Audrey Cruddas

Audrey Crudda

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Audrey Cruddas moved to England with her parents when she was an infant.

After leaving school she studied art at St John’s Wood School of Art, Royal Academy Schools, and the Bram Shaw School of Drawing and Painting then began a career as a painter, travelling in Europe and North Africa.

The Wrestlers mixed media 1944. Hags Of War 1944. Artist With a Seagull 1948.

During the Second World War, she worked as a ‘Land Girl’ in the Women’s Land Army. During the war illness forced her to rest for a year and during this time, for her own amusement, she produced designs for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth.

At the end of the conflict and recovering her health, she began to design costumes for the theatre and was quickly talent spotted by the dancer and actor Sir Robert Helpmann.

Recovering her health, she took her designs to London where they were eventually seen by the director, Michael Benthall, who commissioned her to design his production of The White Devil at the Duchess Theatre in 1947. This was the beginning of Audrey Cruddas’s theatrical career: she went on to design productions of Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon and the Old Vic, West End plays, and operas. Her designs for Caesar and Cleopatra, which starred Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, won the 1952 Donaldson Award for outstanding achievement in the theatre when the production toured in America.

Three designs for King John. The third pic is ‘Two Austrian Soldiers.’

Cruddas soon became one of the leading modern theatre designers of the post war period. Although best known for her theatre work she was an accomplished artist in different mediums – painting, drawing and ceramics.

Other early career highlights were for John Burrell’s 1947 Old Vic production of Taming of the Shrew and Verdi’s, Aida at Convent Garden (1948). Notable later productions include Michael Benthall’s Old Vic productions of Julius Caesar (1955), Cymbeline (1957), and Hamlet (1958), and Peter Potter’s Edinburgh Festival production of ‘The Wallace’ (1960).

The Wallace’ by Sydney Goodsir Smith was performed at the Assembly Hall in the Edinburgh Festival in 1960.

In 1952, Cruddas illustrated a Folio Society edition of William Shakespeare’s, The Tragedy of Antony & Cleopatra (the forward of this edition was written by her friend, Laurence Olivier) and the book was republished again in 1963.

Costume for Harold Kasket as the Duke of Orleans in Shakespeare’s Henry V 1955. Two other costume designs.

In the early 1950s, Cruddas moved to the Essex village of Great Bardfield living at Walton House next door but one to Edward and Charlotte Bawden. Cruddas’ partner Mary (Chez) Cheseldine (1902-1999) took on the management of the village teashop. Chez was a popular member of the community owing to her outgoing personality and sense of humour.

Walton House. A 1955 press photo showing Audrey Cruddas on the right outside Marianne Straub’s Trinity Cottage. Edward Bawden is on the left in front of John Aldridge. Stanley Clifford-Smith in the centre, to his left I think is Laurence Scarfe and then Michael Rothenstein. The woman back left is George Chapman’s wife Katie with her baby next to, on the right, Joan Glass (wife of Clifford-Smith).

At Bardfield Cruddas became involved with the dynamic art community which included: John Aldridge, Bawden, George Chapman, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Joan Glass, Walter Hoyle, Sheila Robinson, Michael Rothenstein, Marianne Straub, among others. During this period, she focused on watercolour paintings. She exhibited at all the Bardfield shows from 1954-1959. Both Cruddas and Cheseldine were close friends of the Clifford-Smith family as well as many of the village artists.

A watercolour by Audrey Cruddas. Could it have been a Great Bardfield view ?

Cruddas lived in Walton House for most of the 1950s and she was an important member of the Great Bardfield art community. During the late 1950’s increasing workloads of designs for the theatre took their toll and with stressful deadlines, Cruddas became increasingly dependent on alcohol. A doctor advised that she should take up playing the flute. She played quite well and every time she fancied a drink she started playing the flute !

In the 1960s, Cruddas and Chez moved to Bank House, Botesdale, Suffolk helped by a private low-interest funded mortgage secured by Joan Glass, wife of Clifford-Smith. The couple had been unable to take on a mortgage because of their gender and marital status. The couple enjoyed many happy years there in the company of Enid, Audrey’s eccentric elderly mother.

Top left: Hippy Family 1971. Which Way Man ? 1971. Top Right: Still Life.

Bottom Row: Bowl of oranges and grapes. The Rose Seller. Girl With a Cat.

Cruddas was diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid 1970’s and died in 1979. She is buried in the graveyard of the Suffolk village of Palgrave, near her home.

During her exhibiting career, her paintings were shown at the Islington Galleries and the Augustin Gallery, Holborn. The Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden featured the ‘Women of Great Bardfield’ exhibition in 1910 displaying the work of the women associated with the Great Bardfield group. Following Audrey’s death Chez sold Bank House and moved to the Suffolk coastal town of Southwold where she lived out her life dying in 1999.

Self Portrait.

Thanks go to Wikipedia for help writing this blog, also to Jenny Rooney – …. and to Silas Clifford-Smith in Australia, son of Stanley Clifford-Smith and Joan Glass.

Graham Bennison, August 2022.

See also….

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