Ashton Gifford House

In 1939 Vaughan left his job to become a full time artist. During the war he took on Neo-romantic styles head on with the Graham Sutherland inky thorned bushes and the John Piper cloudy, dull skies. Later American painters such as Nicholas de Stael would influence him to use colour in tonal ways. The Second World War for Vaughan was spent waiting for it’s end, so he could paint and be free of the menial work he was doing. I don’t think there is anyone who wished to be an artist so much and had so much fear as he, having no formal training.  He was like an actor, waiting in the wings to step on the stage and deliver his lines.

In 1944 he had his first solo show of Gouache paintings and drawings at the London Reid and Lefevre Gallery. These were all works made during the war time, for example, a hand-full of drawings and paintings of men from his unit cutting up trees in the parkland of Ashton Gifford House in 1942. This post is full of those images.

White and ochre branches plunging down into the oceanic surging of tangled nettles. People walking through the waist-high grass, through the aqueous leaf-green shadow, arms full of dead wood…and the wall running as an indefatigable horizontal, losing and finding itself in the jungle of weed and ivy…I wanted to capture this in lassoes of line and nets of colour, but it’s more difficult than writing about it.

Keith Vaughan, letter to Norman Towne, 12 October 1942

Master of Perspective

This is a favourite painting of mine. A view of St Ives Harbour from the window of a shop gallery painted by Fred Dubery. He was was master of perspective at the RA school and what better painting to own than one that tests the limits of perspective painting, with the items in the window, the boats in the reflection and the sunset; as well as the umbrella awning being a shadow giving you a view of the ceiling inside the gallery in the glass. Its a remarkable work.

Dubery was a teacher too, it was at Walthamstow Art School where he met the fashion tutor Joanne Brogden whom he would marry. She had trained under Christian Dior and would become a pioneering Professor of Fashion at the Royal College of Art.

St Marks, Biggin Hill

This is the original church that was in Biggin Hill. As the area grew in size the church needed to be extended and so they replaced it with a new one.

With limited funds, they decided to deconstruct a bomb damaged church in Peckham and move it brick by brick. The vicar Rev Vivian Symons got a lorry and worked to deconstruct the church. He soon gained a group of followers and volunteers.

The deconstruction took three years, with a series of 125,000 bricks, the timbers and stonework, they hired Giles Gilbert Scott to design something new, with the remit of their limited resources.

The old window frames were taken and re-carved to make details for the bell tower. The timbers were recycled as seen in the picture below.

Other than new fittings of chairs, they also commissioned a new altar painting from Roland Pym, who is best known for his pop up book on Cinderella.

At the base of the Reredos to the left is the old church, and to the right is the new.

Woolf at the Door

Virginia and Leonard’s home at 52 Tavistock Square

The home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf at 52 Tavistock Square, was destroyed on October 16, 1940. They had leased the house from the Duke of Bedford for some years. In the basement was Virginia’s writing room and the Hogarth Press. The ground floor was sublet to solicitors Dollman and Pritchard, the two floors above was the Woolf’s flat.

At the time the bomb struck the Woolf’s had already moved out to 37 Mecklenburgh Street as the noise and dust from the building of the Tavistock Hotel irked them so much and Virginia found working impossible. They were waiting for the lease on the house to expire and it was empty at the time of it’s destruction. All that was left in the house was the decorations and murals painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

The photograph above left shows the fireplace in the Woolf’s home with the murals on the walls. Below you can see the same mural from a photograph in the living room. The photographs were taken as the building was being demolished, bit by bit.

The mantlepiece (left) has a vase by Phyllis Keyes, decorated by Duncan Grant c1930. The fire-screen was commissioned by Virginia c1924-28 from Duncan Grant and the textile embroidered by Duncan’s mother, Ethel. The images below are the items as they survive today.

Below is the original painting for the fire-screen that Grant’s mother worked from to do the needlework.

Duncan Grant design for Fire Screen with Seascape, 1926-27 c.

Below are some more photographs of the flats interior. The murals were painted by both Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It also features some of the chairs, designed by Duncan and Vanessa on Dryad chairs.

A surviving chair from Monk House.

The photo below, that said to be the last photo of Virginia, so that suggests that the panels in this room where on wood and movable became its the panel in the picture above right

The mirror in the living room with a freeze designed by Duncan Grant.

The table and chairs were designed by Duncan and Vanessa with V.W. monograms on the back.

William Garden Fraser

William Fraser Garden – St Ives, 1895

William Garden Fraser (1856-1921) was born at Chatham, Kent, shortly before his father retired from the Army Medical Department. The Frasers were a Scottish family, but the Surgeon Major, his wife and nine children settled in Bedford where their seven sons were educated at Bedford School.

William Fraser Garden – St Ives, 1903

Six of the seven boys became artists, and Garden changed his name to William Fraser Garden in order to distinguish himself from his brothers. Garden settled at the House in the Fields near Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire until 1898.

William Fraser Garden – The River Ouse at Hemingford Grey, 1890

William Fraser Garden married Ethel in 1889 but she was not overly fond of Huntingdonshire life and Garden’s somewhat eccentric ways and left him in 1904.

William Fraser Garden – The River Ouse at Hemingford Grey, 1894

Garden’s life went downhill from then, after drinking and depressing he lived at the Ferryboat Inn in Holywell towards the end of his life, paying his bills with drawings. His eccentricities led him to a nocturnal existence and one night, in January 1921, he missed his step outside the inn and died from head injuries two weeks later.

William Fraser Garden – The Ferry Boat Inn, Holywell, 1903

Omega Toys

The Omega Workshop was opened with members of the Bloomsbury Group and headed by Roger Fry. It was an attempt to celebrate handmade items, without being too rooted in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Though the link is undeniable, the decorations of the items was not precise and Omega was more like the British version of the Mingei movement that happened later in Japan. On visiting the Omega studios in 1913 Yone Noguchi noted that Roger Fry was “attempting to create an applied art just as (William) Morris did” and that the studio was using Cubist motifs and designs, of abstract shapes in the fabrics and wood marquetry. The shop and workshop was sited inside a building on Fitzroy Square. But with no shop window promoting the wears the studios relied on magazines and word of mouth to promote themselves.

The early output of the workshops were far more open to the hope of public success. When in December 1913, there was an exhibition of their recent work at their Fitzroy Square building it included a nursery for members of the public to view. With shelving covered in fabric and wooden toys painted standing above. A toy windmill sits on a painted table and decorated chairs. Today, we might not see this as a shocking looking room, it looks like any primary school or day-care centre. However in 1913 it was as wild as radical as you could get. This was an age were schools looked more like prisons, wooden benches and white walls.

A colourised photograph of the Omega Nursery.

The nursery wall had panels by Vanessa Bell which she believed were ‘a most truthful portrait of Indian and African animal life’, with elephants and tropical trees and decorative watering holes. While the ceiling was painted by Winifred Gill with tree foliage to match Bell’s designs. Not pictured in the photograph above was Roger Fry’s doll’s house (see below).

Above and below you can see the designs and end product of the Bloomsbury scratch built animals, with hand painted finish. They were crude, but many toys of this age were, and they had movable limbs. The design below comes from the original sales catalogue that Omega gave to willing parents able to afford such toys.

The slide above also shows the shelving cover. Below to the left, is a sample of the finished fabric, and to the right the original design. Opinion on who designed what at the studio seemed to be mixed, as the interest in the Omega studios output was only kindled in the 1970s long after Etchells and Fry’s deaths. But it is believed one of them designed it.

Below is the dolls’ house designed by Roger Fry. It is thought to be a stylised version of this house near Guildford in Surrey and had hinged flaps for the children to open and play with.

It is unknow how many were sold, but it is likely the numbers are very low. However, the universe being what it is, you never know when one might turn up.

In 2030 Charleston in East Sussex is set to celebrate 50 years since the charity was set up to safeguard the historic and its collection of Bloomsbury art and decorative art.
Next week at the London Art Fair, Charleston launches an ambitious search for 50 of the most significant Bloomsbury group art still held in private collections. The hope is that through generous gifts and legacies these important and unique objects will will become part of Charleston’s extensive collection and reunited with what is already the largest collection of Bloomsbury group artworks worldwide. The launch of ‘50 for 50’ will take place at the London Art Fair in January when, as the fairs Museum Partner for 2024, Charleston will unveil a selection of secured artworks alongside some of the most significant pieces from its collection.

A Cambridgeshire Walk

Here are some photos of a walk in Cambridgeshire. From Hinxton to Barrington. The ford you see first is between Hinxton and Duxford. The watermill at Hinxton is a building dating from the seventeenth century. It sits on the River Cam. The journey across the fields when one gets to Barrington you are confronted with the industry of the quarry there from the chimney of the cement works next to it. There is a railway cut that goes from the works and quarry, to a junction at Foxton onto the mainline from Cambridge to London.

Sylvia Harris

Sylvia Harris was one of those artist who brought a unique contribution to contemporary art.

Born in 1925, she moved from the UK to Paris in the 50s to follow her passion and studying art with the French abstract artist Francis Bott and later, in England at the Sir John Cass School of Art and Middlesex Polytechnic. She then started a period of travelling around the world looking for inspiration and developing her skills. After a few years in New York and Israel she eventually settled in London. It is here that Harris was inspired by David Bomberg and Frank Auerbach and found her major influence, devoting herself to drawing and painting.

Harris is a rare artist, who belongs to the group, including Van Gogh, whose work was not appreciated until after their death. In fact, Harris’ works were difficult for society of her time to appreciate, maybe because of her subjects or her technique, so distinctive and unique, which stood apart from the rest. It is only in the last few years that Harris has finally received the merit she deserves.

Harris’ works have now been exhibited in the most important galleries in the UK, including the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Ben Uri Art Gallery, The Business Design Centre, the Islington Demurray Feeley Gallery and the Banqueting House, Whitehall. One of her works is also now exhibited at the Chianciano Art Museum in Italy.

Ophelirama

The character of Ophelia comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The daughter of Polonius. Due to Hamlet’s actions she ends up in a state of madness that ultimately leads to her drowning. When Millais painted Ophelia he used the Hogsmill River, in south-west London as the scenery. It is an icon of the pre-Raphaelite era.

John Everett Millais – Ophelia, 1852

Millais then worked on the female figure for Ophelia, with a series of drawings, the pose being depicted below.

John Everett Millais – Study for Ophelia, 1852

The curious thing about a famous image is how it is translated by others. Bryan Organ took the work and abstracted it to the simplest forms with two lithographs.

Bryan Organ – Ophelia, 1973. Lithograph
Bryan Organ – Ophelia, 1973. Lithograph

Years later the photographer Tom Hunter recreated the painting as a photograph in his series Life and Death in Hackney. An amazing photograph in real life it adds something of our time with her situated behind an industrial estate.

Tom Hunter – The Way Home, 2001

Patricia Goulden Oliver

c1955

Patricia ‘Mary’ Oliver was born in 1931 in Walton, Surrey, the daughter of Percy Oliver and Gertrude (nee Curtis). Mary studied at Guildford High School before going to the local School of Art from 1949-54, befriending Elisabeth Frink. Though the quote calls Mary a sculpture, Frink was in the painting department before moving over to sculpture and it is likely how they met.

Mary Figg, a sculpture student with her at Guildford, remembered her as ‘exuberant, clear-headed, hard-working, very warm and very kind’. She never ignored you and knew ‘exactly what she wanted to make, was self-directed, positive and needed no props from teachers’. She didn’t look in the least smart, like some with well-off parents in Surrey’s affluent commuter belt who were also independent-minded. Lis was certainly that: at seventeen, she had a clarity of vision and a vigour which suited the moment that post-war, idealistic, constructive moment of optimism when students got their grants and could strike out on their own, do their own thing. ‘And that’, Mary Figg said, ‘was specially important for girls’.

Stephen Gardiner – Frink (1999)
c1954

She gained a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy Schools from 1954-1957. She was awarded a David Murray Grant painting prize in 1955. While at the RA Schools, their records show that she went under the name Patricia Gouldon Oliver for reasons that are not exactly clear. Later on she went under the name of Mary.

c1954

She studied at a training college to become a teacher and got a joy at the Maiden Erlegh School in Reading. She married Peter Figg. On moving to Cornwall in the 1980s Mary ran the art department in Wadebridge school. She died in 2021.

The paintings featured here were sold at auction under Patricia Goulden Oliver however they didn’t enter them under her married name of Mary Figg, why is also unclear. The records they give for their mother doesn’t line up to the records in the Royal Academy archive either, however work featured in Mary Figg’s obituary is undoubtedly the same women.

c1955

Her work has some resemblance to other artists who were exhibiting at the Royal Academy at that time, such as this painting by James Fitton of his wife, (1955).