Traveller From Tokyo


 Traveller From Tokyo by John Morris, 1943, reprinted by Penguin 1946.

I bought the Penguin copy of this book. Major Charles John Morris, CBE (1895–1980), known as John, was a British mountaineer, anthropologist and journalist, and controller of BBC Radio’s Third Programme. 

It’s rather amusing in places to read the views of an British man in Japan, Morris’s adventures with Japanese cooking especially. But I thought his chapter on the events after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour were worth typing up as it’s a rare insight into what life would have been like for an British man with international contacts in Japan days after.


 The front page of the Gettysburg Times the Day after the Pearl Harbour attack.

After Pearl Harbour 7th DECEMBER 1941 to 29th JULY 1942


Sunday the 7th December 1941 was much the same as any other. I had got up rather late, played over a few records before lunch, and spent the afternoon writing an article on Virginia Woolf. It was never published and is now, I believe, in the archives of the Japanese police. My article was for Japan News Week, the American paper that had somehow managed to keep its independence right up to the outbreak of war. Its acknowledged policy was to promote amicable relations between the United States and Japan. This it attempted to do by means of extremely outspoken leading articles, which criticised impartially the attitude of both countries.

In the same spirit of impartiality it also published, in adjacent columns, two weekly summaries of the war situation in the exact form in which they were supplied by the British and German Embassies respectively. These, taken together. often formed amusing reading. As relations between Germany and Japan became closer, however, the German Embassy hinted at the desirability of editing the British summary in such a way that it should not contradict the official German news. This the editor flatly declined to do, upon which the German Embassy ceased to supply him with its own summary. 

For some months before the outbreak of war three or four of us who were working for the paper had been accustomed to meet every Sunday night at the house of Paul Rusch, one of the best friends Japan has ever had. Paul had originally come to Japan as a voluntary Y.M.C.A. worker to help the Japanese after the terrible earthquake of 1923. He had later become an educational missionary and, in the course of years, had brought into being, almost entirely through his own efforts, what was probably one of the finest social service camps ‘for boys in the world. This camp was well on the way towards completion when the war put an end to Paul’s activities. He is also known as the introducer of American football into Japan.


 A memorial bust of Paul Rusch

Paul’s dinners were much appreciated by all his guests. He had a high regard for the pleasures of the table, was an extremely skilled cook, and would often give us a dinner prepared and cooked entirely by himself. In these feasts, dishes peculiar to his own Kentucky would take a prominent place. Long after the rest of us had been forced by rationing difficulties to give up all forms of entertainment, Paul’s hospitality continued. How he did it we never found out, and it still remains his secret.

On the night of 7th December we had gathered as usual at Paul’s home; W.R.Wills, the Editor of Japan News Week, Phyllis Argall, the managing Editor of the paper, Air-Commodore Bryant, the British Air Attache, and myself. It was not often that we had a member of the diplomatic corps to give tone to our Sunday night parties. Besides, he brought other advantages. The petrol restriction, which had now made it almost impossible to get a taxi late at night, did not apply to members of the Embassy; when they went out to dinner they travelled in their own private cars, and it had become more or less understood that before returning to their own houses they should first see home any fellow guests who did not share their privileges. As this happened to be an unusually wet night, we were delighted to see Bryant’s saloon standing in front of Paul’s door. There would, at any rate, be no need to rush away early; no standing in a dripping bus queue, no strap-hanging on an overcrowded last suburban train.

But, of course, we were glad to see Bryant for his own sake, and to hear the latest news from home. It was only when we happened to meet someone from the Embassy that we had a chance of hearing what was really happening; for, although it was in theory possible for Englishmen in Tokyo to go to the Embassy and collect a copy of the daily bulletin, in actual practice this was seldom done, as regular visits to the British Embassy placed even British Subjects under grave police suspicion. In fact, after Japan entered the war a number of our nationals were arrested for the “offence” of having paid regular visits to their own embassy. The Japanese police were unwilling to believe that one might go there with no more dangerous object than to drink a cup of tea.

After dinner we all sat talking round the fire. Most of us had realised for some time that Japan’s entry into the war was now inevitable, but no one thought the moment was yet at hand. I think if anyone had told us that, as we sat there enjoying our quiet chat, the Japanese fleet was already in position in front of Pearl Harbour, we should have laughed at the idea. No one had received any hint that the crisis had been reached. 

We left Paul’s house at about eleven o’clock, and Bryant, after seeing Wills and Phyllis Argall home, took me on in the direction of my house which was not very far from his. As it was getting late and he had to be up early in the morning, I asked him to drop me at the crossroads near his own house. There, accordingly, he stopped the car and we sat in it, smoking a last cigarette, before I got out and walked home. The streets were deserted; I cannot remember seeing a single soul on my way. And yet it later transpired that not only did the police know exactly who was dining at Paul’s house last night, but that they had also kept an eye on Bryant and me talking in his car at the crossroads. No doubt I was shadowed all the way to my house, but such is the efficiency of the Japanese police that I was totally unaware of it. During the whole of my four years’ stay in Japan I cannot recall a single occasion when I so much as suspected that I was being watched, and yet reports which I subsequently received made it clear that the police had kept an eye on me the whole time.

On the following morning I came down to breakfast as usual at about half-past eight. At this hour there was a daily broadcast of gramophone records, and I generally listened to it as I ate my breakfast. I switched on the radio, but instead of hearing a symphony, I heard the announcer talking rapidly in Japanese. He seemed to be saying the same thing over and over again, so I thought I had better try and make out what it was all about. As far as I could understand, the announcer was saying that a state of war now existed between Japan and the United States. (The news of the actual attack on Pearl Harbour was not made public until about an hour later.) As I was not quite certain whether I had understood correctly, I called in my cook and asked her if the news was true. “ Yes,” she said, “ but go on with your breakfast,or you’ll be late for your work.” 

