Bernard Cheese was born in Sydenham, south-east London in 1925 the only child of Gordon a black cab driver and his wife Rose. He initially trained at the Beckenham School of Art now known as the Ravensbourne Art School. Cheese served in the army in WW2 and after four years in the army, enrolled at the Royal College of Art in 1947. At the RCA Cheese studied under Edward Bawden, John Nash and Edwin La Dell. His work often contains the same quirky humour that is also discernible in Edward Bawden’s work.
Cheese’s enthusiasm for lithography was fired by Edwin La Dell. Together with the master printer George Devenish, La Dell had set up a lithographic workshop modelled on Parisian ateliers. La Dell encouraged Cheese to go out into the streets to record London life in the markets, pubs and parks and to mingle with the crowd, sketchbook in hand, and observe. Over eight decades, Cheese became an enthusiastic observer of British society.
Lithographs: Coffee Stall 1951. London Pub, early 1950’s. The Woolwich Ferry 1952. Chloe Cheese comments: My mother saved this lithograph folded up in a drawer. It is one of my favourites from his early work depicting the life of ordinary Londoners. Grandstand. 1953.
At the Royal College, Cheese met a fellow student, Sheila Robinson, the Nottinghamshire-born printmaker and illustrator. Cheese left the RCA in 1950 to teach printmaking at St Martin’s School of Art, a post he held until 1968.
Cheese and Robinson married in 1951 and set up home in Beaufort Street, Chelsea. Both artists worked on Festival of Britain murals alongside their art-school tutor and close friend Edward Bawden. Their first child, Chloe, now a celebrated artist in her own right, was born in 1952.
In 1951, London Transport commissioned the first of several posters, Pantomimes and Circuses.
Bawden introduced the couple to Great Bardfield and in 1953, they moved to Bardfield End Green at Thaxted, where their son, Benjamin, was born the following year. Cheese established his studio at a former fish and chip shop next to the Butcher’s in Brook Street in Great Bardfield. Cheese commented: “It was a rather smelly studio.”
Lithographs: Thatchers in Great Bardfield. First Prize, 1953. Grapevine at Audley End, near Saffron Walden.
Cheese was often away teaching printmaking at St Martin’s, like many of the other artists teaching in the capital travelling up to London on Jennings’ bus.
Great Bardfield was a quintessentially English village – a thriving community with butcher, ironmonger, grocer and, remarkably, a close gathering of artists who, by design or happy coincidence, lived and worked in or around the village. The Cheeses would soon enjoy their friendship and support, contributing to regular “open house” exhibitions. Along with Bawden and his wife Charlotte their artistic neighbours included John Aldridge, George and Kate Chapman, Michael and Duffy Rothenstein, and the textile designer Marianne Straub.
Lithograph: Drum Major, 1953.
La Dell asked Cheese to contribute to Coronation Lithographs, a portfolio of 40 prints by staff and former students of the Royal College for a celebratory exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1953.
Lithograph: The Fisherman’s Tale, 1956.
The brewers Guinness – seeking to establish a market for unsigned lithographs for display in pubs – commissioned A Fisherman’s Story in 1956. Choosing his subject from the Guinness Book of Records, Cheese shows a contented fisherman on a bar stool, arms outstretched, a half-empty glass of ale in one hand, pipe in the other, boasting of his day’s catch to the barman and all in earshot. Other clients ranged from the BBC and A&C Black to P&O Cruises.
The 1950s and 60s saw great innovation and diversity in British printmaking. Lithography had become the favoured medium of the younger generation and there were more opportunities to publish and exhibit prints. Cheese was now showing as far afield as Beijing (1956), Stockholm (1960), Washington DC (1962) and New York (1968).
Sadly in 1957, Cheese and Robinson separated. Following Cheese’s departure Robinson began to teach illustration at the RCA in the early 60s, her teaching picked up when Chloe and brother Ben were both old enough to go to primary school. In 1958 they were divorced, and Cheese married his former student Brenda Latham Brown. They moved to nearby Stisted, where their daughters, Joanna and Sarah, were born. They purchased an old farmhouse in the centre of the village, it was in a bad state of repair eventually turning it into a stylish home. For a studio, Cheese rented a Sunday School room. Michael Rothenstein became a near neighbour having also left Great Bardfield to move to Stisted, living in a purposely built house and studio.
After leaving St Martin’s, Cheese was appointed senior lecturer at Goldsmiths College (1970-78) and taught part-time at the Central School of Art and Design, London (1980-89). Cheese removed his family to Gardener’s Cottage, Stisted, a large Victorian house with a large, overgrown garden circled by a high wall.
Teaching in the 60’s and early 70’s I well remember these BBC Radio Schools Programmes booklets illustrated by Bernard Cheese.
Cheese and Brenda separated in 1988 and divorced in 1992. Cheese then settled in Nayland, north of Colchester. He continued to travel in search of new subjects for watercolours that he subsequently reworked as lithographs, he turned increasingly to delightfully idiosyncratic still-life arrangements such as Trout on a Plate and Victoria Plums and English Coxs. Though Cheese’s work often comes across as whimsical, his seemingly light-hearted touch is rooted in sound draughtsmanship and a well-structured composition.
Lithograph: Trout on a Plate, 1994.
Cheese was particularly fond of Provence and the sun-baked medieval hill town of Le Barroux in particular.
Lithographs: A View Over Le Barroux. Cyclists in Provence. Evening Provence.
Middle section: Grapevines. La Roque Alric, Provence. Storm Clouds Over Suzette.
Bottom: Vineyards around Suzette 2003. Vineyards At Mirabel, Provence. Village in Provence 1998.
Cheese continued to produce watercolours well into his 80’s but suffered a series of minor strokes. He died at home in Nayland in the spring of 2013.
Cheese’s works were acquired by many important collections, from the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Collection to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and New York Public Library. With more than 100 lithographs and watercolours, Aberystwyth University holds the largest public collection of his works.
Lithographs: Aldeburgh Beach. Combine in a Cornfield. The Combine. Fun Run. Open the Gate. What’s for Lunch.
This blog has been cobbled together with help from various sources;-
Bawden, Ravilious and the Artists of Great Bardfield Hardcover – 7 Sept. 2015
by Malcolm Yorke (Editor), Gill Saunders (Editor). V & A Publishing.
The Artists of Great Bardfield, by Janet Dyson ISBN 9780995712607 Between the Lines Press, 2017. https://www.facebook.com/BetweenTheLinesBardfield.
Guardian Obituary by Robert Meyrick, Sun 31 Mar 2013.
And….not least Chloe Cheese. Thanks for looking over script and providing some additional information.
Graham Bennison December 2022. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist