Unlike the artists of St Ives, the Bardfield Group didn’t really end up copying each other’s works and styles. Each of them all having a different artistic technique already before moving to the village.
John Aldridge painted realistic landscapes, no surrealism and little abstraction, his masterfulness coming in the detail of light sources and a limited palette of colour. Despite the landscapes and garden paintings here are a collection of his portrait paintings. What is more interesting about them is how the people are woven together in their history with each other.
As an artist, he was self-taught and his paintings have a freshness that some of his contemporaries had to work hard to regain after. †
John Aldridge – Portrait of Cedric Morris c1928
John Aldridge – Portrait of Lucy Brown, 1930
John Aldridge – Portrait of Laura Riding, 1933
John Aldridge – Portrait of Lucy Aldridge c1950
John Aldridge – Portrait of Robert Graves, 1968
In 1968 when Robert Graves asked Aldridge to paint him.
Robert Graves wanted a portrait of himself, he declared that as a landscape painter Aldridge was the right person to interpret his craggy features †
Graves wrote to Karl Gay at the time, ‘he found my face an interesting landscape’. ‡
John Aldridge – Self Portrait, 1946
† Country Life – Volume 193 – p55, 1999 ‡ Robert Graves and Paul O’Prey – Between Moon and Moon: Selected Correspondence – p300, 1990
John Armstrong – Coggeshall Church, Essex, 1940 – Tate – Not on Display
When most people think of artists and where they paint – they think of St
Ives, Cornwall. The new Tate gallery there and its controversial Stirling Prize nominated extension have been both a help and hindrance to locals, but maybe not the 24% of those in St Ives who are Second Home owners †. The same could be said for Margate and the Bilbao effect from the Turner Contemporary Tate Gallery there. The Tate has pushed tourist through Margate’s streets like air into lungs. In the East of England is where many of the country’s best loved artists lived, but sadly the East of England is rather poor when it comes to showing off their artists – so why not a branch of the Tate in Aldeburgh or Southwold or Colchester?
John Constable – Stoke-by-Nayland, 1811 – Tate – Not on Display
The famous East Anglian artists of old are John Crome, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable. Crome was the most famous of the Norwich School of painters who were inspired by painters like Jacob van Ruisdael and the Dutch style. They painted the vast waterways, windmills and dykes of the fenland and Norfolk Broads. Crome also had many talented pupils. John Sell Cotman, one of the country’s best watercolour artists, was also part of this brew.
Alfred Munnings – From My Bedroom Window, 1930 – Tate, Not on Display
John Constable painted the Dedham Vale in Suffolk and, most famously, Flatford Mill. A brisk walk away is the Museum and former home of Alfred Munnings. Also in Dedham was the original home of Cedric Morris’s East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, but when it burnt down (John Nash told Ronald Blythe ‡) Munnings drove around the village like Mr Toad shouting ‘Down with modern art’. Cedric Morris then bought Benton End from Alfred Sainsbury in 1939 and continued his art school with his life partner, Arthur Lett-Haines. Lucien Freud, Maggi Hambling, Lucy Harwood, Valerie Thornton and Olive Cook all studied there.
Cedric Morris – Iris Seedlings, 1943 – Tate – Not on Display
In 1940 after his London home suffered bomb damage, the sculptor Henry Moore made his home in Perry Green, just south of Much Hadham. It is now a museum with a collection of his works in the grounds. Moore walked around the local fields picking up pieces of flint thrown aside from ploughing and in his studio he would draw them as pre-made organic sculpture. Moore called them his ‘library of natural forms’ and they would inspire his larger works.
Henry Moore – Seated Woman, 1957 – Tate – Not On Display
John Piper in the 80s made a beautiful series of ruined churches of East Anglia. In 1934, at Ivon Hitchens cottage in Sizewell, Suffolk, Piper met his wife Myfanwy Evens. They married in 1937. Myfanwy worked with Benjamin Britten writing lyrics to his operas including Death in Venice. Britten lived in Aldeburgh with his partner Peter Pears. Piper would design many of the stage sets.
John Piper – Covehithe Church, 1983 – Tate – Not On Display
On the other side of Colchester in 1944, war artist John Nash was restoring the Elizabethan Bottengoms Farm, moving in with his wife Christine Kühlenthal. Christine had studied at the Slade school of art alongside Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler and she worked at the Omega Workshops while John had become famous for his monumental paintings of the First World War alongside his brother Paul. At Bottengoms, John became famous for his landscape paintings and botanical studies. He taught at Colchester School of Art with Richard ‘Dickie’ Chopping, an artist known for his dust jackets for Ian Fleming’s James Bond series. Dickie lived with his lover, another landscape painter, Denis Wirth-Miller. Their life with Francis Bacon has been expertly documented in Jon Lys Turner’s ‘The Visitors’ Book’. Bacon owned a home in Wivenhoe as did Dickie and Denis.
John Nash – Mill Building, Boxted, 1962 – Tate – Not On Display
Also on the staff at Colchester was John o’Connor, a wood-engraver and landscape painter. He was once the pupil of both Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious at the Royal College of Art. Bawden and Ravilious where renting part of Brick House in Great Bardfield, Essex, when Ravilious moved a few miles away to Castle Hedingham with his painter wife Tirzah. Bawden and his Leach Pottery student wife Charlotte bought Brick House. Both men became war artists and only Bawden returned from the conflict after painting the early war, including Dunkirk. He was also shipwrecked off the coast of Africa, rescued and imprisoned by Vichy French forces, liberated by the Americans and then off again to paint the campaigns in Africa and Iraq. Eric died in 1942 when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland. Ravilious used the Essex area profusely in his short life there in
wood-engravings and watercolours.
Eric Ravilious – Tiger Moth, 1942 – Tate – Not on Display
Around the village of Great Bardfield, Bawden was joined by John Aldridge (a landscape painter), Walter Hoyle (one of Bawden’s students who helped Bawden on work at the Festival of Britain) and Michael Rothenstein (the pioneer printmaker and brother to the Director of the Tate Gallery). Other artists in the village were George Chapman, Bernard Cheese, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Audrey Cruddas, Sheila Robinson and Kenneth Rowntree.
John Aldridge – Head and Fruit, 1930 – Tate – Not on Display
In the small hamlet of Landermere – on the coastland of Essex – lived Adrian and Karin Stephen with their daughter Judith. Adrian was the younger brother of Virginia Wolfe and Vanessa Bell. After her parents death Judith lived on in their house with her husband and Independent Group member, Nigel Henderson. Also in Landermere they were joined by Eduardo Paolozzi who owned one of the cottages and set up Hammer Prints Limited, a company for printing limited edition works and designing abstract home wares such as wallpapers and tiles. Neighbours in the hamlet were architect Basil Spence and Festival of Britain artist and Coventry Cathedral glass engraver, John Hutton, as well as his son, children’s book illustrator Warwick.
Eduardo Paolozzi – Cyclops, 1957 – Tate – Not on Display
The Stephens were not the only Bloomsbury members to be in the East. David Garnett, his lover Duncan Grant, and Grants wife Vanessa Bell were all staying at Wissett Lodge, Suffolk in the summer of 1916 as conscientious objectors, working on a farm, though Vanessa is the one who got the most painting done.
With the boom in British publishing many of these artists enjoyed illustration commissions, from the cookery books of Ravilious and Bawden to poetry books decorated by John Piper and gardening books illustrated by John Nash.
Spencer Gore – The Beanfield, Letchworth, 1912 – Tate – Not On Display
Naturally there are names left out but there are too many artists to list. But why are they so poorly represented in the region? In the East there is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and Kettles Yard but neither of these galleries aim to promote the work of East Anglian artists, but rather the international collections of the Sainsbury family and Jim Ede. They both do a lot of good for the local economy but it’s not the same as championing the area’s artists.
The nearest to it is the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, but their manifesto only lets them collect work from artists who have lived in North West part of Essex. But for all of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk there should be a body to represent them.
There are so many other artists that could be liberated from the Tate and their archives and put on show to support and promote the region where they were created. At the time of publishing, all the artworks in this blog owned by the Tate were not on display.
Olive Muriel Cook was born in Cambridge on 20 February 1912, the daughter of Arthur Cook, a librarian at the University Library for 56 years, and his wife, a dressmaker for Robert Sayle (John Lewis Partnership). She was educated at the Perse School before gaining a scholarship to Newnham College in 1931, where she read Modern Languages. She obtained her MA in 1942.
Olive Cook – I Am the Ancient Apple Queen, The Fry Gallery
Her first job was that of art editor for Chatto and Windus, followed by supervisor of publications at the National Gallery (1936-1945), where she worked with Kenneth Clark and Arnold Palmer. She met and became friends with official war artists including Eric Ravilious, Thomas Hennell and Stanley Spencer, and it was during this time that she met Edwin Smith, whom she married in 1954. In 1945 she left the National Gallery to devote herself to her own writing and painting and she and Smith started to write and illustrate articles for The Saturday Book edited by Leonard Russell, to which they both contributed annually until Edwin’s death.
She took a two week painting course at Sir Cedric Morris’s Benton End school in Hadleigh Much. She is now one of his forgotten pupils of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing. The other prominent artists of the school are Lucy Harwood, Lucian Freud, Maggi Hambling, David Kentish, Bettina Shaw-Lawrence, Lucy Harwood, Joan Warburton, Glyn Morgan, Valerie Thornton and top legal scholar Bernard Brown.
Olive Cook – Portrait of Michael Rothenstein Reading – The Fry Gallery, 1947.
She wrote ‘Suffolk’ in 1948, ‘Cambridgeshire: Aspects of a County, 1953’, and children’s books illustrated by George Adams in 1954. That same year saw the publication of ‘English Cottages and Farmhouses’ with text by Cook and photographs by Smith, their first major work for Thames and Hudson. After their marriage they lived in Hampstead where they had a large circle of artist and writer friends. More joint books followed including ‘English Abbeys and Priories’, ‘British Churches’, ‘The Wonders of Italy’, ‘The English House Through Seven Centuries’.
Olive Cook – In The Garden, from my collection.
They moved to Saffron Walden in 1962, where Olive Cook pursued her passion for the preservation of the countryside, her book ‘The Stansted Affair’ presenting the case against the development of the airport (1967). They purchased the Coach House in 1967, remodelled and decorated it in their own inimitable way (see photos in Series 9). Sadly, Smith died of cancer at the early age of 59, leaving Cook devastated. However, a woman of great spirit, she rallied and continued to further the reputation of her beloved husband, producing ‘Edwin Smith: Photographs 1935-1971’ in 1984, and continually promoting his work through exhibitions and in books of others, such as Lucy Archer’s ‘Architecture in Britain and Ireland 600-1500’.
Her own writing also continued: she wrote the libretto for ‘The Slit Goose Feather’ composed by Christopher Brown, ‘Tryphema Pruss’, illustrated by Walter Hoyle, as well as the introduction for his ‘To Sicily with Edward Bawden’. And, in the 1980s she along with Iris Weaver was instrumental in establishing the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, writing biographical sketches of the artists of the North West Essex Collection deposited there.
Olive Cook had an enormous capacity for friendship, as the hundreds of cards in her papers attest, and although she had no children herself, she was clearly a great favourite with those of her many friends. Right up to the end of her long life, messages came pouring in. She died on 2 May 2002, aged 90.
Olive Cook – Edwin Smith with Flowers and Ducks, National Portrait Gallery, 1954.
Edwin George Herbert Smith was born on 15 May 1912 in Canonbury, London, the only child of Edwin Stanley Smith a clerk and his wife Lily Beatrice. After leaving elementary school he was educated at the Northern Polytechnic, transferring to the architectural school at the age of sixteen. He then won a scholarship to the Architectural Association, but for financial reasons gave up his course and worked as an architectural draughtsman for several years, most notably for Raymond Myerscough-Walker. >From 1935 he became a free lance photographer, though painting remained his first love, working briefly for Vogue as a fashion photographer, but mostly concentrating on the mining community of Ashington in Northumberland, the docks of Newcastle, and circuses and fair grounds around London.
In 1935 Smith married Rosemary Ansell, daughter of Henry Ansell, a confectioner. Their son Martin was born in 1941, but the marriage ended in divorce two years later. By this time Smith was living with Olive Cook, whom he married in 1954. Smith was also a writer, producing photographic handbooks, including ‘All the Photo Tricks’ (1940), for Focal Press. But he is best known for his photographs of architecture and landscapes, both of Britain and Europe. His books include: ‘English Parish Churches’ (1952), ‘English Cottages and Farmhouses’ (1954), ‘The English House Through Seven Centuries’ (1968), ‘England’ (1971) ‘Pompeii and Herculanaeum’ (1960) ‘Rome: From its Foundation to the Present’ (1971). Many were collaborations between him and Cook: his photographs, her text.
In addition to his photographic output (60,00 negatives are now at RIBA), Smith was also a prolific artist. When at home, not a day went by without him drawing or painting. Throughout his life Smith produced water and oil paintings, drawings, linocuts and woodcuts. And in later years at Saffron Walden, he drew up architectural plans for local properties. It was only after his death that exhibitions of Smith’s work appeared.
He became ill in the spring of 1971, but his cancer was not diagnosed until a few weeks before his death on 29 December. There is a poignant account in one of his notebooks written by Olive and addressed to him three months after he died, recounting in detail his last day.
Cook inherited Smith’s estate on his death, 29 December 1971, and towards the end of her life deposited his huge photograph collection of some 60,000 negatives at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) along with their letters to each other. The remainder of his papers became part of her archive at Newnham.
Olive Cook – Nude and Iris in the Garden, from my collection.