I was uncertain what to do, so I thought first of all I would go and talk things over with Reuters correspondent, Richard Tenelly, who was now my next-door neighbour. As soon as I had stepped out of my door, however, I noticed four or five policemen on guard outside Tenelly’s. They told me their chief was inside and that I had better see him. .He came down almost at once and I asked what I should do. “We have no orders to arrest you,” he said, “so you had better carry on with your work as usual.” I told him that I was due to give a lecture at ten, and he advised me to go away and deliver it. He refused to let me see Tenelly.

On arriving at the University I went straight to my classroom and set about delivering my lecture. There was nothing abnormal in the behaviour of the students and we carried on as though nothing had happened. At the end of the lecture, however, I was told that I had better do no further teaching pending the receipt of instructions from the Department of Education, in the meantime, it occurred to me that I would do well to visit the Foreign Office in order to find out exactly what my position now was. I have already explained that I originally went to Japan under the aegis of the Foreign Office, and although the matter was never committed to writing it was understood that in the event of war I should be afforded what practically amounted to diplomatic immunity. 

I found the office in a turmoil; indeed, the officials with whom I spoke seemed just as much surprised and stunned by the news as the ordinary man in the street. To-day it is widely believed that the sending of Mr. Kurusu to Washington with the ostensible purpose of making a last minute attempt to prevent war was one of the most underhand diplomatic actions ever committed, since the plans for attacking Pearl Harbour had already been made and the Japanese navy was actually moving into position while Mr. Kurusu’s negotiations were still in progress. It is doubtful if the whole truth will ever be known, but when I call to memory my conversations with members of the Japanese Foreign Office on the morning of 8th December I am inclined to believe that the Japanese Government acted in good faith. I think it is not unlikely that the attack on Pearl Harbour was launched by the Armed Forces without the previous sanction of the Government in Tokyo. I I am well aware that this opinion will not be generally acceptable, but it should be remembered that the Japanese army chiefs already had established a precedent for taking independent action by their seizure of Manchuria in 1931 without obtaining the prior sanction of their Home Government.

I was told by the Foreign Office that orders had already been issued to the effect that I was not to be arrested. But it was added that I should be well advised to remain at home for the next few days, or at any rate until it was possible to see how the situation was developing. If I myself did not feel uneasy, however, there was no objection to my going out in the neighbourhood of my own home. Nevertheless, before going back to my house, I decided to visit my friend Frank Hawley, who was director of the British Library of Information and Culture, an institute which had recently been opened under the auspices of the British Council. It is remarkable that, in spite of the close relations we have maintained with Japan for many years, no one had apparently ever thought it worth while to establish such a library in the days of peace. A British institute could have had very considerable influence in increasing the already great interest in, and respect for, things English. In the event, the British Library was not opened until relations between the two countries had already become strained, and it came under the suspicion of the police from the start. But even during Its short existence it did valuable work, many teachers. and students taking advantage of the excellent selection of books which had been sent out from England by the British Council, although this often made them liable to police questioning.

When I arrived at Hawley’s house I found that both he and his Japanese wife had been arrested early in the morning and taken to the local police station. His cook told me that she thought it would be unwise to make any attempt to get in touch with him; she herself, when taking food and bedding to her master and mistress, had been denied access to them.

John O’Connor

John O’Connor A.R.C.A. R.W.S, is today best known for his woodcuts, but during his lifetime he was also celebrated as a watercolourist. He was educated between the wars at the Royal College of Art in London under John Nash and Edward Bawden.


 John O’Connor – Self Portrait, The Ruth Borchard Collection

A quote about Ravilious mentions O’Connor: Through his work and his teaching he became a very real influence both in design and wood engraving. One of his
students was John O’Connor. As an engraver O’Connor is an illustrator and very sensitive draughtsman. In style he is influenced by the Ravilious manner, with an emphasis on pattern and book design techniques. He has made a valuable contribution to book design through his technical experiments which include colour. O’Connor has
also brought wood engraving and other media together in the same work. These are essentially book designing experiments rather than experiments in engravings as such.

John O’Connor was was born in Leicester in 1913. In 1930 he enrolled at Leicester College of Art before moving onto the Royal College of Art in 1933. His teachers at this time were Eric Ravilious, John Nash and Robert Austin. He graduated in 1937.


On a visit to Eric Ravilious’s home at Bank House, Castle Hedingham in Essex, O’Connor was captivated both by the directness of the wood-engraving technique, and by the simple domestic scene in which Ravilious engraved by a lamp in one corner of the room while his wife Tirzah played with their small son by the fire in another. It was due to Ravilious that O’Connor got his first commission of work aged 23, illustrating Here’s Flowers by Joan Rutter for the Golden Cockerel Press in 1937.

He taught at Birmingham and Bristol before serving in the Royal Air Force form 41-45. He arrived with the allied troops during the fall of Berlin, and sketched the ruined city. Back in England, but still in his flight lieutenant’s uniform, he met his future wife, Jeannie Tennant, who was a teacher, in Filey, North Yorkshire. They married in 1945, and spent their honeymoon cycling around the Yorkshire dales.


 John O’Connor – Kersey Church, Suffolk

On being demobbed he illustrated two books for the Golden Cockerel Press and taught in Hastings for two years before moving to Colchester to become the head of the School of Art in 1948. He was affectionately known as ‘Joc’ to his students, using his initials. His colleagues included Richard Chopping, who designed dust jackets for the James Bond novels, his own former teacher John Nash, and Edward Bawden, one of the finest
British printmakers.


