss Fine Art as an unwelcome but necessary evil. Today he sees it differntly - one way or another the website accounts for 90 per cent of their business dealing in 20th century British art.
With Paul’s background at Sotheby’s, Hazlitt Gooden and Fox and Arnold Wiggins, an Sacha’s having been at Sotheby’s before studying at the Courtauld, the two launched out on their own in 1991. A brave move...
“Having no clients, and being in the middle of a recession, we started selling to museums who we at least knew had a budget available,” recalls Paul. “We subsequently built up our clientele on the fair circuit - Olympia, World of Watercolours, 20/21 British Art Fair.”
They still have no gallery, but hold seven exhibitions in association with The Fine Art Society and work in conjunction with museums, such as The British School at Rome, The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery and in 2013 they plan an exhibition on Alan Sorrell at the Sir John Soane’s Museum.
For now, however, they are celebrating the busines’s 20th anniversary with an online -only, half-price sale.
It’s our first ever sale, “ says Paul. “A kind of stock clearance which will allow us to plan for our next 20 years.”
The first sale of 400 works on paper starts at 9am on this Thursday November 24 for one week only, and will be followed by a half-price sale of 100 paintings starting at 9am on Thursday January 19 at: www. lissfineart.com
Author and art lover Lord Jeffrey Archer bought a number of pictures from an exhibition in Bedford during a recent visit to the town.
The former politician went to the Stanley Lewis exhibition currently on display at the Bedford Gallery, when it opened on June 12th after a recommendation from a friend.
He said: “I was bowled over by his work. Bedford has done very well for itself to hold such a display and I think everyone should go and see it.”
Lord Archer said he bought four pieces - The Butcher, Hyde Park, Nude Woman and a still life of vegetables and fruit in a bowl. The works by Stanley Lewis are valued at up to £68,000, however Lord Archer would not confirm how much he spent.
He said that the pieces would be displayed in his London, Cambridge and Majorcan homes.
So impressed by what he saw at the exhibition, Lord Archer wrote about the visit on his internet blog. His entry said “I rose early and drove over to Bedford Gallery, to view an exhibition of the work of Stanley Lewis, who died last year at the age of 103. Despite winning several awards as a student, at the Royal College of Art, and teaching at Carmarthen College, he stored his pictures rather than let the public see them. They are a delight, and if any of you are in the Bedford area, you should visit immediately. Two or three of the drawings are world-class and Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and others should travel to Bedford today and see what this man could do with a pencil.”
He added: “It’s like going to a show in the sticks and knowing it should be dominating the West End.”
“The Unknown Artist:
Stanley Lewis and His Contemporaries”,
Cecil Higgens Art Gallery and Bedford Museum
June 12 to September 5
By Colin Gleadell
An artist who rejected the call of the art market in his youth, and was discovered surrounded by a lifetime of unseen work when he was more than 100 years old, is to have his first museum exhibition this month.Stanley Lewis was 101 in 2006 when he sent an email to art dealer Paul Liss, inquiring about his art-school contemporaries in the Twenties. Liss thought it was a spoof at first, but finding records of the artist in his archives, he went to visit him. “I thought he could tell me a lot,” says the dealer. “I wasn’t thinking about an exhibition.”Born in Wales, Lewis grew up on a farm and obtained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art where he was championed by Augustus John. Here he learned “good old-fashioned drawing skills” that he was to employ throughout his life, regardless of changing fashions and the pressure to modernise.
Of his realistic style and use of photographs from which to draw, he said: “I felt an inner force burning to capture my world around exactly as I saw it in the reality that is was.”Like many students at the time, his ambition was to paint murals, but he narrowly missed the Rome Scholarship that might have guaranteed him an income from public art commissions. Instead, he spent his professional life as an art teacher in Wales.Very occasionally, he exhibited at the Royal Academy’s summer show. A portrait of a mole catcher in 1937 was voted most popular exhibit that year, and snapped up by the Newport Museum and Art Gallery. Asa result, the Leicester Galleries, one of the most prominent dealers in London’ West End, made him a proposal, asking how many many pictures like that he could produce in a year. Lewis told them that it took him three years to make the picture, thought about their offer and, rather than produce rushed, inferior work, turned it down.Lewis’s teaching was interrupted by war-time service with the Royal Artillery, but he still managed to produce some war art; One painting, “The Attack on the Tirpitz by the Fleet Air Arm”, is in the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset. After the war he returned to teaching to support a family with three children. He and his wife bought, restored and sold around 20 houses in 30 years, a practice that would have made them rich today, but not then. And every time they moved, Lewis would take his growing art portfolio with him - pinned on walls or rolled up in cellars.He was still working away when Liss visited him, by then a widower living in his daughter’s house overlooking the Yorkshire moors. As they talked, Lewis with cigar in one hand and a glass of whisky in the other, Lis was struck by the centenarian’s perfect recall and witty observations on contemporary art.Banksy’s skill with aerosol can and stencil came in for praise, but his view on Damien Hirst was that he “should place himself and Saatchi in a tank of formaldehyde together with their millions [of pounds] and install it among a herd of cows.” However, that first visit was not a eureka moment for LIss. “There were thousands of drawings, some inevitable failures, and paintings covered in mildew,” he recalls. “There was no stylistic development throughout his life, and I had no idea how it would be received commercially. Gradually I began to untangle the mountain of material, and a coherent picture started to emerge. I knew that, even if he wasn’t a hugely important artist, this was an intriguing discovery. I wanted to tell the story.” Then followed three years of research, some expensive restoration, and a further £40,000 investment in catalogue production. Living in France, and with no gallery, Liss found a receptive ear in Tom Perrett at the Cecil Higgens Art Gallery and Bedford Museum, who welcomed the idea of hosting such an unusual exhibition that also complemented the gallery’s exiciting collection of works by William Rothenstein, the Principal of the Royal College, Stanley Spencer, and Augustus John. The exhibition promises to be an eye-opener, with nearly 100 works, including Lewis’s Rome Scholarship murals and their drawings, most on public display fornthe first time. The majority is for sale, priced from £400 to £68,000 for 10-ft mural of Hyde Park, though, as Perrett is quick to point out, the museum has no stake in the sales.Sadly, Lewis died last September, while the exhibition was being planned. But at least he knew that recognition was at hand.
A painting by the oldest living alumnus of the Royal College of Art has gone on show there this week, 80 years after it was produced.
The view of Hyde Park by Stanley Lewis, now 103, is being exhibited by the dealer Paul Liss at the annual 20/21 British Art Fair. The large-scale work, was Lewis’s entry for the 1929 Prix de Rome competition in his final year at the college. The painter, who lives with his daughter in Yorkshire, features in the painting. He can be seen reclining with his sketching bag to hand, in the park that acted as a substitute for the countryside of his native Wales where he spent much time. It also includes his then girlfriend, Muriel Pemberton, who went on to be head of fashion at St. Martin’s.
The fair, which is in its 22nd year and specializes in contemporary British art, runs until Sunday. Admission is £8.
By William Packer
Frank Brangwyn, born in Bruges, Belgium of Welsh parents, died in 1956 aged 89 and loaded with honours domestic and European, a knight of the realm and full royal academician of long standing.
He was self-taught, astonishingly prolific and widely travelled. in the years before the first world war, he was as famous internationally as any British artist can ever have been in his lifetime, being a founder-member of the Vienna Secession and star of Venice at successive Biennales. His vastly ambitious mural schemes were in demand not just for civic halls, company offices and exhibition pavilions in Britain but around the world. And at the last, two years before his death, the Royal Academy paid him the signal honour of a full retrospective, the first for a living artist in its history. Yet how quickly he was all but forgotten. Even by the 1960s he was known only to the student of early 20th century British art, and embarrassedly so at that. Is it possible, perhaps, to be an artist too much of one’s time? With Brangwyn certainly, even in his pomp, the signs of controversy, if not of ultimate critical rejection, had long been there. He was too successful perhaps, too much the establishment figure. By 1914 he was only too ready to be damned by Wyndham Lewis for his decadent irrelevance. What with Lewis on the one hand and Roger Fry on the other, with his post-impressionist orthodoxies that were to set the modernist critical agenda for the next half-century, Brangwyn really could never win. By the late 1940s, along with Alfred Munnings and the academy as a whole, tarred with the brush of reaction against cubism and surrealism and all their works, he was by then, in many eyes, quite beyond the pale. Yet the real problem would seem to be that Brangwyn, like so many other artists of his time, both British and foreign, who were similarly air-brushed out of the main 230th century picture - Munnings, Anders Zorn, Peter Kroyer for example - is not so much that he was not modern enough but rather that he was a modern painter of the wrong sort. For no one could have seized upon the example of the impressionists and their immediate followers, and the expressive opportunities it afforded, with more energy and enthusiasm, nor with more technical bravura.
