Enid Marx

Enid Crystal Dorothy Marx, RDI, 20 October 1902 – 18 May 1998.

Enid Marx was born in London to Robert Joseph Marx and Annie Marie Neuberger, the youngest of three children. She was known familiarly throughout her life as “Marco” and was also a distant cousin of Karl Marx. 

Her artistic inclinations were fostered from an early age, especially by her older sister Marguerite who lived in France for a period. Enid found pleasure as a young girl in collecting samples of ribbon from textile shops. She travelled with her family in Europe before the First World War witnessing the Avant-garde arts movements of the early 20th century.

Marx first attended South Hampstead High School, after which her parents transferred her to Rodean School for girls, Brighton from 1916 until 1921. Her artistic studies there included life drawing, printing, and carpentry.

She studied at the Central school of Arts and Crafts for a year studying drawing, pottery and design for printed textiles under  Bernard Adeney.

Marx moved to the painting school at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1922. Her classmates there included Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Barbara Hepworth and Barnett Freedman.

‘I went into the Painting School, it was really unacceptable to be in any other, and drawing was so important to me. Sir Frank Short wouldn’t have me in his wood engraving class: he said I drew so badly and wasn’t worth teaching. But Eric Ravilious sneaked me in after hours and taught me what he had learned that day!’

She later recalled: ‘The Sussex Downs were another love we had in common. Sussex was Rav’s home county. I was a Londoner but had spent many years of my childhood amongst the Downs, with which I feel I had an affinity.’

Wood engravings: Back Garden and Abstract Pattern 1925. These are two of the wood engravings completed after Marx’s exclusion from Frank Short’s classes! The Downs Above Plumpton, pen, wash and watercolour, 1924. Male Nude, 1924.

Douglas Percy Bliss headed the college magazine Gallimaufry with woodcuts by Eric Ravilious and Marx and caricatures by Edward Bawden. This was followed by another version of the college magazine – ‘Mandrake’.

As a student, Marx was influenced by Paul Nash, then a tutor at the RCA, who introduced her to publishers and encouraged her avant-garde leanings. Her woodcuts published in  Gallimaufry, must have seriously irritated Sir Frank.  At her final assessment in 1925 Marx was failed by Claude Ricketts, she left the school that year. Marx insisted on drawing in an abstract manner refusing to draw ‘the washed-out William Morris stuff required of her.’ Her work was judged to be “vulgar”, reflecting her interest in popular forms and rejection of the traditional definition of fine arts. Nearly sixty years later, in 1982, the College awarded her an honorary degree.

In 1925, after leaving the RCA before Marx went to work for the textile designers Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher at their studio in Hampstead. Marx learnt how to mix vegetable dyes as well as the steaming, ironing and working of printed fabrics. She became a member of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1925.

In 1927 she started her own workshop over a cowshed on Hampstead Hill where she designed and produced block-printed textiles, often making use of naturally derived dyes instead of new chemical methods. Her work was sold through the Little Gallery, off Sloane Street, and later at Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn’s Dunbar Hay gallery.

Marx experienced tragedy in her life when in 1928 her sister Daisy was taken ill returning to London from Paris dying aged only thirty-seven.  Soon after this Marx moved her home and studio to Ordnance Road, St John’s Wood.

In 1929 Marx designed her first commercial book cover, for a monograph on the engravings of Albrecht Dürer. She created patterned papers for the Curwen Press and received commissions from publishers Chatto and Windus.

Since childhood Marx had loved popular art, a passion shared with her friend and lifelong companion, Margaret Lambert, a historian of 20th-century European politics, whom Marx had met in the early 1930s. From the late 1930s Marx and Lambert began collecting popular ephemera, such as scrapbooks, valentines, paper peepshows, children’s books, Staffordshire dog figurines and toys. They used their collection as the basis for a book entitled When Victoria Began to Reign, published by Faber and Faber in 1937. Lambert and Marx co-authored English Popular and Traditional Art in England (1946), which they expanded into English Popular Art (1951).

Marx taught a Wednesday design and engraving class at the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford, with colleagues Barnett Freedman, Eric Ravilious and Paul Nash, until 1936.

In 1937 she was selected by the London Passenger Transport Board to design the moquette seat fabrics for use on the seats of London buses and tube trains. The new seat fabrics were part of a customer-experience cantered redesign, spearheaded by Christian Barman and Frank Pick, focusing on interior fabrics and surfaces. Marx was advised that the material had to ‘look fresh at all times, even after bricklayers had sat on it’, as well as not being too dazzling as it was destined for moving vehicles. The first three fabrics she designed – called ‘Belsize’, ‘Bushey’ and ‘Brent’ – combined her characteristic use of pattern with a modern feel in keeping with LT’s wider approach to design.

Marx later recalled in a lecture to other textile designers that ‘We all thought at first that the best way of disguising dirt was to use colours which would more or less tone in with the dirt’ but that ‘the best method of ensuring the seats would look clean after a period of use was to use strongly contrasting tones and rather brilliant colour’.

Designs for London Passenger Transport Board, moquette seat fabrics.

Ravilious visited Marx at her St John’s studio making a large-scale pencil sketch of her working environment with colour notations. Enid’s harvest decorated mugs provided the stimulus which led to Ravilious’ Persephone (Also known as Harvest Festival) design for Wedgwood.

During the Second World War, she began writing and illustrating her own small format children’s books, including Bulgy the Barrage Balloon (1941) and The Pigeon Ace.

During World War II, she was commissioned by The Pilgrim Trust to paint 14 watercolours of buildings under threat from bombing for its “Recording Britain” project.

Four of Enid’s Recording Britain paintings: Houses in Marlborough Hill, St. John’s Wood. The Knights of St Johns Tavern, Queen’s Terrace, St John’s Wood. No.1, Cornwall Terrace, Regent’s Park. Almshouses, St John’s Wood. All 1940.

Recording Britain was an artistic documentary project sponsored by the British government in the late 1930s as the country faced the potentially devastating impact of a second world war. The resulting collection of more than 1,500 watercolours and drawings, by both well-known and amateur artists, is a rich visual record of buildings, landscapes, and livelihoods perceived to be under threat.

In 1943, the furniture designer Gordon Russell invited her to become a member of the Board of Trade Utility furniture Design Advisory Panel, which was tasked with implementing wartime austerity standards in the field of interior and furniture design. She became responsible for its range of textiles, eventually creating over 30 commissioned designs. The textile patterns were primarily geometric, although Marx also introduced some floral motifs after seeking feedback from her charwoman.

In 1944, Marx was elected to the Faculty of Royal Designers for Industry, reflecting her ability in practical industrial design and the respect of her peers. Marx was commissioned to design more moquettes for LT, with ‘Shield’ perhaps her best known and liveliest design. It was used on refurbished 1938 Tube stock trains in the late 1940s, using the same colours as ‘Chevron’ but breaking away from the straight lines of her previous LT patterns.

The ‘Chevron’ design is a geometric pattern consisting of a light green grid overlaid by diagonal red stripes and checks in the form of a ‘chevron’, on a dark green background.  Designed by Enid Marx in 1938, this moquette was used to re-upholster seats on 1938 Surface Stock trains. On vehicles for the Piccadilly and Central lines it was teamed with red leather arm rests.