 John O’Connor – Heron and Ducks

In 1950, O’Connor wrote and illustrated ’Canals, Barges and People’. The book had colour illustrations; wood-engravings by overprinting coloured linocuts. This was something of a revolution, as wood-engraving had till then been largely considered a black-and-white process.

The book also stood out as part of a Folk-art scene looking into the artistic past of Britain. Other writer/artists to be doing this would be Enid Marx, Barbara Jones and Noel Carrington. ’Canals, Barges and People’ was an immediate success, but only 1,000 copies were printed by Shenval Press and the colour made a reprint impractical and too expensive.


 John O’Connor – Orange Field. Clare College, University of Cambridge

He saw his favourite painting places in Suffolk – the ponds, willows, briars and honeysuckle – disappear beneath the bulldozer and combine harvester. In 1964 O’Connor retired from teaching full time at Colchester, to concentrate on painting and engraving. He wrote various ‘How to’ books and taught part time at St Martin’s School of Art. In 1975 he and his wife, Jeannie, went to live by Loch Ken in Kirkcudbrightshire, where his love of light and water inspired his many watercolours and oil paintings. He took up a post teaching at Glasgow School of Art from 1977 to 1984.


 John O’Connor – Chestwood Meadows, Lewisham Local History & Archives Centre

His engraving continued into yet another decade with the imaginative commission from Richard Ingrams for O’Connor to produce a monthly illustration for The Oldie magazine. These pieces – 36 of which were preserved in hard covers in People and Places – have all the sparkle and wit of the early work, and he only laid down his tools in 2001, a 65-year span which is surely unique.

John O’Connor’s last book of engravings, The Country Scene, a collection for the Whittington Press of his early and largely unknown work, was on the press when he died. As printing was about to begin, the instruction came from his hospital bed that colour was to be introduced wherever possible. Proofs were hurriedly made by his son, Mike, and taken to him, and delightedly approved days before his death.


 John O’Connor – Little Garden in the Evening, 1947

In the 1950s and 60s, O’Connor exhibited at the Zwemmer Gallery, in London, and had many exhibitions throughout Britain. His work was purchased by the Arts Council, the Tate Gallery, the British Museum and the Contemporary Art Society, as well as by several local education authorities; it can also be found in the Oslo Museum, the Zurich Museum and at New York central library. He was elected to the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in 1947, and, in 1974, to the Royal Watercolour Society. He was an honorary member of the Society of Wood Engravers. He retired to Stable Cottage, Danevale, Castle Douglas.

He died March 5 2004

1937 –  Here’s Flowers by Joan Rutter. Golden Cockerel Press
1945 – Together and Alone by Christopher Whitfield. Golden Cockerel Press
1946 – We Happy Few by Owen Rutter. Golden Cockerel Press
1950 – Canals, Barges and People by John O’Connor, reprinted 2014
1951 – An Essex Pie by T.M. Hope
1959 – A Pattern of People by John O’Connor
1967 – Landscape painting, reprinted 1977
1973 – Introducing relief printing
1971 – The Technique Of Wood Engraving
1979 – A View of Kilvert by John O’Connor. Foulis Archive Press
1989 – The Wood-engravings of John O’Connor
1990 – The Four Elements by Seamus Heaney. Whittington Press
1991 – Wood Engravings From La Vida Breve
1991 – Twins (Came with Matrix 11) by John O’Connor. Whittington Press.
1999 – People and Places by John O’Connor. Whittington Press.
2004 – The English Scene by John O’Connor. Whittington Press. 

Selected list of Exhibitions
1954 Zwemmer Media Arts, London
1955 Royal Academy of Arts, London
1973 The Minories, Colchester
1976 The Minories, Colchester
1977 Graphic Work Retrospective, Glasgow School of Art
1990 Royal Watercolour Society, Bankside, London

A History of British Wood Engraving by Albert Garrettv, 1978, 9780859360777 – p222

Some Photographs

Here are some photos from walks and rides across Cambridgeshire.


A Cross on the Road

On the corner of the road into Cambridge, in Trumpington, is a very simple looking war memorial. Up close, you notice the detail and the figures. With no information or makers mark near-by you have to google the sculptor. In this case and rather unexpectedly it is by Eric Gill. Gill is remembered today as a typographic designer and sculptor, this most famous in Britain being Prospero and Ariel on Broadcasting House, London.

The four pictograph designs (an individual design for each side) for the Trumpington Cross are subtlety arranged at the base of the cross. Below that on the pedestal are Norman looking arches with the names of the fallen from WWII between.

For Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, he created a plain ‘cross of vaguely medieval form’ adorned with four small reliefs. One of the reliefs was based on a design by the author David Jones (like Gill a convert to Roman Catholicism), who had joined Gill’s radical ‘guild […] of craftsmen’ which sought to revive the communal spirit of medieval society.


This was memorial was commissioned by the village itself, although the Pemberton family who owned Trumpington Hall has lost their son, Francis, in October 1914 and where the main donors to the village’s war memorial fun. The memorial cross that Gill designed was unveiled in 1921 and stands outside the gates of the hall. This spot was the most prominent corner of the village, on the junction of the village street and the main road to Cambridge.

It is the four images carved in relief on panels at the base of the cross which are so striking. Two of these represent religious subjects – St Michael triumphant in defeating the Devil, and the Madonna and Child (the parish church is dedicated to SS. Mary and Michael) – while the third depicts St George slaying the dragon. So far, so conventional. However, the fourth panel shows an exhausted soldier returning from the war, and this is one of the most profound, though least known, images of the experience of war to appear on any war memorial in Britain or Germany.


The Madonna and Child side below, seams to need some restoration as it’s weathering away.