And yet was that technical bravura also part of the problem? The avant-garde’s insistence, that either you were with it or against it, is one of its abiding characteristics, and being with it through the 20th century so often entailed a distrust of flair and technical command, or at least a dissimulation in their respect, along with a necessary embrace of theory and principle. The truth is of course, not that one approach is wrong or right, but that there is room for all.
So to come upon Brangwyn now at his sometime dealer, the Fine Art Society, in properly representative though limited quantity, is to be struck not just by the remarkable scope of his engagement - not just painting, print and drawing but applied design of all kinds - but by simply how good he is, and fresh, and, above all, so free and radical in the statement. A large painting of “Susanna and the Elders” (1908), all shadows and dappled sunlight in a Zorn-like grove, is, at the most obvious level, straightforward turn-of-the-century impressionism, yet the handling already evinces a loose and open expressionism, and not just in terms of the currency of the time. Taken on its own, the lower left-hand quarter of the canvas, ostensibly depicting Susanna’s carelessly discarded clothes, could stand quite happily with any expressionist abstraction painted even today.
A group of oils and large watercolours of Venetian subjects - a boat near the Dogana; boatyards near San Pietro; the back of the Frari; palazzi on the Grand Canal - are especially notable, as idiosyncratic in their imagery as in their vigorous accomplishment, a Venice full of life and narrative bustle made quite his own. More than welcome, this exhibition, small as it is, and to many inevitably a surprise, is long overdue. Brangwyn deserves now a full reassessment and revival.
Frank Brangwyn - A Mission to Decorate Life
The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London W1, until April 21.
Dealers believe that lower overheads, high expertise and unique specialisation are keys to the future
How can dealers survive in an age when art is just one of hundreds of commodities competing for the disposable income of Britain’s, and indeed the world’s, ever-growing number of affluent consumers?
This was one of the the key questions raised at last month’s ATG-sponsored Art of Dealing conference at Earl’s Court. At the time, few members of the audience were able to come up with a ready answer, but looking around at what British art dealers are doing to attract customers this summer, some enterprising strategies have emerged.
High expertise, lowered costs and a unique specialisation appear to be the main watchwords for survival at the moment....
But how do dealers make a decent living if they can’t, or don’t wish to, afford the expense and the stress of an urban gallery space?
Fairs are one approach (many dealers might hesitate to use the word solution). Another is the catalogue. One of the most impressive of the latter to have recently winged its way to the ATG’s offices comes from Paul Liss, a Modern British dealer now based near Uzès in the south of France. A regular exhibitor at the Summer Olympia and 20th century British Art fairs, Mr. Liss has developed a reputation for re-discovering interesting Modern British artists, particularly from the inter-War years.
Beautifully produced and with meticulously researched artists’ biographies, to the extent that it merits a long-term bookshelf life as a reference work, the catalogue offers 116 colour-illustrated works, many by artists who ill be completely new to even seasoned collectors of Modern British art.
For example, who would have thought that during the mid-1920s the Hampstead artist and writer Jas Wood (1889-1975) was producing Damien Hirst-style paintings a full three quarters of a century before Hirst himself was churning them out so profitably?
Wood’s mid-1920s 16 1/2 in. (42 cm) square canvas, Multicoloured dots on a grey ground, is priced at a very unHirst-like £ 2000. Other works carry heftier price tags, such as the rare c. 1927 John Armstrong (1893-1973) surrealist painting, The Bird, listed at £ 26,500.
But how can a dealer in Modern British art successfully run a business while living in the South of France? “For me the Internet has dissolved these geographical boundaries, “ says Mr. Liss. “The catalogues work amazingly well and account for 50% of my business.
“For me they are much more effective than exhibitions because you can control the timing of them and they have a longer shelf life. I send out 2500 copies. Last year’s catalogue is well over 75 per cent sold. A third of this year’s catalogue is gone within two weeks of it being sent out.”
Seemingly, there are still consumers out there who want to buy art, even relatively old art, but dealers are having to become increasingly proactive to attract them.
“You have to make sales happen,” says Lowell Libson. “And they only happen with things that are worth having.”