Marx was awarded the distinguished status of Royal Designer for Industry by the British Royal Society of Arts in 1944. Marx was one of the designers chosen to exhibit in the Royal Pavilion at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

After the war Marx designed covers for Penguin Books. She finished an engraving series called Marco’s Animal Alphabet in 1979, although it was not published until after her death.

Marx considered several teaching positions after the war at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and the RCA, before eventually getting hired in 1947 at Gravesend School of Art, teaching creative design for fabric printing. In 1949 she took an interior decoration lecturer position at the London County Council City Literary Institute in Covent Garden. Between 1951 and 1955 Marx taught design at Maidstone College of Art in Kent and between 1955 and 1957 she taught embroidery (design) at Bromley College of Art. Marx was appointed head of Textiles, Dress and Ceramics at Croydon College of Art in 1960 and in 1965, she retired from her full-time position to become a guest lecturer in textile history.

She was commissioned by LT to design posters in 1957 that exhibited her skills as a printmaker.

Marx designed the frame around the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the British Wilding series of penny, halfpenny, and three-halfpenny stamps, and the 1976 Christmas stamp issue featuring medieval embroidery.

Top row: one of Marx’s designs for the Wilding Series

of low-value stamps. The red stamps in the bottom row are a design by Michael Farrar-Bell.  

During the late 1950s and 1960s, Marx lived with her partner Margaret Lambert in St Andrews, Scotland.  In 1956 Lambert was appointed as Lecturer in Modern (European) History at St Andrews University having first been considered for a post at Cambridge where she had advised on an extra-mural course. Lambert died in 1995.  The couple amassed a large collection of English folk art and much of their collection is now held at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park in Warwickshire.

A painting of a still life on a table, comprising a Staffordshire dog (in Compton Verney’s collection) and tulips in a vase.

Marx died in London on 18 May 1998, aged 95. In April 2022, English Heritage unveiled a blue plaque in Marx’s honour on her former home and studio at 39 Thornhill Road, Barnsbury, Islington, London.

Marx’s home at 39 Thornhill Road, Islington contains her purpose-built studio in the back garden, which remains in much the same condition as she left it nearly 25 years ago.

She shared the house with her partner, Margaret Lambert and friends Grace Lambert and Eleanor Bruening, who still lives at the house today.

My own favourite Enid Marx’s works centre around her superb lino-cuts.

This book is available but listed by Amazon at £95, is a bit beyond my pocket right now. With no easily available publication available this blog has been cobbled from many sources, Wikipedia was a good start followed by a multitude of bits and pieces !

Graham Bennison May 2022 https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

Life In An English Village

Life In an English Village.  It was in 1925 that Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious first cycled into Great Bardfield. Working in London they would catch a train to Great Dunmow and then hire bicycles. The pair frequently lodged at Brick House. In 1932 Edward married Charlotte and his father bought the whole house for them as a wedding present at a cost of £500. Eric and his wife Tirzah were invited to share the house with them. Eric and Tirzah stayed until 1934 when they moved to nearby Castle Hedingham.

Brick House

In 1949 Bawden submitted an idea for a book to King Penguin Publishers – ‘Life in an English Village’ with a text by Noel Carrington, brother of tragic artist Dora Carrington. Bawden produced 16 lithographs together with 6  pen and ink drawings.

1 The Reverend Kenneth Edmund Cartwright working on his sermon in the old vicarage. 2 St Mary the Virgin. The Parish Church drawn from behind the baptismal font looking up towards the altar and the rare stone rood screen. 3 The Methodist Chapel now a private house at the top of Bridge St. 4 The Junior School. Miss Duffield, the Headteacher is seated on the left.

5 The Child Welfare Clinic. The clinic was held in the Town Hall. 6 Peeling Potatoes. Mrs Buttle, home help to the Bawdens peeling potatoes. 7 Sunday evening. 8 Farmer Mr and Mrs Tom Ives and Maud Hitchcock at home in Bell Lane.

9 The Cabinet-Make. Ernest Davey and Ted Suckling’s workshop on Crown Street. 10 The Bell. Artist John Aldridge enjoying a pint with corn-dolly maker and gardener Fred Mizen. The landlord is Mr Jarrold, they are watched by the local bobby Sergeant Baker. 11 A Village Store. Piper’s store on Bridge Street, it finally closed in 1969. 12 The Baker. Gurney;s Bakery on the High Street, the bread oven can still be seen in what is now Gray’s Estate agents. Artist Stanley Clifford-Smith made this his home after originally living in Buck House.

13 The Butcher. Mr Bone the Butchers was next to the vine pub, now Olive Tree House. Mr Bone has his back to us. 14 The Tailor. Mr Suckling the tailor. 15 The Saddler’s Shop. Walter Goldstone’s saddlery and harness-making business on Crown Street, now Crown House. 16 The Market Gardener. Gardener Mr Piper.

The six pen and ink drawings.

But, the story doesn’t end here, as on Friday 28th My 2021 the Bell Inn lithograph was re-created. Notice that the fireplace is on the left in Bawden’s work but behind me on the right as indeed it is. The sketch and litho was reversed on the plate.

Yours truly is pictured taking the part of John Aldridge, pipe in hand while Phllip Mizen plays the role of his grandfather Fred Mizen complete with eye patch. Landlady Sharon Alford pulls a pint while her son Kieran, alias Sgt. Baker keeps a wary eye on proceedings.

My stay in Great Bardfield was fabulous, in the words of Tirzah: ‘Long Live Great Bardfield’.

Mr Jarrold at The Bell.

The blog on Fred Mizen can be found here….. https://httpartistichorizons.org/2021/04/28/fred-mizen-1993-1961/

Many thanks for help with these notes to The Bawden Room leaflet. The Bawden room is situated in the forecourt of Great Bardfield Town Hall. To book a visit contact Janet Dyson on 07957 483207.

Graham Bennison May 2021. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

Lino-cut: ‘Toppings Bookshop.’

Lino-cut. ‘Toppings Bookshop.’ Toppings is a popular bookshop in Greyfriars, St Andrews. This is an original hand-made lino-cut printed from the block, many separations. The actual image size is 12″ x 9″. An edition of 20 numbered and signed. The second pic shows the lino-cut in a mount. Price £40 plus p and p. on Etsy BUT £35 to friends on this site.

Douglas Percy Bliss

Phyllis Dodd: Portrait of Douglas Percy Bliss, 1926

Fellow Royal College of Art students Douglas Percy Bliss, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden studied together, lived together, and following graduation remained firm friends. While Ravilious and Bawden are prominent in the Pantheon of 20th Century artists and widely celebrated Bliss is less well known and deserves far more recognition.

Douglas Percy Bliss was born in Karachi, India (now Pakistan) on the 28th of January 1900, where his father was a trader. The family was originally from Northamptonshire, but his grandfather moved to Morayshire in Scotland, where he raised a family of sixteen children. Douglas always regarded himself as Scottish, as he was raised in Edinburgh and was educated at George Watson’s College 1906-17. On leaving school, he joined the Highland Light Infantry until the end of the Great War in 1918. He went on to gain an M.A. honours degree in English Lit. at Edinburgh University in 1922. The study of Art History in his first year encouraged his lifelong interest in art and architecture. After obtaining his degree, Bliss studied painting at the Royal College of Art in London where he came to know Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden students in the Design School. Bliss had intended to join the Design School, to prepare to become an illustrator, but was persuaded by RCA Principal, William Rothenstein, to enter its Painting School.