The four sides of the shaft are inscribed with the names of 36 men from WWI and on the base a later addition of 8 men from WWII and what I believe is one from a subsequent war.


† The Great War and Medieval Memory: War, Remembrance and Medievalism in Britain and Germany, 1914-1940
by Dr Stefan Goebel,   2007. 9780521854153 p.60.
The silent morning (Cultural History of Modern War) by Trudi Tate, Kate Kennedy, 2015, 9781784991166 p.326.

Plainly Pastoral – James Ravilious

Below is a piece on James Ravilious, written 20 years ago in ‘World of Interiors’, March 1996 by Ronald Blythe. The pictures are the same as in the magazine. 

I was inspired to type it up after having gone to see a show of James Ravilious’s works at the Fry Gallery, running from 18th June – 24th July (2016). The exhibition’s booklet has a quote by Olive Cook from Matrix Magazine #18: "I know of no other presentation of a particular place and people which is as broad and as captivating as James Ravilious’s photographs of North Devon. They are the fruit of a quite exceptional acuity and patience of witness and of a quite unusual humility and warmth of spirit. This great body of work establishes its author as a master of the art of photography whilst at the same time it makes an unparalleled pictorial contribution to social history.


 James Ravilious – Young Bulls eating Thistles

Plainly Pastoral – James Ravilious. World of Interiors. March 1996.

For over 20 years photographer James Ravilious has captured on camera powerfully candid images of rural North Devon life for the Beaford Archive. A Corner of England, a new book of his pictures, is full of ‘private moments’ photographed without pathos. 

This second collection of James Ravilious’s work has to be studied for three distinct reasons. Because it is in the great tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, because it corrects our distorted vision the English countryside, and because it reveals the poetry of the commonplace. In 1973 Ravilious was invited to restore and add to the Beaford Archive, a remarkable library of photographs of village life in North Devon. This wonderful book shows him way ahead of his commission. His Leica records his own intimacy with the region, its landscape, its people, its creatures. No ordinary journalist or social historian could have gained

Ravilious’s entree to these extraordinarily private rooms and fields, or be taught to see what he so naturally sees. 


 James Ravilious – ‘Dr Paul Bangay visiting a patient, Langtree, Devon 1981

The book’s pictures have been drawn from his own contribution to the Beaford Archive and he describes them as ‘rather like scenes from a tapestry I have been stitching over the years’. His wife Robin, a local girl, contributes a few hard facts. ‘The small mixed farm is the commonest unit still. Short of labour, short of capital, bothered by paperwork and recession, farmers struggle stoically in a cold soil, high rainfall and awkward upland terrain…


 James Ravilious – Pigs and woodpile, Parsonage Farm

Ravilious’s camera scrupulously avoids wringing the usual bitter-sweet agricultural drama out of this situation and his work is masterly in its absence of comment.He has a way of capturing a private moment without making it public, so to speak. So the reader/looker has to share his intimate views if they are to see anything at all. As one stares into these twisting lanes, farmyards, churchyards, bedrooms, kitchens, animals’ faces, sheds, shops, schools, one often feels apologetic at invading something so personal, then grateful for having been shown what is actual, true and good. 


 James Ravilious – Red Devon cow, Narracott, Hollocombe, Devon, England, 1981

This is a rural world without ‘characters’, only people. Not even the old tramp sunning himself amidst the rubbish tip of his belongings is a character – just a naked man on the earth. Nor do the farm animals set out to beguile but are captured without sentiment. A snowdrift of geese on a darkening hilltop and a dog on a blackening road are waiting for the first thunderclap. A sick ram rides home in a tin bath. Here is the ordinariness of the harsh and lovely pastoral. The Ravilious ‘interior’, whether of houses or hills, can shock or inspire- usually both. A rare country book. – Ronald Blythe.


 James Ravilious – 

Storm Clouds with Geese

– ‘A Corner of England: North Devon Landscapes and People’ by James Ravilious. Lutterworth Press.

Pew Ends of Swavesey.

The Churches in Cambridgeshire are some of the least documented in Britain. Cambridgeshire really gets thrown into a void and all the books about the region focus upon the City and the university or Ely; Sometimes the National Trust’s properties like Wicken Fen and Wimpole Hall will also get a mention but there is little else documented on them, outside of pamphlets or the impenetrable Pevsner. 

These are the wooden hand carved and probably medieval pew ends of Swavesey Church in Cambridgeshire. Below is a photograph of fourteen of them in a line but there are around fifty carvings in the church itself.


Listed as ‘Suauesye’ in the Domesday Book, the name Swavesey means “landing place (or island) of a man named Swaef”, it was on the edge of the un-drained fens and so it would have been a marsh landscape of islands. 


A castle was built here in the late 11th or early 12th century, though is believed to have been derelict by 1200. Swavesey served as a port and subsequent market town and was fortified at the end of the 12th century.It had a port area dug into the centre of the village too. With the draining of the fens the only evidence of this a network of ditches. The draining of the fens bought fields and arable wealth to the town.


The present parish church in Swavesey, dedicated to St Andrew since the 11th century, has a double aisle aspect to its nave. The east window in the Lady Chapel contains a 1967 Tree of Jesse by Francis Skeat. 


An interior by Sir Frank Brangwyn

In writing up an article on Brangwyn’s interior design for 13 Lansdowne Road, London, I discovered a little more about the house and it’s owner. Below is the history of the house and then under is the article from The Studio Magazine, in 1900.


Nos. 11 and 13 were a pair of no doubt half stucco villas very similar to the others on this block. However, both houses were acquired in the late 19th century by Sir Edmund Davis, the millionaire and patron of the arts who built Lansdowne House. In around 1900, shortly after his marriage, he united the two houses, with the help of William Flockhart, the architect of Lansdowne House. Around the same time their facades were remodelled in Gothic style. Several rooms in Davis’s double villa at Nos. 11 and 13 were decorated and furnished by Frank Brangwyn around 1900. Charles Conder also painted a number of panels in water-colour on silk. Much of Brangwyn’s work is said still to remain. 


 Frank Brangwyn designed door handle.

A bedroom decorated by Frank Brangwyn. From, The Studio: Volume 19. February-May 1900


 Frank Brangwyn designed bedroom with freezes.

Although the collecting of pictures has ceased, of late years to be a general fashion, it certainly cannot be said that people with artistic tastes have lost
their desire for surroundings that are attractive and aesthetically satisfying. The lessened demand for pictorial productions does not mean that art  in the broad sense has become uninteresting to the majority of thinking men, but simply that a conviction has grown up that other, and perhaps better, ways of adorning modern houses can be found than the old device of covering the walls with a heterogeneous collection of canvases of different dates and without any community of style.

What has happened is transference of patronage from the picture painter, to whom formerly it was given almost exclusively, to the decorator and design, whose right to place in the front rank of his profession is gaining daily a wider and more sincere recognition. This is to some extent a reversion to the creed of the Middle Ages when there was not the hard and fast line that has been drawn in modern times between workers in various branches of art.

The medieval artist took a very comprehensive view of his responsibilities, and spared no pains to equip himself so completely that he would be equal to whatever demands might be made upon him. He was by turns painter, architect, metal-worker, and sculptor, a craftsman full of adaptability, a practitioner learner in all the details of artistic production. But through all his practice ran the one dominating idea, that his mission was to decorate, to make something that would fulfil a specific purpose of adornment and
permanently beautify some chosen place. It is this idea that is being revived today. A steadily increasing section of the public is asking for something like consistency in the applications of art to modern life; and the wish to make practical aestheticism logical and complete is becoming a powerful factor in deciding the direction in which artists can hope to achieve success.

The specialist, the man who narrows himself down to fit a certain groove and refuses to see what lies beyond it, is losing his following because he does not realise that taste has changed and that his work does not satisfy art lovers whose ideas have progressed while his lave been standing still. His place is being taken by the more observant craftsmen who can read the signs of the times, and are prepared to adapt themselves
to what is plainly required.


 Frank Brangwyn designed Light switches.

That the change is really in the best interests of art, though it may affect seriously a considerable class of artists, is quite undeniable. Decorating is the foundation of all that is best in artistic production, and its principles govern every detail of sound aestheticism. The great pictorial masterpieces which have set the standard of picture painting throughout many ages owe their authority to the fact that they were created by men who considered design as an absolute essential for the building up of great compositions, and depended on nature for the component parts of a pre-conceived pattern rather than for suggestions as to the subject that should be chosen for illustration.


Frank Brangwyn designed Dressing table (open)

The modern painter has accustomed himself to worship realism, and to condemn as conventional everything which does not reproduce exactly the facts that nature presents. He has bowed down before the imitative accuracy and through of the old masters, but he has missed the value of the decorative convention which in their work brought nature and art into harmony; and he has lost in consequence the guidance by which his effort can most surely be saved from straying into vague irresponsibility. Therefore, a change in the public taste, and the growth of a demand which will oblige the workers to study more closely the laws of decoration, cannot fail to improve the character of their art, and give it eventually a higher value and significance.


Frank Brangwyn designed Dressing table (closed)

At present the number of men who have set themselves to satisfy the new condition is distinctly limited. In the great array of working artists some are
too wedded to their habitual methods, or too well satisfied with the successes they have made in the past, to care to launch out in the fresh directions; others are too blind to what is doing on about them to see that they cannot hope to raise a fresh crop on the ground that their predecessors have already exhausted. Only here and there is there to be noted evidence of more correct appreciation, signs that the position of affairs is read aright, and that its necessities are properly and practically understood; but though these evidences are scattered they are plain enough to put beyond question the change into professional practice that is inevitably coming.


 Frank Brangwyn designed freeze (detail)

No one, perhaps, deserves greater credit than Mr F. Brangwyn for keen and prompt appreciation of the duty that lies upon the artists of to-day. He is an instinctive decorator, with a true knowledge of all the refinements of design, the subtleties of colour arrangement, and the elegance of line, which must be closely studied by the craftsman who wishes to do work made a reputation that stands as high abroad as at home; and as a designer of strained glass, textiles, and woven fabrics, metal work, and other ornamental accessories, he has few rivals. One of the most interesting of his developments has been as a decorator of houses. Here he has been able to combine his many-sided knowledge of the applied arts with all that is most original in his pictorial feeling, and to unite harmoniously exquisite freshness of fancy with constructive ingenuity of a delightful kind. As a
consequence he has gained artistic effects that are in some respects unique, because they are the outcome of his peculiar individuality, and reflect his own personal beliefs about the part that aesthetics should play in modern life.


 Frank Brangwyn designed freeze (detail)

His most recent effort in domestic decoration has just been carried out for Mr. and Mrs. Davis at 13 Lansdowne Road, London, where, with other well-known artists, he has helped to give an ordinary London house an extremely attractive aspect. His share in the work is the principal bedroom, in which every detail of the arrangement, every piece of furniture, and every little accessory by which the decorative scheme is perfected, can be claimed as an expression of his artistic creed. The room illustrates in every part the feeling that dominates the whole of his practice in painting and design; and in its subdued, yet varied, harmony of colour, its severe dignity of line, and its atmosphere of absolute fitness for its specified purpose, it bares the stamp of an artist who does nothing without exact calculation, and leaves no detail to chance.


 Frank Brangwyn designed Fireplace.