One of the most exciting aspects of the ever-growing interest in 20th century British art is the opportunity it offers to rediscover significant, but neglected, talent of the period. For those with a keen eye and prepared to look beyond the mere ‘big’ names, there really are some impressive things out in the market place.
Such works, of course, also have the added bonus, more often than not, of falling into the category of affordability. Founded some 14 years ago, and trading by appointment from bases in London and the South of France, Liss Fine Art Ltd, have built up a reputation of homing in on some of these little-known masters. This flair was exemplified in May when the firm produced a splendid and informative illustrated catalogue which, while offering paintings by familiar names such as Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) and Eric Ravillious (1903-1942), also features less iconic artists.Take, for example, Clare Esther Klinghoffer (1900-1970), whose oil on canvas The Girl with Flowers [is included in the catalogue]. Measuring 3 ft 6in x 2 ft (1.06 x 61 cm) and painted when she was at the Slade in 1920, it is a key early work and was exhibited that year at the Goupil Gallery alongside works by Augustus John, Matisse and Lucien Pisasarro. Even in such illustrious company, it was singled out by the critics, with the Daily Express declaring Klinghoffer as the new “girl genius of the Slade”. Jacob Epstein considered her “an artist of great talent, a painter of the first order...in the very first rank of draughtsmen in the world”.
Today Klinghoffer’s work is represented in major public collections, including the Tate and the V1A. Liss Fine Art were asking £16,000 for this portrait and, unsurprisingly, it proved an early seller.
I understood Klinghoffer’s son, Michael Laurence, is producing a monograph on her. On publication, it could well bring about a major resurgence for her painting.
Charles Mahoney, The Garden, 1950
By Matthew Dennison
Charles Mahoney was a 20th-century painter and muralist, who distilled into a relatively small body of completed work a vision that is both beguiling and arresting. In his landscapes he rendered with apparent straight-forwardness the harmonious colours of fertile, flower-filled England. In many of his paintings, notably his mural schemes, the human subjects, at rest and at play, are imbued with an other-worldly symbolism at one with their seeming ordinariness. Mahoney’s was a considered vision. A collection of his paintings and drawings - mostly from the artist’s estate - is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Fine Art Society in New Bond Street. Although the work delights on account of its prettiness, it is its meditative quality that most lingers in the memory.Charles Mahoney(or Cyril, as he was christened) was born in Lambeth in 1903, the eldest of a family of boys living in modest circumstances. At the age of 18, he won an exhibition to the painting school of the Royal College of Art. He showed an early admiration for the Italian Renaissance masters Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca and Crivelli. The limpid, fresh colours, clear delineation and simplified forms that characterise much of Mahoney’s work, and its frank treatment of religious and allegorical subjects, are traceable to this first enthusiasm the confident floral decoration of several of his paintings echoes Crivelli.Mahoney’s career can be charted by the three mural schemes he undertook: for Morley College (1930), Brockley County School (1932-36) and the Lady Chapel at Campion Hall, Oxford (1941-52). These constitute the most complete expression of his skills. In addition, in 1942, he was elected as a mural painter to the Art Workers Guild; in 1950, he was elected to the New English Art Club; and in 1951, he contributed to the Festival of Britain ’60 Paintings for 51’ exhibition.The love of gardens is a distinguishing feature of Mahoney’s work. It is among the chief characteristics that brand it is English. The landscape he depicts, if not actually gardens, are uniformly domesticated, ‘tames’ by the impulse to shape and cultivate: orchards, playing fields, allotments, a park. Furthermore, Mahoney enjoyed formal gardens: at his house, Oak Cottage, at Wrotham in Kent, he planted a formal garden in which traditional cottage-garden plants grew exuberantly within clipped box and lavender. His enjoyment is also shown in a preliminary sketch for the Brockley School Joy and Sorrow mural, in which a formal parterre is depicted, lying in front of an 18th-century mansion. Mahoney was also an assured botanical artist, as his plant studies and pen-and-ink illustrations for his books Gardener’s Choice (1937), testify.
The artist frequently included in his paintings the flowers and plants he grew: sunflowers and cabbages are favourites; so, too, are daisy-flowered inulas, splodgy roses and a tall plant compounded of hollyhocks, mulleins and foxgloves. All of these Mahoney depicted with vigour. Sometimes they constitute pictures in their own right; at other times they provide a setting and framework for the figure in a narrative work. In these cases they are not merely embellishments, but central elements in the compositions, giving them structure and balance.
Gardens invariably provided the mise-en-scène for Mahoney’s narrative paintings. In the late Fifties, he began work on a mural scheme that remained uncompleted at his death in 1968. The Muses was intended to replace his earlier murals at Morley College then being rebuilt after bomb damage in the Second World War. In Mahoney’s preparatory sketches, the Muses are depicted in the guise of ordinary young men and women of the time, some of them engaged in essential outdoor pursuits: these they carry out in a garden, in which sunflowers, cabbages and a basket of apples feature prominently. In the allegorical, Autumn (1951), the female personification of the season sits on a bed os cabbage leaves cradling a basket of apples, pears and grapes. Behind her a man is hoeing and, high on a ladder, a young woman in gumboots gathers fruit. In the same vein, the coronation of the Virgin in the Campion Hall murals takes place within the walls of an English garden.
Mahoney clearly painted gardens because he loved them. Garden landscapes such as Evening, Oak Cottage (1938-39) and The Garden (1950), aside from plant interest, delight in the effects of light and shade within a garden’s confined compass. More than this, however, is a garden’s ordinariness, its familiar and quotidian nature. It is this that roots the spiritual content of Mahoney’s symbolic and overtly religious subjects, rendering everyday and thereby plausible the events they portray. The familiar settings of Mahoney’s Campion Hall murals, depicting scenes form the Life of the Virgin, for example, are in themselves a profound comment on the all-pervasive, eternally renewable nature of faith and religious experience.
The Exhibition ‘Charles Mahoney’ is organised by the Fine Art Society in association with Paul Liss, and is being held at the Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London W1, until April 14.
By Peyton Skipwith
To find a sizable part of the life’s work of a forgotten artist of distinction is the aspiration of every dealer: to be present when the Pandora’s Box is opened is the dream of every collector. Such an opportunity is provided by the Charles Mahoney exhibition, with its mix of exquisite pen drawings from the Thirties for Gardener’s Choice, scenes of everyday life in the Mahoney household in Wrotham, in Kent, large-scale paintings for the Festival of Britain and studies for a mural cycle depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. It is perhaps, though, his studies of plants that will resonate most strongly for many: bold pencil and watercolour drawings of poppies, verbascum and tomatoes, alongside mouthwatering oil studies of auriculae, carried out with a breathtaking authority, show him to be not just worthy heir to the great Northern European tradition of draughtsmanship, but a Master in his own right.
Charles Mahoney’s reputation has been crying out for reappraisal. The reason this has not happened before is that until now little of his work has appeared on the market, which is where reputations are made. Mahoney devoted his life to teaching and mural painting - both taxing and time-consuming occupations. He painted murals at Morley College in the Twenties with Bawden and Ravilious, in the thirties at Brockley County School with Evelyn Dunbar, and in the Forties and Fifties at Campion Hall, Oxford. There are studies for each of these in the exhibition: the 14 small oils for Campion Hall make a particularly fascinating series, ranging rom The Birth of the Virgin to Luytens, the Hall’s architect, talking to a gardener whilst Father D’Arcy converses with the undergraduates.
Although mural painting is a public art, its practitioners are often overlooked: their principal works, displayed on walls and ceilings for all to see, are often, through familiarity, taken for granted, whilst the artist themselves are left with little independent work to exhibit. Mahoney did not sell much; he never had a solo exhibition and seldom exhibited outside the Royal Academy or the New English Art Club.Until now, more than thirty years after his death, his family have preserved the work he left, anticipating that one day an exhibition such as this, with its excellent and well-illustrated catalogue, would finally establish the reputation his talent deserved.
