Christopher Cornford

Christopher Cornford (1917–1993) – La Belle, Etching

Christopher Cornford was born in Cambridge in 1917. He was the son of Francis Cornford, and his wife Frances Cornford (née Darwin). Through his mother he was a great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. Educated at Stowe School and the Leys School, Cambridge he went on to attended Chelsea College of Art from 1934, gaining an Art Teacher’s Diploma in 1937 and became a visiting tutor there and at Morley College from 1937-9.

Christopher Cornford (1917–1993) – Pine Wood (Norway), 1950s, Watercolour

In the very political climate of the Thirties, Cornford become an activist; like his brother John he joined the British Communist Party and marched through London, demonstrated against Mosley and was beaten up by Blackshirts. John Cornford made his way to Spain at the start of the Civil war in 1936, joined the Republicans, and was killed by the Fascists on his 21st birthday; this tragedy made an indelible mark on the younger brother, who although he left the Communist Party was thereafter totally committed to activity for a better state of society.

Christopher Cornford (1917–1993) – After Gwen Raverat, ‘Swans on a pond’, 1954, Lithograph

Cornford served in the Royal Artillery during WWII. Cornford’s took up his first important teaching post in 1947 at Newcastle University School of Art. He was there for several years before leaving to teach Drawing at the Cambridge School of Architecture and at the Technical College. In 1962 he left for the Royal College of Art in London until his retirement in 1979.

He worked as an illustrator for many authors but he had an ongoing collaboration with Iris Murdoch, illustrating four of her novels, A World Child (1975), The Three Arrows & The Servants (1970), The Black Prince (1973),and The Unicorn (1963).

During his tenure of office as Head of the Department of Humanities at the Royal College of Art between 1962 and 1979, he was – for a professor – unusually sympathetic to the student revolts of the period. His particular concern was to encourage his students to take up ‘art therapy’ when they left college, teaching art to people in institutions, particularly hospitals.

Spring House, Cambridge.

When he retired he moved into Spring House, designed by Colin St. John Wilson and Mary J Long in 1965, in Cambridge. Considered to be a brustalist masterpiece.

From 1984 Cornford taught a popular study group at the University of the Third Age at Cambridge under the title ‘Image and Meaning’.

When he retired to Cambridge with his wife Lucy, intending to paint and write, Cornford became involved again in teaching and in politics. In 1980 American cruise missiles were being based near Cambridge – at Molesworth, Alconbury, Lakenheath and Mildenhall – and Cambridge CND needed a chairman. Cornford was the ideal choice. He managed to combine his great diplomatic gifts with his wisdom and charm in guiding the organisation, which grew to a membership of well over a thousand and flourished. He was always ready to support protests, to design posters for the Peace movement or the Green Party, and he contributed regularly to the CND monthly newsletter.

Christopher Cornford (1917–1993) – The Cambridge Observatory, 1950s, Ink Drawing

A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Broughton House Gallery in 1995, then together with that of his aunt, Gwen Raverat, in 2004.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSCF4889-1-1024x845.jpg
A Lithograph of the Cambridge observatory c/o Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge.

Follies

This essay comes from the Shell Guide to England, 1970. The Shell book I actually found for free in a shipping trunk. Inside are many starchy pieces of text on the English landscape and it gets a little dry at times. I guess even when it was published the essays were written to the wrong market, being more historical than artistic and most people would know a great deal of it. However, the most entertaining essay in the book is by Barbara Jones who uses all of her wisdom from her Follies & Grottoes books to give a brief account of the history of follies for the layman and where you might find some exciting examples. My copy of Follies & Grottoes is well read, it is exlibris of Laurence Whistler and found for a fiver. The illustrations here come from the two editions of it.

Barbara Jones – Follies & Grottoes, 1953 and enlarged in 1974.


The English love to break down the natural scene. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the areas of natural heath and scrub left untouched by medieval husbandry were vigorously taken in hand and built upon, gardened, afforested and landscaped, most of England was arranged by man. In the nineteenth century the whole country was netted over with railways, and the cities grew; but, in fact, the scene was not altered very much. In this century we have come to accept that scene as natural, as the country”. We in our turn are trying to break it down, with motorways, industrial sites and new cities.

At all times since the end of the Tudor wars there have been English landowners, with anything from a ducal estate to a suburban front garden, who have not been content with other people’s ideas of breakdown, with the ordinary thing. Even if they have been able to commission idiosyncratic houses from great architects, they have still wanted something more, something wilder. The results of these impulses are scattered all over the country, and are called by the other English “follies”.