Early in his career, Bliss stated he wanted to ‘draw trees really well’. In a variety of media, he used his characteristic muted colours and the clean lines of an engraver to celebrate the English and Scottish Landscapes. Sadly, much of the work of his talented youth was lost.

The-Poor-House-RCA-Composition-dec-1923. Satires in stone the Sportsman 1923. Scarecrow 1925 Ink, body colour with scratching out.

The fraternity of Bliss, Ravilious and Bawden lived and exhibited with one another; they exchanged ideas and techniques and made pilgrimages to sites such as ‘Rat Abbey’ – Samuel Palmer’s run-down cottage in Shoreham – to study the local countryside. For some of this time, Bliss shared lodgings with Bawden at 58 Redcliffe Road, and then space with Ravilious at 38 Holbein Studios.

He became student editor of the R.C.A. magazine. The quality of his third magazine (Gallimaufry) was outstanding, he introduced the innovation of hand- colouring by stencil. The magazine included woodcuts by Ravilious and caricatures by Bawden. The British Museum bought several copies and sent one to the Louvre Print Room in Paris.  Introduced to the Society of Wood Engravers by tutor Paul Nash, Bliss discovered that wood engraving was an ideal medium for his artistic and design talents studying wood engraving in his post-graduate year. The high quality of Bliss’s engravings was quickly admired beyond the walls of the R.C.A. The art critic of The Times praised Bliss’ wood-engravings for concentrating ‘a world of imagination in an inch or two of space.’

RCA student magazines: Gallimaufry and Mandrake.
In 1925, the supremely conservative Oxford University Press published a book of engravings by young art student Bliss illustrating ‘Border Ballads’. Commissions quickly followed on the success of ‘Border Ballads’, including illustrations for ‘The History of Rasselas’ by Dr. Johnson, published by J.M. Dent in 1926. The same publishers paid a great compliment to Bliss when they commissioned him to write ‘A History of Wood Engraving’. Even today this is regarded as one of the best expositions ever written about this specialised field of Art. Good copies of the 1928 edition are eagerly sought by dealers and students in Europe and America.

Border Ballads The History of Wood Engraving

In 1926 Peggy Angus took fellow graduate Bliss to the Scots Labour Club, where, Bliss reported: ‘We hobnobbed with Ramsey MacDonald, chatted long with Ishbel his daughter, sundry Labour MP’s – fierce devils with jaws and wild eyes who talked about unscrupulous Liberals, feudal Dukes, etc. There was speechifying, a sword dance, songs from Peggy and other northern song-birds and then they cleared a space for a reel. Before you could say “Boo” Peggy and I were in it ‘hooching’ and sweating and clapping hands and jumping about like young opossums.’

Three years later MacDonald became Prime Minister for the second time, as a widower, Ishbel became his official hostess.

In the autumn of 1927, Bliss held his first exhibition, with Bawden and Ravilious, at the St George’s Gallery, George Street, Hanover Square. Mainly focussing on watercolours, it included his first landscapes of Barra, an island in the Outer Hebrides, which he returned to on many occasions, and which inspired some of his finest works.

Three paintings of Barra plus a wood engraving.

In 1928 Bliss married fellow RCA student Phyllis Dodd, who was a painter having previously studied at the Liverpool School of Art before moving to the RCA.

Encouraged by his wife Bliss concentrated on his painting, producing oil and watercolour landscapes in Scotland and England. Coincidentally his paintings record the end of an era of small holding. He also painted some urban scenes just before the towns were transformed by high rise and high-density buildings. The married couple first lived at 65 Sancroft Street, Lambeth, before moving to Blackheath in 1932, and settling at 38 Lee Park. They had two daughters, Prudence, who became an art historian, and Rosalind, an artist and teacher. They were joined in Blackheath by Bliss’s widowed mother, Isabel (and she would remain in the household until her death in 1966).

A Hebridean Cottage. Morayshire shepherd, wood engraving 1926. Morayshire Crofter wood engraving c 1928. The Quiraing, Skye 1927. The Red Cart 1939.

When war broke out in 1939, his collection of engraved blocks was still mostly unpublished. During the Blitz, the entire collection was stolen from his London home. However, almost forty years after the theft, sixteen of the missing blocks were identified at an auction in Somerset. They had not been properly cared for and the bigger ones split when printing was attempted. Thus, good prints of his wood engravings, perhaps the most characteristic expression of his Art, are rare.

In the 1930s he taught at the Blackheath School of Art and was the London art critic for The Scotsman.

Railway Bridges at Blackheath c.1932. A London Square in Winter 1941.

Bliss produced two series of Artists in their Studios, exhibited in London exhibitions in 1934 and 1937. Many were sold.

Conversation at Arles. Rossetti painting ‘lovely guggums.’ BR Haydon torn between High Art and a selling line of Napoleans Musing”, 1935.

Ravilious, after seeing the exhibition in 1934, wrote to Bliss as follows:
What an awfully good and lively show that was. Cezanne (sold I notice) and Van Gogh were damn good drawings – the landscape in the latter was boiling point. I loved it. Holman Hunt, Toulouse Lautrec and Turner were the others I enjoyed most, the Turner I would have taken home if I could rub two halfpennies together……Congratulations on the show…..You should do well with these drawings. They are the goods.

In 1939 Bliss volunteered for the RAF Reserve and was sent to an officer training centre in Uxbridge. Two years later, he was called up and stationed by the RAF at Felixstowe, where he did a radar course. Appointed to a branch of the Air Ministry that dealt with concealment and decoy, he served in Brighton and Bournemouth early in 1942, before moving to Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, to work at a decoy site intended to simulate a city. In 1943, he moved to the historic Hoghton Tower, Lancashire, where mock tanks were being made. Later that year, and for the remainder of the war, he worked at the Camouflage and Decoy Unit based at Pinewood Studios.

Following bomb damage to their London home, Bliss and his family moved to Derbyshire. In November 1945 they moved into Hillside Cottage, Windley, near Derby.

High Noon, Windley. Gunhills Windley:  Painted without any sketches, from his bedroom window on the first floor of Hillside Cottage. The title is derived from the hills in the background, which according to local tradition were so named because guns were posted there either in the time of Cromwell or during the southernmost stage of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s march from Scotland in 1745. Gunhills. Cowley’s Farm, Ireton Wood, near Worksworth 1945.

After the war in September 1946 Bliss was appointed Director of the Glasgow School of Art. Hillside Cottage was kept for holidays until he retired there in 1964.

He referred to Glasgow as “the greatest industrial city in the Empire”. Bliss was instrumental in saving much of the Art Nouveau architecture and furniture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Bliss drew on his contacts to enlist teaching staff, including Gilbert Spencer, RA (1892-1979) (brother of Stanley) and Eric Horstmann. He continued as Director from 1946 until 1964. By the time he completed his period as Director, Glasgow School of Art was listed by Whitaker’s Almanack among the six top Art Schools in Britain.