Charles Mahoney runs from 29 March to 14 April, Monday to Friday 9:30 - 5:30, Saturday 10 - 1. Fine Art Society with Paul Liss
John Hassall, c. 1900
With an important antiques fair opening at Olympia, Clare Stewart looks at art as an investment
Anyone who has unwittingly bought a work of art from the conman John Drewe, this week sentenced to six years in prison for art fraud, is at some point due for a disappointment when they find that their purchase is not all that it seems. In fact even if you buy the genuine article with the expectation that its value must increase, you may be disappointed. Prices in the art market are unpredictable and respond to changes in taste and fashion. The received wisdom is that the best items in any area of the market will always command a premium. However, not all buyers can afford such items. More useful perhaps is the frequently quoted advice to buyers to buy according to taste and enjoyment, and to buy the best affordable rather than because a particular item is thought to be a good investment... Paul Liss, an Oxfordshire dealer who specializes in design drawings and other works on paper, will be exhibiting a series of six panels featuring children at play and designed as a frieze for children’s nurseries, to be sold by Liberty. The set of original designs is priced at £18,000. In a year, said Mr. Liss, demand for Hassall’s work has driven prices noticeably higher, though it is still possible to buy examples of his work for several hundred pounds. While issues of taste and fashion influence demand for certain types of painting and certain artists, another unpredictable influence on prices is that of consumer confidence. Ahead of the Olympia Fair, one of the most important of the spring season, dealers are in a fairly optimistic mood. Although still some way behind the buoyant market in the United States, “the nervousness at the end of the year has gone and people are feeling quite confident,” Mr. Liss added.
Winifred Knights, The Deluge
A sheet of tracing paper which spent 75 years lining the bottom of an old trunk has been revealed as the original drawing for one of the Tate Gallery’s most popular modern paintings. The London artist Winifred Knights became the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome scholarship in 1920 with The Deluge, which was bought by the Tate for £30,000 fours years ago.
Little preliminary work was thought to have survived until art dealer Paul Liss discovered the tracing paper sketch while preparing the first exhibition of Knight’s work in 1995. He found it in a trunk in her old studio, which had remained untouched since Knights died from a brain tumour in 1947. The sketch is shown for the first time tomorrow at the Watercolour and Drawings Fair in the Park Lane Hotel after being restored. It is priced at £10,000 plus.
Italy, we all know, was the cradle of the Renaissance. The hold it has exerted over the art of other countries has, however, endured for more than five centuries. Notably, in the last 100 years, Italy has represented alternately a call to order, and a point of departure for British painters, and the extent of this influence is currently examined in an exhibition at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum. That it was not all one-sided is reflected in the show’s title, ‘Two-Way Traffic”. Principally, though, the exhibition focuses on the pale tonalities of Colin Gill, W T Monnington, William Coldstream and Winifred Knights. The debt of everyone to Piero della Francesca and Botticelli is immediately evident, particularly in Gill’s monumental 1920s Allegory L’Allegro, an unabashedly Bohemian, John-esque fête-champêtre.
Other themes include Sickert’s fascination with Venice and Nevinson’s flirtation with Futurism, while a number of artists - Roger Fry, Edward Wadsworth and Edward Bawden among them - appear to have been included for the most tenuous reasons, or merely by virtue of the fact that they happen to have painted an Italian scene. The range is also too over-ambitious, and it is a hard task to attempt to explain such diverse topics as the impact of British Post-Impressionism on Italy, the reception of Italian modernism in Britain during the 1920s and the Situationist preoccupations of Ralph Rumney in a 40-page catalogue.
Nevertheless, this is an interesting show which, had it been given a little more funding and a Tate-sized catalogue, would have made a substantial exhibition. As it is, it is still worth visiting, if only for the chance to wallow in the rarely seen langour of Gill and Monnington, each of whom is long overdue for individual appraisal.
Last week when I previewed the imminent World of Drawings and Watercolour Fair, which will run at the Dorchester Hotel in London’s Park Lane from January 28 to February 1, I mentioned that Oxfordshire dealer Paul Liss makes his debut at the event with the fresh-to-the-market collection of work by Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956).
I now have some more details and can reveal that the 25 works are drawn form a collection of several hundred which has been formed privately over the past twenty years. The majority of the collection originates from two sources, Count William de Belleroche and William Stewart.
The count was responsible for establishing the Bruges and Orange Museums in 1935 and 1947 respectively, both of which centred on Brangwyn’s work. He was also the author of two books on Brangwyn and a number of illustrations produced for these books are among the drawings on sale at the Dorchester for prices from around £100 to £6000.
Much of de Belleroche’s extensive collection was sold at Sotheby’s in April 1961 and at Christie’s in July of the same year. However, the count hung on to the works to be sold at the fair.
William Stewart was a scene painter form London who helped Brangwyn in his studio during the final years of the artist’s life. Many of the works collected by Stewart are of much art historical value. Sadly many others, recalls Brangwyn’s last assistant Kenneth Center, were stuck in bags and destroyed on Brangwyn’s instructions.