There is an especial charm in the manner in which the colour is managed. To gain response without dullness and delicacy, without monotony, is the first essential in the decoration of a bedroom, so Mr Brangwyn chose a
scheme of quiet tints that would combine into a restful effect of warm greys. Into the frieze of figures and landscape, and into the panels on the upright strips of woodwork which divide the walls into compartments, he has introduced tones of warm blue and fresh colour, and the cornice of the ceiling is in a deeper tone of the same blue.


Frank Brangwyn designed bed-head.

The doors, skirting, over-mantel, and all the articles of furniture are made of unpolished cherry-wood, the warm tint of which contrasts effectively, and yet not strongly, with the brown paper that is the covering of the walls; and the floor is oak parquet not too highly polished. A slightly more definite note of colour, a rosier pink than the flesh colour in the frieze, accentuates the panel that, above the head of the bed, hides a telephone by which the occupant of the room can communicate with other parts of the house. The door-handles, the switch-board for the electric light, and the little ring handles which are on the small cupboard doors of the over-mantel, are in oxidised silver, quaintly modelled and full of detail. Those lines of the furniture, like those of the room itself, are dignified and without any restlessness, severe perhaps in their simplicity, but neither heavy nor trivial.


Frank Brangwyn designed Desk and seat


Frank Brangwyn designed A handle from the desk

They have in form the same character that there is in the colour – a subtlety that prevents the minute care that has been exercised in perfecting them from becoming too obvious. Indeed, careful, studied, and exact, as
the whole work is, it has a curiosity happy air of spontaneity, and makes no display of labour or eccentric ingenuity. It I a decoration without a flaw, and it shows most hopefully what vitality there is now in the school of design that is making its influence felt amongst us.

A Talk with John Piper.

I want to believe the internet is a nice utopia of thought and freedom for people, so this is really why I type up obscure interviews and articles on people for this blog. So far this has been limited to Paul Nash, Frans Masereel and Eric Ravilious but I have many others earmarked from niche publications that I own that seam far too expensive to buy. I hope they are of interest to you all and here is another on John Piper, at this time aged 60. It has a long introduction by Spender but I think it’s nice to read Piper expressing himself about his work, mid career.

A Talk with John Piper by Stephen Spender.
From Encounter #116. May 1963.

When I first knew John Piper, in the ‘thirties, he was one of several painters (Ben Nicholson was another) who resisted the turning of Coldstream, Moynihan, Pasmore, and the Euston Road painters towards portraits, landscapes and still lifes. These were artists who, a bit fastidiously, pushed representation towards a frontier where it began to turn into near-abstract drizzly lines (Coldstream), pure colour (Pasmore), rich lumpiness (Moynihan).


John Piper has a lean and hungry look and a lank cheek, like Caesar’s idea of Cassius, and was perhaps also a bit quixotic, as though he might suddenly appear in armour. Although he supported all the virtuous left-wing causes and conscientiously attended every director’s meeting of the Group Theatre, he went on painting abstracts about the size of windmills. During the war he became a War Artist, a position for which his love of architecture, ruins, and an atmosphere of drama admirably qualified him. His paintings of burning churches and barns form, with Moore’s shelter drawings, Sutherland’s iron foundries, the best part of the artistic record of the war.

Before the was, as though to prepare himself for events, Piper has started doing collages of Welsh villages and landscapes. He also did the set for the Group Theatre’s production of ‘Trial of a Judge’. After the war he established a new reputation as a topographical artist, with his series of water colours of Windsor Castle, Renishaw, and other famous houses. He continued with Welsh landscapes – pen-and-ink scratched,with texture like that of cracks in slate, slopes of shale, enclosed in golden washes.

He went on working in the theatre (doing the sets among others for Billy Budd) and painting abstracts. Recently he has done a whole series of oils and water colours of Venice and Rome. Piper is in fact an extremely prolific painter, branching out into many different styles and activities, but at the same time with a very marked consistency which makes a Piper, whether it is a water colour two inches by four, or a stained-glass window the size of a battleship,  immediately recognisable. All the same, his work is (it seems to me) very uneven on account of the tension in his nature between the almost oriental richness of some of his water colours, and the extreme dryness which shows in many of his oils, even when they are theatrical and garish. His achievement is absolutely honourable: a fusion of a life-long search for a contemporary idiom with a passion for tradition. He is one of the few English artists whose reputation is more likely to increase than to decline.

To-day tape-recorders have had an effect on interviewing like that of photography on drawing. A printed interview appears a transcript a tape-recording, a bad imitation of one, or a fictitious intervention of the interviewer. Since I hate tapes, and anyway do not know how to use them, I will leave my notes (made in the course of a day spent at the delightful stone farmhouse in a sheltered valley near Henley, where the Pipers live) much as they were written.

Some of them are taken from conversation, some of them were written for me by John Piper before I arrived. It is John Piper speaking:


The Eye.
There isn’t a difference between “abstract” and “topographical” in the sense that one might consider “abstract” as purr invention, and “topographical” as imitation. The reason for this is that nothing comes out of a visual consciousness that has not already been received by the eye. All visual invention is the result of visual experience and observation. Everything is drawn out of the stock-pot of visual impressions. Abstraction is a way of inventing variations on the visual experiences one has had, but these may not prove enough to make a decent painter. There have been very few abstract masterpieces apart from those by Mondrian and Rothko. So when one looked into one’s heart and asked “Where do we go from here?” one looked at one’s own nature. I found I was English and Romantic, so I looked at Cotman, Turner, Blake, Palmer and painters in that in that tradition and tried to draw the things I seemed born to love.

Topography is a branch of Romantic art, and it is also a branch of particularisation. For Romantic art consists in seeing the wing of a bird – a tower – a hop field – and interpreting all nature through the particular. Topography at its best is the interpretation of the world as a vision of the place. The best topographical paintings have spirit of the place in the time, not just the representation of the place, as Cotman expresses the atmosphere of places in Norfolk in the 19th century. Giorgione’s La Tempesta is the epitome of every virtue topographical art should have.


Photography us useful because it makes one’s vision ridiculous. It proves that what one has seen is in literal fact a cliché. I never take photographs of anything I draw, unless I think the photographs may be useful as something to react against.

Abstraction is much more difficult for English artists than some of them realise. By habit, certainly,  and probably by temperament m most English people are literary before they are visual – they have to go through some process, some ritual almost, before they see at naturally and simple. Everything is wrapped in a known idea of itself, a concept. And then, when they do begin to see a thing directly, more or less for what it is, half the time they want to reinterpret the experience in words. Intensity!  Intensity is all – but the intensity is made of something, experiences, love, hate, fears: and the natural progress for an Englishman is to explain himself in words before he sings or scribbles.

Nobody can possibly have more than two or three original ideas to bring to any craft, without renewing himself by working with his hands all by himself in the studio. The rest is tinkering, improving, tidying, untidying, and doing variations. People think that they can be original stage designers, and can go on being original indefinitely. All they’re doing is turning round on the same spot and facing different ways, using the same two or three little ideas they had when they were twenty: unless, of course, stage designing is simply another form of interior decorating, which it is often thought to be by the public and producers, and especially by music critics, who like everything beige and grey so not to interfere with the music. As for stained glass, there had not been any new ideas in that – not even little ones – for 200 years until Léger and Matisse came along (preceded by a herald or two like Miss Geddes and Miss Hone).


Stained Glass and Real Painting.
The bogey of stained glass is its recent history, like the bogey of English painting fifty years ago. You have to steer through all the crafty “traditions.” But in fact the proper rules of the craft (as opposed to the acquired traditions) help a lot by providing an artificial discipline, so that you don’t have to invent one of your own. That’s the horror of crafts. In other words, the limitations of the medium itself, the craft, make half the troublesome decisions for you before you start, and set the pace, and then the craftsman, if he is a good craftsman, takes the strain of a lot more decisions – tensions – all those that have to be made from minute to minute during the work. It is a rest, really, for the designer,  except for the enormous area of a window he has to cover. First-class interpretive craftsmen like Patrick Reyntiens or like Charles Bravery, the scenic painters, take nearly all the strain anyway.

No, what is really difficult is to create a masterpiece on paper or canvas all by yourself in the studio with no artificial discipline of the craft that can offer ingenious solutions, no outside help at all. That’s what’s difficult. Loves, hates, fears: those are what painting is about. It is very difficult to paint love and hate without bringing in the things they are about. Abstraction can be achieved, and complete abstraction, without total loss of richness and intensity. I do belie that. Only, as I say, it is much more difficult than most people make out. People pretend that they’re born into it these days. They aren’t, any more than Mondrian was. He achieved it though a long, lonely sweat, like anyone else.

Twenty-five years ago I painted purely abstract paintings for five years, mixed with some collages (which we weren’t allowed to call collages by the galleries, because they said the name suggested that they might come unstuck). – which were done, more or less, from nature. I did actually go out with a big sketch book full of scraps of grey and brown-coloured paper, and a pair of scissors and a bottle of gum or glue. I tried to keep these going side by side with the oils, which were purely abstract-schematic arrangements of shapes and colours I wanted, even then, some of the natural energy and fecundity of nature to get into them, even at second hand. It got into Mondrian through his early works, and through his post-cubist pictures.  All this time I had a feeling that-while one was learning a great deal (by putting one colour in a positive shape against others) about the mutual reactions of positive colours and positive shapes, which is the right stuff – at the same time one felt that the things one was producing lacked the richness, the fullness, and the ripeness of life: which, of course, they did, because one wasn’t rich, full or ripe enough; and still one isn’t but you can’t go on waiting till you die.


On the hunt with Michael Brockway


 Michael (Gordon) Brockway – Manor House, Downton.

This weekend I bought a painting by Michael Brockway. It’s a landscape with a house. I like to know what paintings are off, so I turned detective. 


The first step was removing the picture from it’s frame. On the back was ‘Manor House, Downton’. A google of that came up with hundreds of images of the Television show ‘Downton Abbey’. I then Googled ‘villages called Downton, UK’ and a list of ‘things called Downton’ from Wikipedia came up. 


Using the church and it’s spires in my picture, I went down the list of villages. The matching church was Downton Wiltshire.


Then after entering ‘Manor House, Downton, Wiltshire’ I looked on Google Maps, the picture below is of the house and the church. The roof-line matched.

In the other details on the village I was lucky enough to get an estate agent’s property listing, with the house in my painting.

“It is a building with history. Below is a quote from the Daily Mail on the property when it went up for sale: First lived in more than two centuries before William the Conqueror set foot on British soil, this ancient house is believed to be the longest continually inhabited home in the south of England.

Dating back to 850, the Manor House in the pretty Wiltshire village of Downton, was once home to Sir Walter Raleigh.” “The Grade I-listed five-bedroom, four-bathroom house was originally founded as a chapel in 850, after which it was transformed into a medieval hall house, and subsequently into a comfortable country home”.

“In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I leased the house from Winchester College, giving it first to Thomas Wilkes, Clerk to the Privy Council, and then to her favourite, Raleigh. In 1586 he invited the monarch to stay, but not before he made substantial improvements to the property, and the Raleigh family coat of arms still stands above the fireplace in the house’s wooden panelled Great Parlour. Another improvement by the Raleigh family, who lived at the house for about a century, was the addition of a first floor, created with wood from a ship which had been sailed up the River Avon and then dismantled”.