Phyllis Dodd. Portrait of Douglas Percy Bliss.

During his Directorship of the Glasgow School of Art, the School saw a re-emergence of the importance of design and the creation of the three new or reconstituted departments of Interior, Textile, and Industrial Design, raising them to the status of Diploma subjects, and providing them with fully equipped workshops.

Bliss also worked hard to further the reputation and influence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s legacy and to support Mackintosh research. One letter records Bliss asking the current inhabitants of Mackintosh’s old house on Southpark Avenue if a student interested in researching Mackintosh can come and visit their home to take a look. Bliss also worked on the campaign to save Glasgow’s Mackintosh Tea Rooms, enlisting help from individuals such as Nikolaus Pevsner and John Betjeman, and spread the reputation of Mackintosh world-wide by lending Mackintosh items to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, for an Art Nouveau Exhibition in 1958/1959.

Soon after retirement in 1964 settling at his cottage in Derbyshire, he became a governor of Derby School of Art. During his retirement, he continued to paint, and produced a monograph on Edward Bawden (1979), which recalled the excitement of his own student years.

‘Ecclesbourne Valley, Derbyshire in the snow’.

In 1983, a joint show of work by Bliss and his wife, Phyllis Dodd, was shown at St Michael’s Gallery, Derby.

He travelled widely in Europe, including Russia, and to Africa visiting Ghana five times as an art adjudicator at Kuman University.

Douglas Percy Bliss died in Ashbourne, Derbyshire on the 11th of March 1984.

Woodcut: ‘Tathe Bogle.’

To date there is no standard text on Douglas Percy Bliss and this blog has been cobbled from numerous sources. A book titled ‘Douglas Percy Bliss and Phyllis Dodd’ has been ‘coming out’ for a couple of years now but has yet to land in booksellers shops. Hopefully not too long ?

Charcoal Burners; Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.

Graham Bennison https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

Kenneth Rowntree, Part Two.

To understand the dramatic change of direction in Kenneth Rowntree’s work in 1959/60, do peruse part one, the link below.

Kenneth Rowntree Part One  (plus a feature on the Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield).

In 1959 Kenneth Rowntree was appointed to succeed Lawrence Gowling as Professor of Fine Art at Newcastle University. The Fine Art Department was one of the most progressive art schools in Britain, where the teaching staff included Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton.  The time spent earlier that year in the USA was the start of a radical change in Rowntree’s work further accelerated by his move to the North=East of England. 

Victor Pasmore: Square Motif Blue and Gold the Eclipse.

It was here at Newcastle that he became receptive to various modernist idioms, such as assemblage and constructivist forms, and incorporated them in his own work. Design was an important part of the Newcastle art course and played a big part in the new direction of Rowntree’s work his paintings increasingly geometric. Wife Diana, a designer herself, was a severe critic. Diana’s book ‘Interior Design’ was published by Penguin in 1984 and remains highly influential to this day!

Di Venezia, 1960s. Venice, Evening, 1962. White Door.

Amongst many other achievements, Kenneth Rowntree worked with architect friend Erno Goldfinger to produce coloured glass panels in Goldfinger’s Alexander Fleming House in the Elephant and Castle. The building was later converted into flats and is now named Metro Central Heights.

Between 1946 and 1970 he had five one-man exhibitions in London. In the last two decades of his life a number of retrospectives were held in the north of England, usually with catalogue introductions by the current Professor of Fine Art at Newcastle, John Milner.

Girl in Five Parts 1967 /68. Italian Landscape 1964. Jerusalem, collage on board.

In the Sixties, Rowntree was a member, together with Quentin Bell and Claude Rogers, of the committee set up to look into university applications in fine art. In his ‘Elders and Betters’ (1995), Bell recollected: “We met for dinner and usually managed to transact some quite useful business before the first course was eaten, but thereafter Kenneth and Claude began, in a jovial way, to abuse each other, to raise their voices and to dissolve in uproarious laughter. When the other two . . . professors finally staggered away in opposite directions they agreed that any remaining business should be dealt with by me.”

West Front Durham Cathedral 1976.

Peggy Angus recalled:  “I first met Kenneth at the ‘volunteer’ pub: at the Baker Street end of Regents Park in 1938 – I had walked across the park with Eric Ravilious who was staying with me and my husband Jim Richards (now Sir James) in Primrose Hill. It was a lovely sunny day – Life seemed good. Kenneth was a nice broad blonde boy. He had been a student of Eric’s at the Ruskin School, Oxford, during the short period Eric taught there before the war. Eric, quite rightly, thought his work full of promise.

He and Diana left Adelaide Road, to sample the new box-like Isokon flats designed in Hampstead by Wells Coates for Jack Pritchard.

At an early exhibition of Kenneth’s at the Leicester Galleries I fell for a delightful painting of his of a Saddler’s Shop in Clare. I hadn’t the money for it but cajoled the gallery into accepting a banker’s order for �2 a month. The painting gives me great joy. I think it is the best he ever did. I was horrified at the influence Newcastle had on him. There he succumbed, like Victor Pasmore before him, to abstraction. Thank goodness, he seems to have worked through that chapter.” Peggy Angus.

Sheet from an Australian sketchbook 1985.

Rowntree continued to paint following his retirement in 1980 living at Acomb near Hexham. Following a productive visit to Australia in 1984 Rowntree began to centre his work on his Acomb locality producing a series of paintings inspired by the Tyne valley. Increasing infirmity necessitated a move to nearby Corbridge in 1988. Soon after the move to Corbridge a detached retina rendered his right eye virtually useless but failed to stop his creative output.

A Game of Boules, Acomb. Studio Window Acomb 1972. The-Naming-of-Parts of the Garden Acomb. Winter Garden Acomb.

Rowntree’s last retrospective exhibition was at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, a gallery set up to celebrate ‘the Great Bardfield Artists.’

The Blue Coffee Pot 1988. Byzantine Teapot 1990.

Kenneth Rowntree died at Hexham, Northumberland 21 February 1997.

When Peggy Angus stated re Kenneth’s abstraction: “Thank goodness, he seems to have worked through that chapter.” I think she was thankful for new work like this………

Cerne Abbas Giant, date unknown, could be early 1980’s. Findochty, Autumn. Tynedale Winter 1984.

Graham Bennison, March 2022. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

Kenneth Rowntree Part One  (plus a feature on the Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield).

Kenneth Rowntree ‘Self Portrait.’ 1933.

Kenneth Rowntree (1915 –1997) was born in Scarborough into a Quaker family. Howard, his father managed his family department store and Rowntree’s earliest works were displayed there. Nora Priestman, his mother was a Quaker from Bradford, she was a fine violin player studying at the Royal College of Music.

Rowntree was a pupil at the Downs School Herefordshire but later followed his brothers to the Bootham School, York, particularly enjoying the arts. Having trained originally as a cellist (adopting his mother’s talent for music) he chose art for his future career.