Follies take many forms. We may discount at once the follies in name alone, houses of which neighbours disapproved, or houses built too far from water, or with too little money to finish them, and also various clumps and belts of trees (the word was corrupted from feuillée). And the ordinary garden house, temple or gazebo does not qualify either. The element of eccentricity is essential; follies are fantastic, a little crazy in desire or design. Architecture is building for shelter; follies are building for building, a purer art. Towers and obelisks build upwards; labyrinths and tunnels build down. Other follies are aggregates of unlikely materials, abstractions of shells and minerals, bark and branches, nearer sculpture than architecture, the desire to amass solids in space.

The earliest folly I have found is Freston Tower in Suffolk, built in the middle of the sixteenth century, a brick tower on the banks of the River Orwell, near Ipswich. At the end of the century Rushton Triangular Lodge was built in Northamptonshire by Sir Thomas Tresham. Everything is in threes: the plan is triangular, each wall three times three times three feet, three sets of three-by-three triangles on top of the walls; three floors; three windows each side on each floor; trefoils and triangular pinnacles. Ten miles away at Lyveden is the shell of Tresham’s house, extending the arithmetic of three to five, seven and nine. More follies and conceits, and some tunnels, were built in the next century, mostly surviving only in visitors’ accounts of them, though there is a sinister temple of bark nailed over wood at Exton’ Park in Rutland, and there are fine grotto rooms of stone and shells at Skipton in Yorkshire and at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.


In the eighteenth century follies became fashionable as well as eccentric; a nobleman’s estate positively needed one. Towers, tunnels, and grottoes continued in production, and all sorts of new follies were invented – sham castles and ruins, hermitages, labyrinths, obelisks, and eye-catchers. In the nineteenth century fewer follies were built, and those more by the rich than the noble, but druid circles were invented, and some superb folly gardens were laid out, with a curiosity round every corner. Late in the century fantastic gardening with broken china, slag, shells, flint, glass, coal, and coral became fashionable for the poor as well as for the rich. Only two or three dozen follies have been built in the twentieth century, but the little gardens continue, with gnomes added to the older materials.

The commonest sort of folly, and the easiest to find, is that which is built upwards. There are a great many ordinary little ones, but there are also some magnificent towers, built to commemorate great happenings or to command great prospects. There is a nice triangular one in London, in Castlewood Park at Shooters Hill, 64 feet high, built in 1784 to the memory of Sir William James and to “Record the Conquest of the CASTLE OF SEVERNDROGG on the COAST of MALABAR which fell to his Superior Valour and able Conduct on the 2nd Day of April MDCCLV”. In the nineteenth century it was used for select parties, and now it is a tea shop. Another triangular folly is Haldon Belvedere, near Exeter, built by an ex-Governor of Madras, with a floor made of marble from Hyderabad, and really exquisite plaster work. At Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire is Hoober Stand, 1748, a superb 100-foot soot-stained golden tower on a triangular plan, its sides tapering to a hexagonal lantern. It was built by Thomas, Marquis of Rockingham, in honour of George II. Nearby is Keppel’s Pillar, built by the 2nd Marquis in 1782 to commemorate the British Fleet at Ushant. It soars up, supporting nothing, an amazing 150 feet. Also nearby is the Needle’s Eye, a tall stone pyramid pierced by an ogival arch and crowned by a lovely urn, built, the story goes, for a crack whip to drive through after he had boasted that he could drive a coach and horses through the eye of a needle. At Wentworth Castle there are more conceits.

Many follies have good stories attached: you may be told that the builder is buried under the floor because he quarrelled with the parson, or is there standing on his head, or with his favourite horse under him. One man seems to have deserved all the stories: Mad Jack Fuller, who built a Needle, a Mausoleum, a Tower, a Rotunda, and an Observatory at Brightling in Sussex, and at Dallington a neat cone called the Sugar Loaf, to justify a night-time statement that he could see Dallington church spire from his dining-room window. In daylight this statement proved wrong, but he made a sham spire just over the skyline, to be right for his next dinner-party. Attached to his pyramid tomb is the most persistent of all the legends: that he is sit at table inside, with a bottle and a bird before him.

At Tong in Shropshire are some pyramids with no legends at all, perhaps because the builder George Durant said exactly what everything was for – and imagination could invent nothing stranger. “Quaint buildings, monuments with hieroglyphs, and inscriptions alike to deceased friends, eternity, and favourite animals – were then to be found on every path of the demesne”, says an old local guidebook.


Pyramidal gate-piers are carved as though bound with heavy ropes, and such objects as lamps and snails are carved in panels on the walls. A gazebo called The Pulpit has animals and snakes. On a nearby farm there is also an Egyptian Aviary, a pyramidal hen-house labelled AB OVO. Durant was one of the few gentlemen of his time who not only longed to have a hermit in the grounds to show to visitors, but achieved a very contented one, for a gentleman who had fallen on hard times lived in a cave at Tong until he died in 1822. The contemporary terms for the employment of hermits were usually much alike: a cave (or a rustic hermitage of roots, branches and knotty wood) was provided, and a hermit was advertised for, to serve a period of seven years, living secluded, with hair long, and nails unclipped, never speaking, with good food sent down from the house daily. But it seems that few people are even mock hermits by nature, or few people know how to employ one kindly. One gentleman was forced to use a wax image; and there are many records of early failure – the hermit went away, or he was found drinking in the village and dismissed. One known success, however, was the Hermit Finch, whose Sanctuary lies down in the woods of the park at Burley on the Hill in Rutland, preserved with most remarkable and imaginative rustic architecture and furniture, a pebble-and-knuckle-bone floor, and even the hermit’s sacking bed.

The desire to dig downwards is rarer than the desire to build up. It is also much more expensive; so the tunnellers had to be very rich or very determined. The 5th Duke of Portland’s underground rooms at Welbeck are the most famous mole-works. The Duke was said to speak willingly only to the men who dug the tunnels. Most excavations have an air of sadness. Many have walls of bare earth, or lined with cement, or strung along with a handful of cockle shells. But they were highly esteemed the last century, for the Catacombs at High Beech in Epping Forest were a pleasure resort. They are a wild descent into the dark earth of huge blocks of masonry said to have come from Chelmsford gaol, hidden under the garden. As well as the plain tunnels of compulsive digging, there are excavations of great beauty in the form of grottoes, where the surface has been decorated with glittering minerals, exotic shells, fossils, tufa – all the natural objects that became commonly wonderful in the eighteenth century. I have referred to the shell rooms at Skipton and Woburn; in both of these there is contemporary architecture with an overlay of shells. In the eighteenth century this style continued in fashion, greatly refined, culminating in the exquisite Shell House made by the 2nd Duchess of Richmond at Goodwood in Sussex. True grottoes, though not always underground, look like caves under the sea, spar and shells arranged in waves and stalactites. We have the name of Josiah Lane as builder, with his son, of a series of superb grottoes – at St Giles House, Cranborne, in Dorset, Fonthill in Wiltshire, St Anne’s Hill and Pain’s Hill in Surrey, amongst others. The two-roomed grotto at Wimborne St Giles is in the park and is shown with the house; it has been restored and is probably the finest shellwork of this sort that we have, a wonderful composition of surfaces and colours, the insides of shells gleaming against the
duller backs, small shells offsetting large.

At Stourhead in Wiltshire the National Trust owns a famous grotto, large and formal, built round one of the headwaters of the Stour, with fine statues of a nymph and a river-god. The walk round the lake runs through the grotto, a green, cool melancholy contrast to the splendid Capability Brown landscaping. Another remarkable grotto was built by Thomas Goldney in his garden on top of Clifton gorge at Bristol, with a cascade leaping from an urn held by Neptune, echoes from the wild water, a Lions’ Den and fine shells. All these grottoes are professional work, and look it, but by the beginning of the nineteenth century only amateur grotto-builders remained. The fashion spread wide; most towns, especially those by the seaside, have a bit of shellwork somewhere. There is a big one at Margate, probably made by two brothers called Bowles in an existing excavation. It was lost to sight for about thirty years, and found again in 1834 or 1835 by a schoolmaster’s son digging a duckpond. There is
almost no fantastic origin that has not been claimed for it – Cretans, Druids, even Tibetans, are supposed to have built it, and the simple amateur shellwork has been interpreted in a hundred gnostic symbols: we are a romantic-minded race. Druids were very fashionable in the first quarter of the century; there is a good sham Circle on the Yorkshire moors near Masham, a real prehistoric temple moved from Jersey to a back garden in Henley-on-Thames, and a Druids’ Table among the bone grottoes and bone-lined caves at Banwell on Mendip in Somerset, elaborated during the years after 1824 by the Bishop of Bath and Wells over and down some mine-shafts and two natural caves with stalactites and stalagmites. Ancient animal bones were ready on the floor, and the Bishop made the most of them.

Back to the eighteenth century, and back above ground. The Middle Ages and the Barons’ Wars became very modish, and Gothic architecture was admired again, not often for gentlemen’s houses, in spite of Walpole at Strawberry Hill, but certainly for follies. Suddenly hundreds of gentlemen wanted to see the ruins of a Gothic castle crumbling at a suitable distance from the house. A few of them had real ones; the others plunged into the fun of building fakes. Some of the sham castles were ruinous in design, like that at Wimpole in Cambridgeshire; some rapidly became so through being knocked up in a hurry or on the cheap; and some were built very crisp and new like Sanderson Miller’s Sham Castle outside Bath, a façade rising about forty feet on a hill-top, flat as a piece of scenery, which indeed it is, a wall without a room. Some castles were in fact made of painted canvas on wooden frames, so great was the scramble to get them up. Some were rich with Gothic detail, trefoils and quatrefoils, and castellations and arrow slits, but often reproduced on an absurdly large scale as there was no need to consider the strength of the wall, and defence could become decoration. Others were so ungothic that they could not be called castles; they were curious spiky constructions, often of flint, that were given names used for no other architecture, like eye-catcher, terminal, conceit, or vista-closer. Many of them were undoubtedly designed by eager amateurs of the arts, and put up by the estate workers; but a timid amateur could find plenty of help in the dozens of books on the Picturesque or the Grotesque that were published, with illustrations, plans, elevations and dimensions of every variety of hut, retreat, cascade, bathhouse, mosque and pagoda, from trifles made with Rude Branches to enormous Mauresque Pavilions beyond the Do-It-Yourself of all but the greatest estates.

Some people, having built one folly, went on. Hawkstone in Shropshire was an estate with many fine follies. The hermitage, with mock hermit, and an ornamental windmill have disappeared, but half a dozen survive, including a marvellous labyrinth that rises to the sunlight on top of a rocky bluff. Stourhead has a Rustic Convent, St Peter’s Pump, and Alfred’s Tower, as well as the grotto, and West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire has a Mausoleum, St Crispin’s Cottages – built to look like a church from the house – a Sham Lodge, and caves, now with son et lumière, Today, the folly impulse is concentrated in the small gardens, the miniature model villages that have succeeded the real ones of the rich, and a continuing tradition of topiary, we still have such gardens as the breath-taking solid geometry clipped from yew at Levens in Westmorland, that has been clipped since 1689. And there is a new one in Wolverhampton that has privet topiary of sixteen Scotch terriers, two cats and a rat.

Tait Tower

The Empire Exhibition in 1938 took place in Glasgow. It was a chance for the British public to see goods from all over the empire, but also for large corporations to show their wears and how they were making life for the everyman better. Constructed on a large site, the centre of attention was the white tower in the poster below, the Thomas Tait Tower. This massive metal clad building was built for the exhibition and (unlike the Eiffel Tower) it was deconstructed after in July 1939.

The tower was 91 metres tall and was placed on top of Ibrox Hill in Bellahouston Park. It has three viewing platforms and was clad in metal panels and looks more like a building from Thunderbirds than something in real life.

We cannot try to erect buildings in the old, medieval style of architecture, where there are certain structural features which necessitate modern treatment and modern requirements with big spacing which the old medieval architecture would not allow us to carry out.
– Thomas Tait

The tower aside, exhibition was a celebration of modernist design as the photos below show. I don’t think there has been a concentration of so many art deco buildings before or since. If you took the words off the building you could mistake it for Hollywood.

Below is a list of exhibition spaces from the map, most were white deco buildings. Also on the site were full sized Scottish homes from the crofts and cottages found in the countryside to baronial houses.

Tait also designed houses, here is one in Silver End, Essex. The whole village was built for the staff of the Crittal window factory. Taits design was for one of the management’s houses rather than the workers.

Julian Trevelyan’s MO Pictures

Mass Observation was probably the largest investigation into popular culture to be carried out in Britain this century. It took place between 1936 and 1947. Originally established by a small group of intellectuals, writers and artists the idea was a sociological thermometer of the nation. Photographs were taken of people out on the streets and at work and paintings made too. The observers were sent out to streets, bus stops and art galleries to trail people and write down their opinions. During World War II the Government took over M.O.’s fact collecting organisation for propaganda purposes and to keep in touch with public morale. After the War M.O. became a limited company and turned to consumer research.

Mass Observation described its observers as ‘the cameras with which we are all trying to photograph contemporary life’ but photography itself played a small part in the project and very little film was shot. Humphrey Spender, M.O.’s ‘official’ photographer, was only able to spend short periods of time on the project. The work that he did for M.O. remained virtually unknown for almost forty years until the publication of Britain in the Thirties in 1975 and The Real Thing and Worktown exhibitions. The photographs, observers’ reports and diaries are now part of the Mass Observation.

The photos below are some of the few photos taken by Julian Trevelyan.

Julian Trevelyan – Advertising hoardings

Julian Trevelyan – Lines of washing

Julian Trevelyan – Children playing in the street on washing day

Julian Trevelyan – Teapot Cafe, Blackpool

Julian Trevelyan – Street scene with advertising hoardings

Julian Trevelyan – London Scene, 1935

The Tragic Case of Simeon Solomon

This artical appeared in Lilliput magazine in 1944 by Thomas Burke. It is a brief biography of Simeon Solomon; the artist rejected by society because of his conviction for sodomy in 1873 (sentenced to Hard labour) and in ’74, when he was arrested in Paris for soliciting men and spent three months in a Paris jail.

From a wealthy family his brother Abraham was an artist as well as his sister Rebecca. His lifestyle bought him to alcoholism and he became a vagrant despite his family connections. He was a beautiful and talented young man.


Nobody pays much attention to the work of pavement artists, or to the “artists” themselves. So nobody, passing along Bayswater Road in the first years of this century, paid much attention to a blotchy, unkempt screever and his coloured chalk drawings. Nobody even noticed that the drawings had an assured ease not usual in the work of screevers. Pennies in the cap were few.

Simeon Solomon – Bacchus, 1867

But if people had been better informed they would surely have given more than a casual glance to the man who had been hung in the Academy for twelve consecutive years, and had been an admired friend of Burne-Jones, Walter Pater and Swinburne. For Simeon Solomon was an artist whose name appears, always with epithets of regret and compassion, in many volumes of the art and literary memoirs of the later nineteenth century.

A queer story, his; one of those stories of wreckage of bright hopes of which the nineteenth century holds so many; among them Thomas Dermody, John Mitford, Charles Whitehead, James Thomson (B.V.) and Ernest Dowson.

With most of them the cause was drink; for the drink of the nineteenth century was of more fiery and mordant temper than the drink of this century which, if it has fewer geniuses, has fever stories of wreckage. With Simeon Solomon the causes were many and obscure.

He was born in Shoreditch, son of a Jewish hatter. Drawing and painting came instinctively to him at an early age. At 15 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, and was first hung at the annual exhibition when he was 17. The subject of that first picture, like the subjects of most of his pictures, was taken from the Old Testament, and its manner was that now known as Pre-Raphaelite. At this time he is described as a handsome graceful figure, with red hair, an exquisite profile, and brilliant eyes. His appearance alone made people notice him, and when his work was seen he won the acclamation of many of the alert, among them Swinburne and Pater; white Burne-Jones, writing years latter in a perhaps over-generous mood, said that “Simeon Solomon was the greatest artist of us all.”

Simeon Solomon – The Magic Crystal, 1878

Like many of the artists of that group he had a literary gift., and a rare little pamphlet of his – A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep – May sometimes be turned up by the curious. Swinburne gave his work an enthusiastic review; Pater too admired it. Written in the rather inflated prose used by De Quincey, it records the wanderings of a spirit conducted through a land where he sees the figure of Love in different stages of suffering, caused by the wrongs and abuses inflicted on man. For some years Solomon was a vogue and a figure in intelligent circles. He was often Pater’s guest at Oxford he visited Lord Houghton (Monckton Milnes); stayed with Oscar Browning, then a master at Eton; and was much seen with Swinburne.

But he didn’t want his gifts or his personal beauty. He threw them to the dogs. The rot set in when he was about thirty. What caused it is not clear, but at that time it was not drink. It was something more serious; something that caused Oscar Browning , when he was talking him on a tour of the Italian galleries, to part company with him and come home alone. There are stories of drugs and of indiscreet aberrations. Unpleasant elements began to appear in his work, notably in those presenting ideas of love. Also, it became coarse and careless in treatment, and he repeated his subjects. Friends warned him against prostituting his genius. He ignored them.

His aberrations soon became too extreame even for Bohemia. Men began to withdraw from him, and his name began to be spoken in polite circles only in a pitying murmur. Swinburne not only broke with him; he spoke of him as “a thing abhorrent to man, woman and beast.”

The end of his vogue came as abruptly as it began. He had some fifteen years if success, prosperity and respect. Then he turned his back on it all, and deliberately lived the rest of his life as an exile, among the social outcasts.

Simeon Solomon – Mrs Fanny Eaton, 1859

His conduct eventually led to a term in prison, but in prison he wrought no cure. His family got him into a mental home; that, too, was ineffectual. When he came out, many efforts were made to reclaim him. They were futile. By that time he had added drink to his other indulgences and seemed beyond hope. He was set up with clothes, a studio and a decent home. He never used the studio. He sold only the clothes and furniture and returned to the gutter.

Dealers were still willing to buy his work, and one or two supplied him with the necessary materials and small advances, though they could never rely on actually getting the drawings. But though he had lost all moral sense, he did not lose his good human feeling. For long periods he was an inmate of St. Giles Workhouse, and when he did deliver a drawing and collect the money, he would take some of the old workhouse boys for the day and bring them all home tight.

He was not above sponging on successful artists with whom he had once been equal, and there is a story that, having successfully touched a prosperous artist and noticed the rich contents of his home, he repaid the loan by coming back with one of his gutter friends, a professional burglar, and breaking in. But he and the burglar were both so drunk, and made so much noise, that they roused the artist. He came down, and found Simeon Soloman with the dining room silver dropping out of his pockets. He contented himself with kicking the once famous artist down the steps. For a time Solomon sold matches in the gutter at Whitechapel, but no more successful at that than as a pavement artist.

The decline and fall of a sensitive spirit is usually pitiful, but Soloman needs no pity. In his outcaste state he was quite happy, and seemed to enjoy the shabby freedom of rags and irresponsibility.

A friend of mine, one of the few living men who met him, told me of his first sight of him in the closing years. My friend, then a young man, saw a drawing in a Regent Street print shop, and was struck by it and bought it for three guineas. He had never heard of the artists, and asked the dealer who was this Simeon Solomon. The dealer said “If you look through the door you’ll see him.” My friend looked out to Regent Street, but could see no artist. He saw a ragged, decrepit old waif of the streets looking in the window, but nobody like an artist. He said “I don’t see anybody.” The dealer said “There – at the window. That’s Simeon Solomon, friend of Burne-Jones and Rossetti and Swinburne. He’s waiting till you’ve gone to come in and touch me for five bob on account.”

Somehow or other he supported this submerged and vagrant life for thirty years. He lingered on in drink and degradation till he was 64; til all those who had known him had forgotten him or presumed him dead. Then, one night in 1905, he was found unconscious on the pavement in Holborn, and was carried to his old home, St Giles Workhouse, and in its infirmary he died.

Tributes, to the genius which he threw away, are many. Even the respectable Oscar Browning, a reputed social snob, could say of this ruined outcast “He was a genius both in art and writing, and his name deserves to be remembered… I am proud to acknowledge that he was one of my friends.”

Garwood

Phyllis Dodd – Tirzah Garwood, 1929

This is a magazine cutting about the Tirzah Garwood memorial exhibition of Tirzah Garwood at the Towner Art Gallery.

Eillen Lucy Garwood – a memorial exhibition of whose work will be held at the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, from 12th April to 11th May – was the third child of the late Lieut-Col. F.S. Garwood, of Upperton, Eastbourne, hence her name, from Tertia. When she died in March 1951, after a long and painful illness, she was not quite 42; yet in that brief span she had borne three children to one of England’s leading watercolourists and designers, Eric Ravilious, also an Eastbourne man, whom she met while a student at the School of Art; and she had made a personal contribution as an artist in her own right, which the author of this memoir is not alone in considering unique among women. A small selection of her work appeared earlier in the year in London, and one painting formed the cover of The Listener for 17th January.

Her career was curiously personal. When 21, she sent two wood-cuts to the annual exhibition of the Society of Wood-Engravers, and they were good enough to be noticed by the critics of The Times and the New Statesman, along with the work of artists already famous, or destined to achieve fame soon. The cuts were the fruit of work which at the time consisted mainly of satires on middle-class society: shoppers in Kensington, the inmates of hotels, family circles of varying degrees of horror (although her own was happy), a study of Crufts in which animal and human relations were traced with a not loving hand, a macabre study of a middle-aged woman yawning. The occasional children, on the other hand, were always drawn more kindly.

The eclarity and the finish of these works were masterful, and she received a number of commissions from patrons who included the BBC. For them she designed the first coat of arms used in official publications, and various illustrations for plays and booklets, that incidentally showed up her weakness in imagining scenes not immediately beneath her austere and merciless eye.
This early success was destined to be her one and only public appearance for many years. She was discouraged by adverse criticism of her imaginative work; and she had married. Occasionally, she helped her husband, as in the decoration of a hotel at Morecambe Bay. Later, with Charlotte Bawden, she revived the craft of marble papers, of which rather an indifferent example may be seen in the endpapers of the modern Everyman; but only the Japanese seem to have taken official notice, although the designs enjoyed a success among limited aesthetic circles, locally in Essex, where she was living, and in London.

She also made about 45 pencil sketches of her children, and the familiar village scene, of unexampled accuracy and delicacy, in drawing books characteristically later given up to childish scribbling. It was only after the death of her husband on active service as a war artist that she slowly resumed more ambitious work, mainly in the form of paper “models” of houses, mounted in frames, which, year by year, headed the poll of the exhibitions organised for children by the movements for Education in Art. Beside paper, she employed various other materials, like velvet and stuff retrieve from drawers and cupboards, as children would have done, and do, but with a clarity and skill of hand that far exceeded any child’s.

Her subjects were first the small farms of Essex, and streets in the market towns. Later, she ranged farther afield, improving her technique all the time, to produce a child actually swinging beside a romantic villa in Walton, or a blue and white house in the Vale of Heath, in Hampstead, to which she moved. An amateur bull on the shutter of a butcher’s shop in Islington attracted her attention, and she executed it in depth, with meat and butchers made of pyruma, and a shutter that could be pulled up and down. She often said that her last year was the happiest of her life, for then, when she was largely bed-ridden, and often in pain, she was able to concentrate almost exclusively on her work, which now took the form of paintings in oil. She completed twenty, to add to those she had already painted sporadically; and they form her most considerable work. In them she returned largely to her first love, birds and beasts and flowers, done with affection but without a trace of sentiment, in the firm hand that could draw a straight line much straighter than many can rule it.

All the subjects needed to be copied but the copies were related in terms of her imagination. With the flowers, she often associated objects of the new industrial age. Thus, an early Stephenson toy train in her possession stands in red and yellow, against the downs near Lewes, dun and earthy, farmhouse and stacks and fifty individual sheep in the background, on a base of poppies and corn. Georgian toy horses, very red and white, stand in front of a manger, hanging like a poem by de la Mare in a field of poppies that overtop the roof.

A picture of orchids hunters in Brazil illustrates the working of her imagination; for we learn from diaries that the subject had probably lain in her main for sixteen years, since someone reported a conversation with a gardener on Lord Gage’s estate at Firle. With one exception, the pictures that she painted show nothing at all of the fear of death, but only this simple delight in the thing in itself: flowers from friends, a cluster of mares tails, a cinnabar moth and bees, a tortoise and toad, her cat returning triumphant in the dawn, an early aeroplane (taken from a period Eastbourne postcard) hovering like a mosquito over a lintel of spring flowers. The solitary exception was a grey Spanish water jug, self coloured, in the form of a tall lady in the sprigged costume of the late nineteenth century, whoes colour in any case demanded the dun and deep blue landscape of owls and mysterious stars and palest daffodils. Tirzah Garwood was a rare spirit, absolutely clear, humorous, sometimes cruel, always herself with a gift of peach rare in this generation, only achieved by ruthless disciplining of a naturally passionate nature. Her art, limited though it is, is of the highest possible quality. One of her paintings, of a house at Canna in the Hebrides, hangs in juxtaposition to a Picasso and a Henry Moore; although totally different in every respect, it is not diminished in that company.

Tirzah Garwood – Orchid Hunters in Brazil, 1950

Book Update

I thought I should post an update on the Lucie Aldridge book, for a while it has been finished and it has gone out to be printed and bound. Though I will have more news for you soon about it all, there has been some delay in the process of production due to multitude of issues even I don’t fully understand, but it is coming soon. Against most economic logic of printing it in China or Italy, I actually I have had it printed and bound in the UK, I think it is important to support local companies when one can. I thank everyone who has enquired about it. It is coming, it’s just taking slightly longer than I hoped. I share your frustrations but after years of silence, Lucie will have a voice at last.

Front Cover: Before & After Great Bardfield.
The artistic memoirs of Lucie Aldridge.