The work of Thomas Monnington bridges the apparent divide between the abstract and the representational, which is the reason why this underrated artist aroused so much critical hostility.Monnington, whose drawings and paintings are on view at the Fine Art Society, was born in 1902 and studied at the Slade under the the great Henry Tonks from 1918 to 1923. His early work is the stuff of late Romanticism and in 1925 he was commissioned to paint a mural in is style for St Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster. By the end of the 1940s, however, Monnington had utterly changed his approach and embarked on a career as a painter of geometric abstracts. His election as president of the Royal Academy in 1966 can be seen as an attempt by the RA to temper its reactionary image, as Monnington was perceived as the acceptable face of Progressiveness. However, as this fascinating show demonstrates, his exquisite abstracts are, in fact, a direct development from a fascination with the purity of line which stems form his early training and an innate love of the Italian Renaissance.
The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London W1. To August 1st
Winifred Knights, The front door of Line Holt Farm House
By Andrew Lambeth
Winifred Knights (1899 - 1947) was a painter of rare clarity. In her short life (tragically curtailed by a brain tumour) she was responsible for only seven major paintings, cool and stylised perhaps, but extraordinarily effective (see “Landscape with Tennis Court”). She was an assured technician, making many preparatory drawings before embarking on a large composition. Whilst living in Italy during her Rome scholarship she frequently made landscape studies in triplicate: a drawing, followed by an outline on tracing paper, and finally a colour study. In 1920 she was the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, with a very contemporary interpretation of “The Deluge”, now in the Tate. “The Deluge” is the reverse of spontaneous and experimental, yet it still manages to be inventive and original. The Rome Prize was awarded in the category of “decorative panting”, a genre ill-defined at the time and virtually unknown today. Yet a number of masterpieces were produced in this neglected vein, notably by Stanley Spencer and Knights herself. Murals were a favoured mode of execution, mirroring the fact that the subject matter was removed from everyday life and given a classical or primitive treatment. All this was very much in the wake of one artist, the great Frenchman Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 - 98), although a trace of Piero della Francesca was often discernible That it was by no means a moribund tradition is demonstrated by this impressive show of her work (paintings with a number of drawings and exquisite oil studies), in all its freshness, idiosyncrasy and glorious attention to detail.
The Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London W1. To August 1st
By Peyton Skipwith
Winifred Knights was a beautiful and talented artist who lived through two world wars, but could only paint when at peace. There are a few finished works by her, and it is only since the Tate Gallery acquired The Deluge a few years o that she has begun to attract any popular acclaim. This is a haunting composition, its geometrical setting of houses and landscape echoing the starkly stylised gestures of the doomed men, women, dogs and children fleeing the encroaching flood.
Knights had witnessed the biggest explosion of the First World War when a TNT plant in East Ham blew up killing 75 people and demolishing 600 houses; the memory of the resultant panic undoubtedly coloured her approach to the apocalyptic set by the examiners for the British School at Rome in 1920. And when she became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, The Daily Graphic came out with a catching headline: Girl Artist Remodels the Flood.
Her response to her surroundings in Rome, as recorded in her letters, was breathless: ‘It is a tremendous studio with grey walls and grey cement floor and sink and plenty of beds and model’s throne and pillows...’ The novelty was heightened by the adulation of her fellow students attracted by her wise-eyed innocence and her stylishly arty sense of dress. In another letter she describes a dance at the American Academy ‘I went in my black skirt, silver bodice, white stockings and sandals, Nixon’s black hat and my black mask and magenta hankie knotted around my neck.’ In 1924 she married at the British School, Thomas Monnington, later president of the Royal Academy.
Knights relied heavily on the Bible for her subject matter; The Marriage at Cana, inspired by Piero della Francesca, is set unashamedly in the Borghese Gardens, whilst Santissima Trinità was a popular pilgrimage. Her last painting was the Saint Martin altarpiece for Canterbury Cathedral, completed when she was only thirty-four. It is hard to believe that she never actually painted Jairus’ s Daughter, as the studies are so detailed and intense that one feels one has seen the actual work: the cell-like bedroom, the naked girl, the slippers left casually on the flagstones testify to her total immersion in her chosen subject. happily, though, she never stopped drawing. A series of small, obsessive studies of individual flowers in the exhibition date from the 1940s, shortly before her premature death from a brain tumour.
Winifred Knights, 1899-1947 runs until 13 October, Mon-Fri 9:30 - 5:30, Sat 10-1