Aged eighteen he next went to study at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford where much of the teaching was done by visiting artists. One such was Barnett Freedman who once told a dim girl ‘If you crossed the road with as much intelligence as you did this drawing you’d be run over.’  Another visiting teacher was Eric Ravilious who became a good friend. ER’s example remained an enduring influence throughout the younger man’s life. Rowntree preferred to develop his ideas in his own studio and gradually dropped out of the Slade. He joined the New English Art Club and began to sell his work at Wildenstein’s, Zwemmer’s and the Leicester Galleries.

Life Study, oil. 1936. Spanish Girl, oil. 1936. Saloon Bar Cat.

Rowntree made frequent visits to Paris and in 1938 completed his first large painting ‘Homage to French Culture in the Nineteenth Century’ featuring portrayals of Rousseau, Degas and Cezanne amongst others.

Rowntree became close to Diana Buckley who joined the Architecture course at the Ruskin in 1934. War was declared against Germany on September 3rd 1939, the couple celebrated a hastily arranged registrar’s wedding five days later, Living in London Kenneth and Diana became friends with Peggy Angus and her husband Jim Richards, the Rowntree’s, initially introduced to each other by Ravilious. it was Kenneth that first encouraged Peggy to turn her printing skills to wallpaper production. The family made several visits to Peggy’s home at Furlongs amongst the South Downs.

When Diana became pregnant in 1941 the couple wished to move out of the Lawn Road flats, Hampstead away from the bombing, Eric and Tirzah Ravilious found them a suitable house in Great Bardfield, close to the Bawdens home. The Rowntree’s did not stay long in Great Bardfield moving in 1943 to Simpkin’s Cottage in nearby Lindsell. Here in 1945, he produced his well-known School Print, Tractor in Landscape,

An Essex Lane, probably Great Bardfield. Bottom left: View Through Open Window 1944. Tope Right: ‘Ethel House’ Michael Rothenstein’s Great Bardfield home. Simpkin’s Cottage. Summer Gardens, Great Bardfield. Water Butt Simpskin’s.

Tractor in Landscape proved to be one of the most popular exhibits in the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition at the V&A in 1946 and continues to have enduring appeal.

As a conscientious objector during the Second World War, he worked for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. In 1940 he was one of more than 60 artists commissioned by the Government and financed by the Pilgrim Trust to record the face of England and Wales before development or wartime destruction changed it.

Schoolroom. A Polo Ground in War-Time. 1940. Brent Hall from the South, Finchingfield. Cliff Bridge Terrace and Museum, Scarborough, 1940.

The Pilgrim Trust commissioned many of Britain’s artists to go out and paint a record of the changing face of the country before it was too late. Recording Britain, as this project came to be known, covered a total of 36 counties. Kenneth Rowntree concentrated on capturing the essential character of old buildings and interiors in Bedfordshire, Essex, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Wales.

Foreign Servicemen in Hyde Park Early Summer, 1940. Bottom: The Organ Loft, Church of SS. Peter and Paul, Little Saling. Top right: Interior of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Lindsell. Interior, Black Chapel, North End, near Dunmow, Essex.

Grainfoot Farm Derwentdale Derbyshire-1940. Top right: Underbank Farm, Woodlands, Ashdale, Derbyshire, 1940. Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire 1940. Bottom: St. Mary’s, Whitby – Exterior, 1940.

The Smoke Room, Ashopton Inn, Derbyshire 1940. View of Ashopton Inn from the rear, with trees and a lawn in the foreground and the sheer-sided outline of Bamford Edge escarpment in the distance. ‘Old Toll Bar House, Ashopton, 1940.

Rowntree had his first one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1946. Collectors of the King Penguin books, begun during the Second World War under the editorship of Nikolaus Pevsner, will well remember No. 43 in the series, A Prospect of Wales. Published in 1948, it contained a text by Gwyn Jones, and reproductions of some 20 watercolours and a cover by Kenneth Rowntree.

A Prospect of Wales: Book Cover and Back Cover. Left: Inside Page. Right: Conway Castle and the Coracle 1940. New Church, Llangelynnin 1941. Swan Cottages, Ro-Wen, Conway Valley, Caernarvonshire.

The children: Adam With Pram. Sasha. Sasha skiing in Austria, 1955

After the war Rowntree joined the Royal College of Art in 1949 as head of its mural painting studio, the family moving back to London living upstream from Putney Bridge.. He held this a post until 1958. He designed book covers, such as that for King Penguin Prospect of Wales.

In 1951 he completed a major mural, Freedom, for the Festival of Britain; two years later, he painted scenes along the processional route of the Coronation, with the Queen later acquiring some of his works.

Rowntree received a Ford Foundation Grant to visit America in 1959.  After painting in New Orleans and New Mexico, Rowntree headed north to New York, Boston and Nantucket. He returned from the US with a set of watercolours that sold well at the Zwemmer Gallery.

New Mexico Encounter, 1959. Nantucket, 1959.

In 1959, he was appointed as Professor of Fine Art at Newcastle University; it was one of the most progressive art schools in Britain, where the teaching staff included Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton.  The time spent in the USA was the start of a radical change in Rowntree’s work further accelerated by his move to the North East of England.  These radical works will be featured in part two.

Walled Vegetable Garden Sussex 1940’s.

The Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield.

Interior of the Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield

‘The Quakers met in Joseph Smith’s house, thought to be Great Bardfield Hall, which was licensed in 1703, as a place of Divine Worship for Quakers, or Friends.  The present Quaker Meeting House is built in the garden of Bucks House. Arthur and Harriet Buck were drapers who owned the shop next to the house and other buildings on the triangle of land in the centre of Great Bardfield. Subscriptions for the building were invited in 1803 and the Meeting House was built in 1806. Arthur and Harriet Buck are buried in the Meeting House Garden, and there is a gate from the garden of Bucks House into the graveyard.  Bucks House is itself much older and thought to date from 1510.’

The Friends Meeting House, Great Bardfield. Interior. Grave: Arthur and Harriet Buck.

Many thanks to Nessie Poston for the information and photos here.  Nessie resides in Bucks House, a fabulous B & B.    www.bucks-house.com

Graham Bennison, February 2022. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

Gilbert Spencer

Self-Portrait 1928 Gilbert Spencer 1892-1979 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1975

Gilbert Spencer RA (1892 – 1979) was born at Cookham, Berkshire, on 4th August 1892, thirteen months after his more famous brother Stanley, Gilbert Spencer was the eighth son and youngest of the eleven children of William Spencer, organist and music teacher, and his wife, Anna Caroline Slack. The family had little spare money and the formal education of their children was sketchy, but what they lacked in schooling was made up for by the talk they heard between their elders at mealtimes. His formative influences were his musical family (he too, played the piano and composed) , a childhood spent in observation of nature, the idiosyncrasies of late Victorian village life, making wooden models of farm carts, and his close relationship with the genius of his older brother Stanley.

Sashes Meadow, Cookham 1914-19 Gilbert Spencer

Gilbert first studied at the Ruskin School in Maidenhead then at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in 1911 before entering the Slade School of Fine Art. Gilbert followed Stanley to the Slade in 1913, remaining until 1915. At the Slade, Gilbert came under the powerful influence of Henry Tonks, an influence which remained with him to the end of his life. He won the coveted life drawing prize in 1914 and was runner-up for the summer competition prize, with a huge mural, The Seven Ages of Man (Art Gallery of Hamilton, Canada).