On Michael Brockway more detective work was needed. He was Born in 1919, in London. Michael Gordon Brockway was a painter and author. He was schooled at Stowe and Peterhouse, Cambridge. After WWII he studied under Simon Bussy in France. After deciding to take up painting professionally he studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing, Oxford and Famham School of Art.

In addition to his exhibits at London’s Royal Academy, he has been the subject of several successful solo exhibitions at Walker Galleries, King Street Galleries.

In 1952 he wrote a monograph on the watercolourist Charles Knight, R.O.W., R.O.I. The book was a limited edition of 350 copies.

He is a honorary life member of the New English Art Club (NEAC), other members were: Walter Sickert, William Orpen, Augustus John, Gwen John, William Rothenstein, Evelyn Dunbar and Muirhead Bone.

Masses and Masses of Masses – The Most Dangerous Magazine in America.

In a garage sale I bought a book of magazines. I love old newspapers and annuals bound into books, it saves them from damage and keeps them in order of date. On that day, I came away with a bound book of The Masses Magazine – A left wing american publication from 1911-1917. It was an interesting period for America, with the Mexican revolution and the start of the First World War happening around them.


“Perhaps the most vibrant and innovative magazine of its day, The Masses was founded in 1911 as an illustrated socialist monthly, and it was soon sponsoring a heady blend of radical politics and modernist aesthetics that earned it the popular sobriquet “the most dangerous magazine in America.”
The magazine had three editors during its first two years—Thomas Seltzer, Horatio Winslow, and Piet Vlag (the magazine’s founder)—but for the remainder of its short life The Masses was brilliantly edited by Max Eastman, who—with Floyd Dell, as managing editor—helped turn it into the flagship journal of Greenwich Village, the burgeoning bohemian art community in New York”. †

After Max Eastman took over editing the magazine, the front covers became more colourful and less conservative looking. Inside the magazine the lithographs and illustrations became more contemporary, looser drawings rather than cartoonish ‘Punch’ like illustrations.

In his first editorial, Eastman argued: “This magazine is owned and published cooperatively by its editors. It has no no dividends to pay, and nobody is trying to make money out of it. A revolutionary and not a reform magazine: a magazine with a sense of humour and no respect for the respectable: frank, arrogant, impertinent, searching for true causes: a magazine directed against rigidity and dogma wherever it is found: printing what is too naked or true for a money-making press: a magazine whose final policy is to do as it pleases and conciliate nobody, not even its readers.

 The Masses magazine cover, by Frank Walts, 1916.

Many scholars have noted the high quality of the writing, imagery and design of the Masses. Specifically, they all identify the magazine’s visuals as its hallmark. The complete list of works that mention the magazine would be too extensive to list exhaustively, but in a number of works, the Masses takes centre stage. Discussions on the magazine and imagery can be found within histories of print journalism and the little magazine; works on the intellectual and artistic life of New York City in this period. ‡

Max Eastman was accused later on of going against the collective nature of the magazine when he wrote and published articles and illustrations without consulting the board who hired him. Eastman hired an assistant editor, Floyd Dell, he recalled “some of the artists held a smouldering grudge against the literary editors, and believed that Max Eastman and I were infringing the true freedom of art by putting jokes or titles under their pictures”.


 Maurice Becker – Laying Down Our Lives for Their Country

Above is a typical illustration from the magazine; Capitalists laying down the bodies of soldiers at the alter of Profit. The magazines socialist agenda wasn’t masked at all. Below a picture about the Mexican Revolution and how a Mexican is hiding behind a rock from gunfire where as the American Fat Cat is hiding behind the gold of Wall Street.


Maurice Becker again, – This was one of the more interesting illustrations, it was untitled – drawn direct onto newspaper print and then printed up. Maybe unknowingly initiative.


 Maurice Becker – Christmas Cheer, 1914.

The picture above is captioned “Cheer up, Bill – time next Christmas comes around, we may be prisoners of war.”

In 1918 Maurice Becker became a conscientious objector to American participation in World War I. He fled to Mexico with his wife to avoid the draft. He was arrested upon his return to the United States in 1919 and was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 25 years of hard labour, of which he served 4 months at Fort Leavenworth prior to commutation of his sentence. After he was released he lived in Mexico for a few years before returning to America.


 Glenn O. Coleman – Overheard on Hester Street.
(To the Suffrage Canvasser) “You’ll have to ask the head of the house – I only do the work.”

The Masses, as in the picture above, were keen to promote women’s rights.
The magazine vigorously argued for birth control (supporting activists like Margaret Sanger) and women’s suffrage. Several of its Greenwich Village contributors, like Reed and Dell, practised free love in their spare time and promoted it (sometimes in veiled terms) in their pieces. Support for these social reforms was sometimes controversial within Marxist circles at the time; some argued that they were distractions from a more proper political goal, class revolution.


 K. R. Cahmberlain – At Petrograd
Russian Officer: ‘Why these fortifications, your Majesty? Surely the Germans will not get this far!”  The Czar: “But when our own army returns…?”

It’s hard to say if the Masses did anything at the time to change the political thinking of America. It’s true to say they sponsored and promoted art and writers that would go on to become significant. As a historical document, it’s value has been justified by time.

The Masses found itself constantly entangled in lawsuits claiming libel brought by major corporation and syndicates (most notably the Associated Press), and eventually the government, invoking the Espionage Act of 1917, barred it from the mails in August 1917 for its critique of the U.S.’s involvement in World War One. Without being able to ship the magazine to it’s subscribers the magazine folded.

‡ Constructive images: Gender in the political cartoons of the “Masses” (1911–1917)