Michael Rothenstein – 1908–1993

Michael Rothenstein was a brilliant printmaker and excellent painter, one of the central figures in the renaissance in British print-making that took place just after the Second World War and through the 50’s and 60’s.

Rothenstein was born in 1908 at Hampstead the son of the celebrated William Rothenstein who was to become Principal of the Royal College of Art.

Rothenstein’ s childhood was spent at a farmhouse at Far Oakridge in the Cotswolds where he was home-schooled. His father created a studio here and filled the house with paintings, drawings and sculpture.

Cotswolds ‘House and Cart’ Pen and ink with watercolour 1939

Rothenstein was only sixteen when he made the drawings later used for the Country Child’s Alphabet by Eleanor Farjeon published in 1924. There were 26 poems by Farjeon, one for each letter of the alphabet, with 26 full page drawings by the young Rothenstein.

In 1923 Rothenstein entered Chelsea Polytechnic where he met fellow artists Edward Burra and Barnett Freeman – https://httpartistichorizons.org/2020/07/02/barnett-freedman-1901-1958/.

Between 1924 and 1927 Rothenstein studied part-time at the Central School of Arts and crafts. A rare glandular illness laid Rothenstein low for sixteen years and he only began to recover after being treated Dr Rau head of the Berlin Institute of Glandular research.

The Crucifixion 1937 Michael Rothenstein 1908-1993 Tate.
This figure painting was exhibited at Rothenstein’s first one-person show at the Matthiesen Gallery in 1938. It was one of several Biblical scenes in modern dress painted at that time, perhaps under the influence of Stanley Spencer.

In 1936 during his recovery he married Duffy Fitzgerald and spending the summer months back in the Cotswolds began to draw and paint with confidence. His first one-man show came at the Warren Gallery, London in 1931. Another one-man show came in 1938 at the Matthiesen Gallery in London followed by a one-man show at the Redfern Gallery in 1942.

Great Bardfield Gibraltar Mill

In 1941 he and Duffy made the significant move to Great Bardfield having seen an advert that John Aldridge was letting out chapel cottage in the grounds of Place House. Rothenstein had been too ill to serve in the forces but had been employed by the ‘Recording Britain’ scheme established to feature old churches buildings, parks, landscape, etc.

Rothenstein and Duffy eventually settled at Ethel House. Close neighbour Edward Bawden encouraged Rothenstein to try lino-cutting, buy a press and se up a print studio at Ethel House.

John Aldridge – https://httpartistichorizons.org/2020/07/26/john-aldridge-1905-1983

Eric Ravilious and Tirzah lived close by at Shelsfield.  https://httpartistichorizons.org/2020/07/20/tirzah-garwood-11th-april-1908-27th-march-1951/ Many paintings and drawings followed but in the early 1950’s Rothenstein was drawn to lino-cutting before going on to Paris in 1957 to study etching.

Paintings Ethel House and Ethel House Garden by Kenneth Rowntree. In 1947 Rothenstein illustrated The Vision of England Series – Sussex. 1 The White Hart Hotel, Lewes. 2 Berwick Church near Alfriston. 3 Brighton Pavilion.

Drawings of Yorkshire. 1 Coxwold, Old Tannery. 2 Norby -Sunny Terrace. 3 Pits Farm, Newburgh. 4 St Mary the Virgin’s.

By the end of 1955 Michael Rothenstein’s marriage to Duffy was dissolved, and she left Great Bardfield. In 1958 Rothenstein married Diana Arnold-Forster. Not long after the 1958 Great Bardfield summer exhibition the couple moved to the nearby village of Stisted, Essex purchasing an Elizabethan farmhouse. Rothenstein began to experiment with construction boxes producing a remarkable array of work throughout the 60’s and 70’s.

I feel a great affinity with Rothenstein having produced lino-cuts and paintings of my pet hens. Here above, a selection of lino’s and wood-cuts by Rothenstein.

A final selection of work. 1 Traction engine & trailer 1942. 2 Timber felling. Lithograph 1946. 3 Catherine Wheels . Etching 1963. 4 Untitled (Purple, Red and Green). Lino-cut wood montage. 1959. 5 Loco. Woodcut. 1986. 6 Paint-box 2 construction 1969/70. 7 Cockerel Relief 1988.

A prolific artist leaving behind an incredible array of drawings, paintings, prints and constructions.

Rothenstein died aged 85 on the 6th July 1993.

Graham Bennison 19th October 2020. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

Not quite in the same league as Rothenstein. Note to self…must try harder !!

Note. The Vision of England series published by Paul Elek between 1946 and 1950.

One thought on “Michael Rothenstein – 1908–1993

  1. Interesting artists !! practise makes perfect Graham, I think your getting there. Your talents as an artist has never left you. Keep the great work going.

    Liked by 1 person

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