Spencer commented: In my early days I even attempted some religious paintings, but soon abandoned that, realising that I could get along better in other ways; though not before my brother had observed, after seeing my painting of the crucifixion, in which I had painted father as a model, “I don’t know what it is, but when G paints Pa his pictures seem to be alright. “

During the First World War, after pacifist misgivings on the part of both themselves and their mother, both Stanley and Gilbert served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, initially at the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol. Gilbert was then drafted to the Macedonian front, serving in Salonika and later transferred to serve on hospital ships in the Mediterranean, and then to North Africa for the duration of the war. He returned to full-time studies at The Slade after the war (1919–20). Through fellow student Hilda Carline he became part of a circle of artists centred at her home in Downshire Hill, Hampstead and began to enjoy professional success.

Spencer painted portraits, genre scenes and murals but was primarily a landscape painter, focusing his attention on vistas of Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Dorset, and the Lake District. It was in 1920 that Spencer stayed with the painter Henry Lamb at Stourpaine in Dorset, and he returned there often.

Landscape in Dorset. Melbury Beacon – located near Shaftesbury, Dorset. Twyford, Dorset. Twyford Village. View of Egdon Heath from the Crest of Clouds Hill, Looking North.

Spencer became a member of the New English Art Club in 1919. That year, he met Hilda Carline, his brother’s future wife, and her brother Sydney Carline. When he became Ruskin Master in 1922, Sydney Carline asked Spencer to join his staff at the University of Oxford. Lady Ottoline Morrell, with whom Spencer was friendly since before the war found him a room in the village of Garsington near Oxford. She allowed him easy access to her own house, Garsington Manor, which was frequented by many illustrious guests including the Bloomsbury set. While living there, Spencer painted Trees at Garsington (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), Garsington Roofs and The Sheep Fold at Upper Farm.

Cotswold Meadows by Gilbert Spencer Date painted 1920–1930

In 1923 Spencer had his first solo exhibition at the Goupil Gallery, London. He also exhibited at the RA, he was elected Associate of the Royal Academician in 1960, NEAC, (of which he was a member), Leicester Galleries, RSA, Redfern Gallery, and many other venues.

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Ursula Spencer. Burdens Farm with Melbury Beacon. The Artists Garden, Burdens Farmhouse..

Spencer married former pupil Margaret Ursula Bradshaw (1898–1959) on 31 December 1930 at Holy Trinity Church, South Kensington, London. The artist John Nash (brother of Paul Nash) was his best man. The couple lived at Burdens Farmhouse, near Compton Abbas, Dorset between 1931 and 1936. Spencer commented, ‘We loved the place on sight, and took it from the farmer, Ivor Day for 10 shillings a week, plus rates’

The Spencer’s daughter Gillian was born on 21 October 1936. During the late 1930s, after the move to Tree Cottage, Upper Basildon, Berkshire he began to re-introduce people into his paintings once more, focusing on small, intimate pictures of figures caught unaware, such as his Going to Market, and The Coalman. They lived at Tree Cottage from 1936–70.

A Cotswold Farm 1930-1.

Stanley Spencer, letter to Gilbert dated 13 February, 1932
Dear Gil, I feel obliged to write, really in order to raise my own status; to lift me from
the ‘gutter’ of ignorance and shame where —last night—in Annie Slack’s —I was ‘brother of’: I was brother of ‘ the painter of the farm picture Mr Shepherd said the Times and Morning Post are full of it…….Cookham rings with your fame; you o’er stride the place like a Colossus and I peer about to find myself a miserable grave with my coat collar turned up…

From 1934–6 he created a series of murals depicting the Foundation Legend of Balliol College for Holywell Manor, Oxford.

From 1932 to 1948 Spencer was Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art in London. When in WW2 the RCA was evacuated to Ambleside the Imperial War Museum commissioned a number of pieces of work from him. The first commission in 1941 was of Troops in the Countryside followed by a portrait of John German. Gilbert served enthusiastically in the Home Guard first in Basildon and then in Ambleside as a subsection leader.

Grasmere. Grasmere Home Guard 1943. Troops in the Countryside (3rd version).

Spencer was also Head of the Department of Painting at Glasgow School of Art, 1948–50 and, from 1950 to 1957, was Head of Painting at Camberwell School of Arts & Crafts under the Principal Leonard Daniels, serving meanwhile as an Official War Artist, 1940-3.

The Football Match 1950. An Artist’s Progress 1959.

Gilbert Spencer painted The progress of Husbandry when he was in his seventies.  He illustrates the history of farming, or ‘husbandry’, from an ancient Britain ‘scratching the earth’ to the introduction of the tractor. At the centre, two horses are lead away from a corn binder for the last time. The painting was commissioned to advertise a tractor for Massey-Fergusson.

He wrote an autobiography ‘Memoirs of a Painter’ in 1974 in which he stated, ‘Country sounds going on all around me put me in a happy mood and got me into my pictures.’

Landscape with Cows. The Converted Poacher. The Master Farmer.

Spencer was widely exhibited during his lifetime and examples of his work are held in major public and private collections, including the Tate Gallery and the Royal Academy.

Spencer died at Lynderswood Court, Black Notley, Braintree, Essex, on 14 January 1979.

Summer Evening, Hook End Farm; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

There is a wealth of information re Stanley Spencer, indeed Gilbert wrote a book about his brother. There is a lot less info’ re Gilbert so Wikipedia has provided a fair amount of the text here. See also the Royal College of Art at Ambleside….. https://httpartistichorizons.org/2021/08/14/the-royal-college-of-art-at-ambleside/

Graham Bennison January 2022. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

Lady Filmy Fern, or, the voyage of the window box 

‘Lady Filmy Fern, or, the voyage of the window box’ is a children’s book by Thomas Hennell, written in February 1938 and featuring 18 illustrations by Edward Bawden.  Some might describe it as a surreal adult fairy tale ! The book follows the strange story of retiring social beauty, Lady Filmy Fern, her devoted companion, the carpenter Mr Virgin Cork, and the photographer known as the Welsh Polypod. 

A few years earlier staying as lodgers at Brick House, Great Bardfield, renting half the house, Edward Bawden recalled meeting Thomas Hennell: ‘One morning in 1931 when Eric Ravilious and I came down to the kitchen in Brick House to wash ourselves we found a stranger, stripped to the waist pumping water over his head and making quite a splash in the large slate sink. He was tall, thin with black beady eyes rather close set, dark slightly curly hair and as he greeted us his voice had a deep, booming parsonic ring, echoed even more loudly when he laughed. Outside leaning against the doorpost was a heavy, khaki-coloured Army bike and on it, tied to the bar between saddle and steering wheel, a large and perfect specimen of a corn dollie…..Tom greeted us in the most friendly manner. Our identity was divulged in a matter of seconds and friendship was established immediately’

Brick House, Great Bardfield in 1960 by Ronald Maddox, watercolour. A recent photo of Brick House.