Eric Fraser

Eric Fraser – The Tempest, 1951

Sometimes you really want to write about an artist but you don’t know what works to talk about and then inspiration comes upon you. On a trip to Booton Church (Bawden had painted it) there was a book stall in the lifeless church and on it found The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, edited by Peter Alexander. The plates were designed by Eric Fraser in 1951.

Eric Fraser – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 1951

1951 was the year of the Festival of Britain and the Royal Shakespeare Company staged The Tempest. The Festival gave the nation a feel good feeling that publishers were quick to notice and promotions of nationalistic icons are bought out to reaffirm Britishness in the post-war era. It happened again in the 80s when there was a spike in the middle classes going to look upon National Trust houses and English Heritage homes.

Eric Fraser – Hamlet, 1951

Born Eric George Fraser on 11 June 1902 in Vincent Street, London. He was educated at Westminster City School and attended Walter Sickert’s evening classes at Westminster School of Art. In 1919, he won a scholarship to Goldsmiths’ College School of Art.

In his working life he illustrated scenes from mythology, such as Beowulf fighting the dragon and it might have been this that got him the job illustrating Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings for the Folio Society. He also designed the LP Cover for the BBC’s Radio Drama.

He took on many adverts and dust jackets, indeed almost too many to narrow down. As a young designer, the first book I bought for my collection of dust jackets was Frasers cover of The Simplicity of Science, 1962.

Headshot

What is the most popular photograph in the world? Well it might be the photograph below by John Hedgecoe. It has appeared internationally on over two hundred billion stamps in Britain and the Commonwealth. He was a photographer who lived in Little Dunmow, Essex.

In 1966, he was approached by the postmaster general to take a portrait of the Queen. A session took place in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and, despite the quantity of film expended, lasted only 20 minutes. When the Queen inquired whether he had finished – “So soon, Mr Hedgecoe?” – he seized the opportunity for a second impromptu shoot in the music room. The Queen selected her preferred image and the sculptor Arnold Machin then made a plaster bust, which Hedgecoe photographed for the stamps.

John Hedgecoe obituary, The Guardian, 2010

Below are a selection of other photos that Hedgecoe took in the session with the queen, both with a background and some as a silhouette.

Both were used to make Arnold Machin’s sculpture relief of the queen seen here in different light and at a slight angle to each other.

Here is a design Arnold Machin submitted in 1968 when the Royal Mint were looking to replace the currency for decimalisation in 1970. This without the text. The winning front side of the coin was by Robin Ironside.

Hedgecoe was born in Brentford, Middlesex, the son of a banker. Becoming interested in photography when he was 14. During the Second World War his family moved to Gulval, near Penzance in Cornwall. Hedgecoe attended Guildford School of Art (now University for the Creative Arts), while also completing his National Service with the RAF. During his service with the RAF, Hedgecoe experimented with aerial photographic surveys of bomb damage from the war. In 1957, he started work as a staff photographer at a magazine, until 1972. He worked at the RCA as a professor of Photography and died in 2010.

As well as over ten books on photography Hedgecoe wrote one novel, Breakfast with Dolly, illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Jim Ede

Harold Stanley Ede, known as Jim Ede was born in Penarth, Wales. The son of solicitor Edward Hornby Ede and Mildred, a teacher.

Ede studied painting under Stanhope Forbes at Newlyn Art School between 1912 and 1914. Called up to fight in September 1914 during the First World War, he served with the South Wales Borderers and the Indian Army. He relinquished his commission in consequence of ill health, and was granted the rank of captain, 29 July 1919.

After the war, he continued his studies at the Slade School of Art. In 1921, Ede became assistant curator at the National Gallery of British Art (later the Tate Gallery) in London whilst continuing to study part-time at the Slade. Shortly after, he married Helen Schlapp whom he had met in Edinburgh. Whilst working at the Tate, he tried to promote the work of contemporary artists, including Picasso and Mondrian. However, he was often thwarted by the more conservative attitudes of the gallery directors. During his time at the Tate, Ede formed numerous friendships with avant-garde artists of the day. In the process, he acquired many works of art that were largely under-appreciated at the time. In particular, he secured much of the work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska from the estate of Sophie Brzeska. The collection included numerous letters sent between Henri and Sophie, and Ede used these as the basis for his book Savage Messiah on the life and work of Gaudier-Brzeska, which in turn became the basis of Ken Russell’s film of the same name.

Below are a few of his paintings made all in one year, 1928.

Harold Stanley Ede – Trees by a Lake, 1928

Harold Stanley Ede – House with Red Roof, 1928

Harold Stanley Ede – Scottish Hayricks with Sea Beyond, 1928