Old Place House

It is interesting how artists make a home their own. In this post there are some pictures (of the now lost) murals in John Aldridge’s home. There is some debate over who painted them. It was likely John Aldridge assisted by his friend and maybe lover, Basil Taylor, who had worked for Sadlers Wells. The scale of the work seems to fit the camp work of Basil, and he was known to have painted murals for friends before this.

At the time of this mural’s painting Taylor was living with John and Lucie, trying to sober up outside of London and enjoying the country lifestyle. John and Basil were also collaborating with the New Zealand artist and animator Len Lye on a project called Quicksilver at this time too – a ballet based movie.

It seems that when Aldridge died in 1983 and his house sold, the room was repainted white. Owners that came after this have told my friends how they peeled away John’s ‘Bardfield Wallpaper’. Regardless, the house now has good owners who share John’s passion for plants and history.

The Private Collection

At the invitation of Jim Anderson I have loaned fifteen works from my collection to his gallery cum workshop to be viewed by the public. They are by Chloe Cheese and Sheila Robinson and designed to be a compliment to the current exhibition “Working Women” at the Fry Art Gallery. I picked out works that the Fry don’t have on show.

Jim is a painter, printmaker and mural designer and gives up space in his workshop each month to different exhibitions. Linton Art can be found at 113 High Street, Linton, Cambridge. CB21 4JT.

It is open Monday – Friday 10-4 and weekends by appointment, but I would suggest calling before any visit to make sure it is open. The gallery over the road also has a display of works by Great Bardfield artist Denise Hoyle. The telephone number is in the image at the top of his post.

Great Bardfield Illustrated Out now

2nd Edition
Cover to the 2nd Edition.

Great Bardfield Illustrated
204 page Paperback.
Limited edition of 50 numbered copies.

Due to the large demand of this volume I am doing a reprint. As the 1st edition sold out in three weeks the best advice is to pre-order with the link below to avoid disappointment.


This is my new book, a bibliographic list of works by the Great Bardfield Artists. As is found with many other artists, as the paintings and prints become more valuable, the ephemera around the artists do too. This is a compendious list on the bibliographic work of the artists: John Aldridge, Edward Bawden, Richard Bawden, Bernard Cheese, Chloë Cheese, Tirzah Garwood, Thomas Hennell, Walter Hoyle, Eric Ravilious, Sheila Robinson, Michael Rothenstein and Kenneth Rowntree.

Some of these artists did a lot of illustration, others did less. But it is as detailed as I could make it and I think that it will will help people find many affordable items by these artists as well as complete collections.

The art of illustration for most artists is a way to play in a style of their own on different tasks. Many artists find their first works are under tighter regulations from the publishers, but as fame and success find them, publishers normally give the artists a freer hand over the design.

This is seen with these two examples from Sheila Robinson: the left is an early job, The Pillar by David Walker – a design likely set by the designer on the project. The book on the right Rhythm & Melody, was for the BBC – who left the design up to the artists with the brief to make it exciting for children to look at, normally with black and white illustrations a few bits of colour.

Edward Bawden, as you’d expect had his own style and quickly was given a free hand in how to illustrate a project. The book below is the BBC Year Book (1947), the dust jacket features broadcasting house and artistic fairies. The books content is actually rather dull, and the fact it is so collectable today does show that the cover of a book can change things. In fact, if a book has it’s dust jacket the value is normally double, if not more.

The illustrations of Thomas Hennell are rather different as he had only one style and was trained as a painter and not an illustrator. As he died in World War Two, like Ravilious, the books have been a blessing to collectors of his work, providing many illustrations available to buy.

Like Hennell, John Aldridge had no training in illustration, but his painting style was self taught and he had a natural talent to turn his hand to many styles. The works he made however were unlike his traditional paintings and show a different side of him, while he was working the inhouse illustrator for his friend Robert Graves.

3 Novels

Three Novels by Ronald Firbank is a book published in 1950 in the UK and the next year in the USA. The three novels were: Vainglory, Inclinations and Caprice.

Firbank isn’t the most fashionable novelist today. He was however an interesting man. An aesthete, he was rich from a large inheritance and spent his time as a man of leisure, travelling around Europe, with a string of romances with men. He abused alcohol and cannabis leading to his early death at the age of 40 in Rome, 1924. His works were championed in the 1950s and every decade saw a different collection of works released. It is fitting that both the illustrators of 3 Novels were also homosexuals.

The UK edition featured a dust jacket by Keith Vaughan.

The American edition dust jacket was drawn by a young artist, credited as Andrew Warhol, better known as Andy.

Philip Hargreen

An obituary by Brian North Lee with Hargreen’s illustrations.

Philip Hargreen was a remarkable artist and the last survivor of the Eric Gill circle. He was educated at Wellington College, where his father was drawing master. He studied in Cornwall under Norman Garstin, then with Harold and Laura Knight, and later at the New Cross Art School. At the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted in the Army, and the following year became a Catholic, a move that was to transform his life and his art.

After the war he began to experiment with wood-engraving and cutting, and, with Lucien Pissarro, founded the Society of Wood Engravers, which held its first exhibition in Chelsea in 1920. He joined Eric Gill whom he described as “an odd fellow, but wonderful” at Ditchling in 1923, moving with him briefly in 1924 to Capel-y-ffin. “Heaven and Eric Gill took pity on me,” he wrote, “and I started to learn that alphabet. Eric taught me … lettering… and I had the blessing of sharing a workshop with David Jones. At last I was able to escape from the wrong ideas about pictorial art, but it was only after many experiments and failures that I could see the truth that is the common substance of all arts.”

In 1930, after living near Lourdes for six years, Hagreen and his wife returned to a quarter of a century of activity at the Guild of St Dominic, Ditchling. His range was by then extended beyond painting, some portraiture and cutting wood blocks, to furniture-making, wood and ivory carving, and engraving inscriptions on ecclesiastical vessels made by the Guild’s silversmith, Dunstan Pruden.

As a matter of principle Hagreen never signed his work, for he saw all gifts as emanating from God. Despite his formidable versatility, lettering was always his speciality and in addition to work for books and magazines he cut over 170 bookplates and book la- bels of remarkable quality. A good many of them were gifts on the weddings or anniversaries of friends, and they are remarkable for their linear skill, inventiveness and unimpeded focus.
Hagreen devised and made his own wood-cutting tools, to suit the unusual length of his fingers, and some of these were subsequently manufactured commercially.

In 1959 the family moved to Lingfield in Surrey, but Hagreen’s deteriorating health made wood- cutting impossible, and he had to settle for water-colour as his sole creative outlet. His wife died soon after the move, and from 1973 he lived in a nursing home near Crawley.

He remained almost to the end a vivid raconteur and a lively and endearing contact with an area of artistic endeavour which has passed into history. Hagreen preferred to talk about Gill, David Jones and Edward Johnston, rather than about himself; one suspects, nonetheless, it could not always have been easy to play a supporting role on a stage containing those three giants who were his intimates. With hindsight, and wider analysis of the Gill circle, the rare skills of Hagreen are drawing deserved admiration.

Robinson’s Marmalade

There might well be a little booklet to be made on the recipes of the Great Bardfield artists. Aldridge, Bawden and Rothenstein all wrote some down. But for now here is Shelia Robinson’s recipe for Marmalade in her own handwriting.

Come Into My Parlour

This is an article I found in a book about the open house exhibitions of Great Bardfield, posted in the Daily Mail. 7th July, 1955. It rather overlooks the work of the women, but I enjoyed the tail of Bawden getting a bucket of water thrown over him.

‘Come Into My Parlour,’ say the Artists of this Village Academy.

The population of Great Bardfield, an Essex village about 40 miles from London, is 900. Its attractions include four pubs and nine artists.

This works out at an average of 2.25 artists per pub, a dispersion sufficient to enable them to co-exist amicably in so far as artists ever can it being well known that an artists’ colony is one of the trickiest of all colonial enterprises.

Great Bardfield’s nine sternly insist that they are not a Group or a School, but nine people who happen to live in the same village. Once in a while, however, they become collective, if not a group and give an exhibition of their work in their homes. They nibbled at this idea of a village academy in 1951 and tried it out more thoroughly last car. From tomorrow until July 17 they hope to establish the Great Bardfield Summer Exhibition as a regular event.

At one end of the village you can find John Aldridge, A.R.A. whose traditional landscapes of the neighbouring countryside are spiritual descendants of Constable, who operated not many miles east of here. In contrast at the other end of the village (and of art) is Clifford-Smith, who goes in for a modern expressionist treatment of the human figure that is vigorous, emotional, and Mediterranean in feeling. In Clifford-Smith’s house there will also be a display of cartoons by Low, another Great Bardfielder.

In the 80 yards or so between the two houses you will find the others. Michael Rothenstein, like Aldridge, finds his inspiration round the corner. A typical Rothenstein lino-cut print shows a cornfield in which a roguish, slightly fantasticated tractor seems to be revelling in country life more than the man perched on it-who is probably working out his overtime pay.

By way of contrast George Chapman, who is in love with the mining villages of Wales, is showing a batch of paintings which, if laid end to end, would add up to the Rhondda Valley. Across the road, by the post office which is also a grocer’s and draper’s, lives Edward Bawden, A.R.A., the only one of the nine who is a genuine native.

A somewhat lugubrious looking man, Bawden cycles off in an old mac to find material for his nationally esteemed watercolours in the byways of the neighbourhood. Coming across him crouched in a ditch or huddled against a wall glumly scratching away at his pad you might take him for a private detective keeping watch on the cottage opposite. Once a suspicious farmer’s wife tipped a bucket of water over him, unaware that her house was being immortalised.

The other exhibitors are Walter Hoyle, Marion Straub, and Audrey Cruddas, who designs costumes and scenery for the Old Vic in a studio above the village café.

Charging less

B y holding the Exhibition in their homes the artists can charge up to a third less for their work, as they save the cost of transporting the stuff to London and paying the dues exacted by London galleries. For the public it is therefore a chance to pick up a future old master cheap.

What do the villagers think about it all?

Little Bert probably spoke for most of them when he told me guardedly: “I haven’t heard no complaints.” Last year, however, a few did betray their Essex caginess to the extent of being impressed by the traffic problem which the Exhibition brought to a village where normally not more than two or three cars are visible at the same time. (P.C. Plummer, whose headache this will be, is the subject of a painting by Bawden in the current Royal Academy.)

Clifford-Smith, who often plies the palette knife with generosity, treasures the remark of the retired cowman who peered long and intently at his paintings and then came up with: “Of loikes the thick ‘uns best.”

Not her idea

The women of the village have a different approach to art. One, who spent an afternoon diligently visiting every house and was then asked what she thought of the pictures, looked blank. “Pictures? Oh, the pictures! I didn’t have time to look at them. It was their houses I wanted to see.”

The landlord of The Vine, who admires all nine artists with diplomatically equal fervour, admits under pressure that the Exhibition does not particularly boost bar receipts. It seems that those who thirst for culture do not on the whole thirst for anything else. (I recall in this connection one of the empresses of the West End theatre bars once dismissing the work of an eminent but rather highbrow dramatist as “just a tea-and-ices show, dear.”)

Perhaps the hardest lot is that of the wives. Not only must they endure the invasion of their homes between 11 and 7 daily for ten days (while continuing to feed the children and appease the daily help), but they must simulate, without stopping, a fixed grin of warm hospitality.

Lost London

Here are two watercolours by the Great Bardfield artist Sheila Robinson. I bought them because I love both the architectural details in them, but also the typographic elements. Both of them are in St Pancras.

Sheila Robinson – 3 Leigh Street, London. High Class Shoe Repairs

In March, 1809, the Skinners’ Company built the streets around Sandwich and Leigh Street, the latter joining on to Judd Street.

Below is a painting of Sandwich Street. The building in the painting is now demolished for a set of flats. The horse drinking out of the metal bath makes me wonder if that is the home of the man who owns the cart.

Sandwich Street’s first house was built in 1812. Eighteen followed in 1813; by 1814 there were thirty and, by 1824, forty-seven.

Sheila Robinson – Sandwich Street, London.

George Mackie (1920–2020)

George Mackie is a lesser known illustrator. He is mostly remembered today for his book of Alexander Gray’s translations of Historical Ballads of Denmark (1958), where he co-illustrated the job with Edward Bawden.

Alexander Gray – Historical Ballads of Denmark (1958)

Mackie studied at Dundee College of Art from 1937–40, then after a break due to World War II he continued his education at Edinburgh College of Art from 1946–8. He worked as an inhouse graphic designer at Edinburgh University Press, allowing him to design dust jackets and title pages of their books. At this time he also was the head of design at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen. his work appearing in a number of graphic magazines such as Graphis. Mackie was born in Cupar, Fife.

He was married to the artist Barbara Balmer. Many of his works were very pretty ink drawings made to look like wood-engravings, much in the style of Eric Fraser. This week I got a book on Crathes Castle where he had illustrated the booklet to look like a stained glass window on the front, the back of it looks not unlike Rex Whistler

Crathes Castle design by George Mackie (1951).
Crathes Castle design by George Mackie (1951).
Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols (1932) – design by Rex Whistler.

George Chapman

This is a post about George Chapman just before he moved to Wales.

Kenneth ‘George’ Chapman was born in East Ham, London, the son of a superintendent on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. He studied at Gravesend School of Art, and worked as a graphic designer before deciding to become a full time artist in 1937.

Chapman was one of the young artists picked out by Jack Beddington to work on a Shell poster, giving him a public profile alongside Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash and John Armstrong. At this time he was signing his work K G Chapman.

George Chapman – Tudor Tower, Pentlow. For Shell.

Chapman studied at the Slade for a year before Barnett Freedman recommended the painting school under Gilbert Spencer at the Royal College of Art, as the classes were freer from academic history at the RCA and also it was a college supported by the government, for artists to enter industry. Chapman then taught at the Worcester School of Art. He moved to Norwich in 1945 and married Kate Ablett, a student at Norwich School of Art, in 1947.

They moved to Great Bardfield in 1951 and lived in Vine Cottage and then moved to Crown House. Bawden cycled over to introduce himself and welcome them to the village. Chapman’s paintings, shown in the 1954 exhibitions, were of Welsh valleys and terraced mining towns; a contrast to the countryside around him. These early works were more expressionist, in the style of Robert Colquhoun, Keith Vaughan and other young artists.

George Chapman – Welsh Farmyard I (Gors Fach, Pennant), 1953
Inexpensive Progress
George Chapman – Welsh Farmyard II (Gors Fach, Pennant), 1953
Private Collection
George Chapman – The Threshing Machine, 1953
Fry Art Gallery
George Chapman – The Water Bowser, 1953
Fry Art Gallery

Later he settled into a darker style of printing and etchings in dark colours, in a mood of art at the time that artists like L S Lowry were taking up. A social realism. He stuck to this style for the rest of his life.

George Chapman -Terrace House, 1959
Inexpensive Progress