The following year, Bawden married Charlotte Epton and his father bought the whole house for them as a wedding present. Ravilious and Tirzah continued to spend weekends and holidays at Brick House and another regular visitor was Gwyneth Lloyd Thomas an English Don at Cambridge. During the lamp-lit winter evenings they amused themselves inventing three characters – Lady Filmy Fern, Mr Virgin Cork and the Welsh Polypod. Bawden decided to make drawings of these characters and illustrated their adventures. Hennell participated in the tale and was persuaded to write it down. The resulting manuscript was rejected by publishers and pasted into a scrapbook along with the illustrations , where they remained forgotten for the next 45 years.

Edward Bawden’s drawing ‘Garden Party at Brick House’. Thomas Hennell is seated front left with Ravilious behind. Tirzah Garwood (Ravilious) front right with Bawden behind.

Following the outbreak of war Bawden, Ravilious and Hennell were all eventually conscripted as War Artists. Before leaving for North Africa Bawden placed much of his work, including the scrapbook in a water-proof covering, down a well in the garden of Brick House. Ravilious was lost over Iceland in 1942 and Hennell reported ‘missing, believed dead’ in Batavia, 1945. It was not until 1980 that the book was officially published, with more illustrations. 

Thomas Hennell was appointed as a temporary lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 24th May 1944. This photo was taken in a studio near his mother’s house in Folkstone. Edward Bawden as an official war artist. Eric Ravilious pictured with his paintings at the War Artists Exhibition at the National Gallery, 28th May 1942.

Lady Filmy Fern is a reluctant celebrity hunted down by the camera wielding Welsh Polypod, the equivalent of a modern-day paparazzo. To escape the Polypod Lady Filmy Fern and her protector Virgin Cork take to the sea in a window box.

Lady Filmy Fern flees from the attentions of the Welsh Polypod. Lady Filmy Fern and Mr Virgin Cork sailing at night. Lady Filmy Fern and Mr Virgin Cork sailing on the Red Sea

The Welsh Polypod climbs onto a bottle. Lady filmy fern The Welsh Polypod in a dispute with customs officers. The Welsh Polypod climbing on board an aeroplane. The Pilot rescues Lady Filmy Fern and Mr Virgin Cork (who didn’t have a shave for the whole voyage!). The Polypod made his home in the ship-wreck of the window-box and used Lady Filmy Fern’s bell-glass for deep-sea diving.

It is thought that the character Lady Filmy Fern was based on a friend of both Hennell and Bawden – Muriel Rose. In 1928 Rose opened the Little Gallery in the heart of Chelsea selling contemporary crafts. Bawden’s wallpapers, made in the attic of Brick House, were sold. alongside the textile designs of Enid Marx and the pottery of Michael Cardew and Bernard Leach. Hennell and Bawden were on holiday with Rose in Switzerland when Hitler invaded Poland on 1st September 1939, Britain and France declaring war on Germany two days later. Soon after the start of the war the Little Gallery closed its doors in 1940 , there being no enthusiasm for purchasing crafts.

Muriel Rose. The Little Gallery. The Little Galley by Edward Bawden ?

Graham Bennison, December 2001. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

The blog re Thomas Hennell can be found here….https://httpartistichorizons.org/2021/03/08/thomas-hennell-16th-april-1903-1945/

George Chapman 1908-1993

George Chapman. Self Portrait

Chapman was born in East Ham, London 1st October 1908, the third child of Jane and William Chapman, a Superintendent on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. He attended Shebbears College in Devon where his profound deafness hindered his education. In 1924 he went to Gravesend School of Art. He left the Art School to train as a commercial designer under Ashley Havinden, Head of Design at Crawford’s in 1928. His income from commercial design was used to pay his own way at the Slade School of Art (1937). After a year he was persuaded by his friend Barnett Freedman to transfer to the Royal College of Art, studying painting under Professor Gilbert Spencer. His early influences included Sickert and the Euston Road School (William Coldstream, Victor Pasmore, Claude Rogers and Graham Bell).

Chapman’s quest for a meaningful subject matter and an idiosyncratic style led him to emulate works by the painters he admired: Daumier, Cézanne, Sickert and artists of the Euston Road school. The Threshing Machine. The Water Bowser. Gors Fach, Pennant.

A committed socialist his sympathies remained with the working class. In his formative years as a painter in the 1930s he had witnessed large-scale unemployment, poverty and unrest. ‘My job as an artist is to make things as they are. Providing I do my job properly, the social comment, if such a thing is needed, will come over itself.’

Chapman married May Codlin, a designer, in 1938 and a son was born in 1939.    His wife left him and their son in 1943.

During the war George Chapman taught at Worcester School of Art, his deafness exempting him from active service. He returned to advertising in 1945 working for Jack Beddington at Prentice, Colman and Varley.

This work was executed when Chapman, exempted from war service due to profound deafness in 1939, he moved out of London to become assistant headmaster at Worcester School of Art, where he was given two days a week to do his own painting. The painting remained in the artist’s studio until his death and was only framed for exhibition at the Goldmark Gallery in 1992.

Two years later he married Kate Ablett, eighteen years his junior, who he had met on a visit to Norwich School of Art. In 1950 they left London and moved to Great Bardfield in Essex settling in the near-derelict Vine Cottage. Edward Bawden invited the newcomers to tea and the Chapmans were welcomed into the growing Great Bardfield art community. The couple upgraded to Crown House on Crown Street and Michael Rothenstein taught Chapman etching, together with the use of his press. On Michael Rothenstein’s press he made his first etching ‘Essex Farm at Great Bardfield.’ When Kate was pregnant in 1951 Chapman made several large etchings of her which somewhat disconcerted the locals.

Chapman supplemented his income as an artist by teaching graphic design part-time at the London College of Printing, Central School of Art and Colchester Art School. He contributed regularly to the famous ‘Great Bardfield Open House’ exhibitions that included Edward and Charlotte Bawden, Michael and Duffy Rothenstein, John Aldridge, Bernard Cheese, Kenneth Rowntree and Marianne Straub.

Chapman later commented: “I have never regretted it (moving to Great Bardfield) as I have found tremendous help from the three artists who were already in the village before me.”

Essex Farm at Great-Bardfield – Etching. Old Cart. Mr Bone the Butcher…..Mr Bone was indeed a butcher in Great Bardfield but older residents of the village state that he looked nothing like this ?? Pregnant Woman 1 and 2 – the images of Kate which caused consternation amongst the Great Bardfield locals.

In 1953 at the age of 45, Chapman made a journey through the coal-mining valleys of south Wales and discovered the Rhondda Valley where, he said, ‘I got a fantastic shock… I realised that here I could find the material that would perhaps make me a painter at last’. He returned to paint the valleys over the next ten years and there followed a period of considerable success.  This visit made a huge impression on him and was to transform his vision of himself as an artist.  His subsequent paintings of the industrial valleys saw him achieve great critical and commercial success with sell-out exhibitions in London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was awarded the Gold Medal at the National Eisteddfod in 1957.

In 1960 the couple and their young family moved to a moated house in Norfolk, and four years later to the Georgian seaside town of Aberaeron on the west Wales coast, he missed the Great Bardfield Open House exhibitions as well as the friendship and support of like-minded artists. Kate Chapman gave up a career in art to support her husband and to raise their three children.

Chapman’s paintings of the Rhondda were celebrated amid a growing awareness of and interest in the British working classes, made manifest in the work of the so-called ‘Kitchen Sink’ painters,

‘First Building’ from The Rhondda Suite (etching, 1960). Children Going Home. Passing Storm. Pigeon-Huts-Rhondda. Rhondda. The Bridge. Welsh Village.

One written recollection recounts Chapman’s only experience down a mining shaft: ‘I am not really interested in the hell below ground – I shall be buried soon enough. It is the humans above and how they live I want to see…The whole place was in an appalling state…Men work down there to earn a living. I thought it disgusting. Coal is cheap at any price.’

After the Shift. Free Coal. Street Scene With Children.

Friend Robert Meyrick commented: ‘The contrast between the village of Great Bardfield – a quintessentially English mix of medieval, half-timber, thatch and Georgian red-brick properties surrounded by open pastureland – could hardly have been more stark, physically as well as socially, than with the drab mining communities of close-built terraces dwarfed by heavy industry and chapels, enclosed cheek by jowl in the steep-sided, cloud-shrouded valleys that he painted.’

John Dalton writing for The Guardian in 1959 stated:’ ‘Out of the squalid, Chapman can squeeze poetry till the pips squeak, for Chapman people are not crowds, swarming like ants, but individuals […] isolated, purposeful, looking as though they will be the last pedestrians in the world. If it’s drawing you’re after, George Chapman is your man’.

George Chapman died peacefully at his home near Aberaeron on 28th October 1993 at the age of 85.

God Save the Queen, Hills near Aberaeron (oil on board, 1970s). Houses Under a Slagheap. Tudor Tower, Pentlow, Essex. London Transport Poster.

From the late 1960s to the early 1990s Chapman’s work became unfashionable, and it was only after his death in 1993 that his reputation underwent a major revival.  His paintings of the Rhondda are now regarded as an important record of an industrial landscape and community that has all but disappeared.

Welsh Gossip.

Great Bardfield Open House Art Exhibitions

Graham Bennison, December 2021. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist

Sheila Robinson

Sheila Robinson

Sheila Robinson (1925–1988) was a noted artist and illustrator, one of the Great Bardfield Artists and a member of staff at the Royal College of Art.

Sheila Robinson was born in Nottingham in 1925.  She studied at the Nottingham School of Art and in 1946 entered the School of Graphic Design at the Royal College of Art, where she was a student of Edward Bawden.

One of her RCA projects was a complete, hand-drawn, lettered and bound book, The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

She married fellow RCA student Bernard Cheese in 1951. In 1951 she helped Bawden with his mural in the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion for the Festival of Britain Exhibition on the South Bank. Daughter Chloe Cheese was born in 1952 and in 1954 following the birth of son Ben the family moved to Upalong, a house in Bardfield End Green. With Bernard working away and distancing himself from the family the marriage broke down, a situation which greatly saddened Sheila who never attempted another relationship. The couple separated in 1957, divorcing in 1958. With the help of the Bawdens, Sheila and the children moved to Cage Cottage in Great Bardfield.

Sheila, focussed on her art and produced an impressive body of work. She also worked on a number of commercial commissions – advertising posters, including BBC publications such as Time and Tune and the BBC Book of the Countryside. She created several posters for London Transport in the early 1950s, including Literary London and Tattoo. The linocut ‘Great Bardfield Windmill’ celebrates the move to Cage Cottage.  Balancing her work as an artist and her role as a mother, Sheila would work at the kitchen table while Chloe and Ben would play on the floor or draw beside her.

Lino Cut: Cat looking out to Gibraltar Windmill, Great Bardfield. Cardboard Cut Prints: Pant Bridge. Bridge Street. Brook Street. Crown Street. Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.

In 2013 Choe recalled Cage Cottage: ‘It had a modern interior, the beams were painted white, there was wallpaper made by my mother – she printed it with her feet! I remember her work room – she worked at a Victorian table, there were rollers and a block – I would see my mother in the process of making her print.  She also worked on the kitchen table – making designs for Schweppes.  She designed animals – life size – for Blackpool Pleasure Beach – I think they are still there.  I loved watching her make the drawings for those animals.  She did a lot of work – this was a very productive time for her.  She also made dresses for me to my designs and dolls.’

In 1960 Sheila’s father, Ernest, died in Nottingham and her mother Joyce came to live with her, a great help with the housework.

Sheila became an enthusiastic gardener helped by fellow artist gardeners the Bawdens and Aldridges, also paying visits to John Nash’s house in nearby Wormingford.

An inventive printmaker, Sheila developed her technique of cardboard-cut printing, sticking shapes of card onto a cardboard base then coating with a PVA glue which prevented the oil-based ink from being absorbed.

Lino-cuts and cardboard prints: “Catherine cat Purrrrrfect condition ! lino 1965.

Red Tabby 1971. The Cat. Parrot. Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.

During the 1960’s Sheila undertook some teaching at Walthamstow College of Art. In 1965 her work at Walthamstow led to a part-time teaching post at the RCA illustration department, commuting to London, teaching there until her death in 1988.

In 1967 a devastating thatched roof fire at Cage Cottage rendered the building uninhabitable following water damage. Walter Hoyle’s old home, nearby Stackyard Cottage, served as a temporary home before moving to Saffron Walden where Choe and Ben were now attending school.

Sheila was one of the artists who contributed to The Oxford Illustrated Old Testament in the 1960s (along with Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Peter Blake, John Brathy, Edward Burra, David Hockney, Carel Weight and Brian Wildsmith.

Sheila’s cardboard-cut prints for the Oxford Illustrated Old Testament.

Following Charlotte’s death in 1970 Edward Bawden moved from Great Bardfield to Saffron Walden and the two friends became a great comfort to each other during a time of domestic upheaval. Their long friendship spanned 42 years and the two would spend evenings discussing books and art. The two enjoyed painting trips including a trip to Istanbul which led to some of Sheila’s best later work.

 The Melon Cart, Istanbul.

In 1975 Sheila was thrilled to receive a commission from the Limited Editions Club of Avon, Connecticut to illustrate D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ producing a series of coloured cardboard cut prints.

Cardboard Cut Illustrations – Sons and Lovers. The third pic is a sketch for the second pic. Fry Gallery.

After Chloe and Ben left home Sheila moved house within Saffron Walden but her health was declining, and she lost confidence in her own work. Bawden was devastated when she died before him from a brain tumour aged 63.

London Road, Saffron Walden. Looking out over Saffron Walden Common her last print – unfinished. Cardboard Printing Block for Saffron Walden Castle. Fry Gallery.

Following her death, the RCA created the Sheila Robinson Drawing Prize in her honour

To finish…….some other varied works by Sheila:

Left: “Felsted school 1965. Blue Shadows etching proof 1965. Monkton Combe print for Editions Alecto 1964. Navigation Inn. Linocut_Abingdon Post Office design.

Right: “Two Houses Thaxted. Blue Monday. Great Bardfield. Hofterup Church Painting. The Cow, lithograph. The Storm, lithograph.

The majority of photos of works here are in the Fry Gallery archive, Saffron Walden.

See also…..https://httpartistichorizons.org/2021/09/03/great-bardfield-open-house-art-exhibitions/

Graham Bennison November 2021. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist