Tom Robb

Tom Robb was born in Edinburgh in 1933. His father was an engineer, his grandparents farmers and fishermen. When he was six his family moved to Carlisle, close to the airfield where his father inspected Spitfires and Lancaster bombers. He won a scholarship to grammar school and won a place in an art school in 1948 due to his exceptional gift for drawing and painting. He gained a place at the Royal College of Art but two years of National Service in Germany delayed his entry.

His tutors at college included Rodney Burn, Rodrigo Moynihan, John Minton (who he was particularly close with) and Carel Weight. His contemporaries included Ken Howard, Peter Blake and R.B. Kitaj. He was a close friend of Carel Weight till his death in 1997. He married Jeannie in 1958, they had two children and remained together till her death in 2008.

Immediately after leaving the RCA, Robb got a full-time teaching post in Wigton then later at Hornsey College of Art where he taught a generation of artists including Anish Kapoor. He moved to Putney in 1971 and became a keen sailor and later Commodore of Ranelagh Sailing club.

In 1983, publisher Phoebe Phillips approached him to contribute to a new book based on the art school year called Painter’s Progress, edited by his close friend Ian Simpson who was head of St Martin’s College of Art. This began a lifelong friendship with Phoebe and he went on to publish 26 books with her, mostly on painting and drawing but also on collecting and antiques. He was an active member of the Langham Sketch Club in Chelsea and continued to draw from life well into his 80’s. He was very gifted in all practical matters, an expert book-binder and print-maker, an engineer and a true craftsman.

Tom Robb – Summer Clouds, 1972 (Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection)


Many years ago as a student, I worked making screen prints of an edition of World of Interiors. I can’t remember why, but I found the images of the finished versions the other day.

Elizabeth David on the use of Herbs

It is sometimes thought, I believe, that the use of herbs in cookery is an import brought to this country from France, Italy, Spain and other foreign countries. There, it is thought, they are used in great quantities to disguise the meat, fish and vegetables which, it is mistakenly believed, have not the superior flavour of our own. In fact, as a nation we have always relied a good deal on herbs in cookery and we still do. It is only that the varieties have become very restricted.
At one time the term ‘herbs’ included, as well as all the aromatic herbs, green leaf and salad vegetables such as spinach, sorrel, lettuce and celery, with shallots, leeks and often flowers as well; cowslips, tansy, nasturtiums, elder flowers and marigolds.

Eighteenth-century cookery books included, as well as numerous herb teas, wines and medicinal concoctions, recipes for herb puddings, soups and pies to be eaten in the spring to refresh the blood after a winter diet of salt meat and dried vegetables. The custom survives to this day in the rhubarb dishes of spring. The choice of herbs to flavour fish, meat and fowl was originally based on the principle that what the animals ate, or the plants growing where they grazed, were used to bring out the flavour of their flesh when they were cooked. A few tips for the preparation of herbs for kitchen use may be useful. Small quantities of fresh herbs such as chives and parsley to sprinkle on salads or in soups are best cut with kitchen scissors.

For larger amounts, there is a most useful solid little wooden bowl and chopper made in France especially for this pur- pose, and which eliminates the washing of the chopping board every time parsley and onion have to be chopped. This can be bought in London. Another method is to place the herbs to be chopped in a heavy tumbler (a glass mustard jar is ideal) and, turning the jar round and round in one hand, with the other chop the herbs with scissors.

To dry herbs for winter use, put them on a tray in a fairly fast oven, and when dry store them as they are, on the stalks (the flavour keeps better unpowdered) in glass-stoppered jars. With this method you can always see what you’ve got. Fines herbes for omelettes, fish, liver, steaks and so on should, unless otherwise specified, be a mixture of parsley, chervil, chives and tarragon. A mixture of chopped mushrooms and shallots was also at one time known as fines herbes but is properly a duxelles. A bouquet garni, or faggot of herbs, consists of a bayleaf, one or two parsley stalks and a sprig of thyme tied with a thread so that it can be removed from the stew before serving.

Occasionally in French cookery books the term fournitures is used in directions for salad or soup-making. This means salad herbs, which in French markets are usually sold on stalls separate from the vegetable stalls, by the women who have brought their little bunches in from the country. Sorrel is usually included among the fournitures.

Rosemary and sage, two of the most beautiful aromatic herbs of the garden, can also be two of the most disastrous in the kitchen unless used in infinitesimal quantities. The oils which they contain easily overwhelm other flavours, and im- part an acrid taste to stuffings, sauces and stocks. I have always thought it odd that in England, where ‘messed up’ food is so violently condemned, a particularly coarse mixture like sage and onions should be so popular. However, these things are a question of taste, and I only advise, when rosemary has been put into a stew, that it should be removed before serving so that the diners do not choke on the spiky little leaves.

Sauce verte

This is, I think, one of the great achieve- ments of the simpler French cooking. It straightaway lifts any fish with which it is served into the sphere of elegance. But it need not be confined to fish. First prepare a very thick mayonnaise with 2 or even 3 egg yolks, one-third to half a pint of best olive oil, and a few drops of wine or cider vinegar. The other ingredients are 10 fine spinach leaves, 10 sprigs of watercress, 4 of tarragon, 4 of parsley. Pick the leaves of the watercress, tarragon and parsley from the stalks. Put all these leaves with the spinach into boiling water for 2 minutes. Strain, and squeeze them quite dry, pound them, and put the resulting paste through a fine sieve. It should emerge a compact purée. Stir gradually into the mayonnaise.

La soupe au pistou

A famous soup of which there are many versions. Pesto, the basil, cheese and pine nut sauce of the Genoese, was adapted by their neighbours in Nice, who modified it to suit their own tastes, and called it, in the local dialect, pistou. It is the addition of this sauce to the soup which gives it its name and its individuality. Without it, it is simply a variation of minestrone. Basil is not easy to come by in England, although a century ago it was common, being essential for the flavouring of turtle soup. It is also said to have given the peculiar flavour to the famous Fetter Lane sausages.
Now to the soup, a version taken from
a book of Provençal recipes, Mets de Provence, by Eugène Blancard (1926). In a little olive oil, let a sliced onion take colour; add two chopped and peeled tomatoes. When they have melted pour in 21 pints of water. Season. When the water boils throw in lb of green French beans cut into inch-lengths, 4 oz of white haricot beans (these should be fresh, but in England dried ones must do, previous- ly soaked, and cooked apart, but left slightly underdone; or they may be omitted altogether, the quantity of pota- toes and vermicelli being increased to make up for them), a medium-size cour- gette unpeeled and diced, 2 or 3 potatoes, peeled and diced. When available, add also a few chopped celery leaves, and a chopped leek or two. After 10 minutes add 2 oz of large vermicelli in short lengths.
In the meantime prepare the following mixture: in a mortar pound 3 cloves of garlic with the leaves of about 10 sprigs of very fresh basil. When they are in a paste, start adding drop by drop two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Add this to the soup at the last, off the fire. Serve with grated Parmesan or Gruyère.

Poulet rôti à l’estragon

Tarragon imparts an exquisite flavour to chicken; to me Poulet à l’estragon is one of the great treats of summer.

For a fat roasting chicken weighing about 2 lb when plucked and drawn, knead a good oz of butter with a table- spoon of tarragon leaves, half a clove of garlic, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of breadcrumbs. Put this inside the bird, which should be well coated with olive oil. Roast the bird lying on its side on a grid in a baking dish. Turn it over at half time; about 20 minutes on each side in a hot oven should be sufficient (those who have a roomy grill might try grilling it, which takes about 25 minutes, and gives much more the impression of a spit- roasted bird, but it must be constantly watched and turned over so that the legs are as well done as the breast).

When the bird is cooked, heat a small glass of brandy in a soup ladle, set light to it, pour it flaming over the chicken, and rotate the dish so that the flames spread and continue to burn as long as possible. Return the bird to a low oven for 5 minutes, during which the brandy sauce will mature and lose its rawness. Serve with the Poulet à l’estragon a salad of whole, small, peeled tomatoes, dressed with thick cream seasoned with salt, pepper, a few drops of vinegar and some whole tarragon leaves.

Colquhoun’s war

Robert MacBryde, Ave Maria Lane, 1941

Robert Colquhoun was serving as an ambulance driver in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War. After being injured, he returned to London in 1941 where he continued to share a studio space with Robert MacBryde. The pair shared a house with John Minton and Jankel Adler lived near.

This is a blog featuring some of the work the Robert’s made during the Second World War. They have the feel of Frances Hodgkins about them and some show the influence of artists such as Michael Ayrton too.

Robert Colquhoun, Figures in an Air Raid Shelter, 1941
Robert Colquhoun, The Lock Gate, 1942
Robert Colquhoun, The Lock Gate, 1942
Robert Colquhoun – Seeded Plants, 1942
Robert Colquhoun – Tomato Plants, 1942
Robert Colquhoun – Tomato Plants, 1942
Robert Colquhoun – Church Lench, 1942
Robert Colquhoun – Marrowfield, Worcestershire, 1942
Robert Colquhoun – Young Man in a Landscape Young Man in a Landscape, 1943

Robert Colquhoun, Weaving Army Cloth, 1945
Robert Colquhoun, Sketch for Weaving Army Cloth: Three Women Operating Machinary, 1945

Rowland Suddaby Remembered

Rowland Suddaby – Road to Church Farm, Stansfield, 1961,

Suddaby was born in Yorkshire and studied at the Sheffield College of Art from 1926 on a scholarship. He moved to London and for four years painting still lifes, local views and ones of Cornwall, but he didn’t have a solo exhibition until he was offered an exhibition at Lucy Carrington Wertheim’s Gallery in 1935. The next year he had a solo show at the Redfern Gallery.

In 1937 he moved to Sudbury, Suffolk and his work became almost totally East Anglian, of flooded fields and tree lined lanes. He took part in the Recording Britain scheme. He became a founding member of the Colchester Art Society, designed a poster for Shell and later became the curator of Gainsborough’s House museum.

This is a short little elegy to Rowland Suddaby by his friend Michael Webber, from the East Anglian Magazine, January 1973

Visits to East Anglia will never be quite the same. Whenever we could, my family and | always tried ’ to travel via Sudbury so that -we could visit Gainsborough’s House and meet the curator, Rowland Suddaby. Now he has gone and though the house and the works of the master remain we shall never again enjoy the company of a man who was not only a fine artist but also a person of immense charm, kindness and honesty.

He was marvellous with children – my own daughters were as saddened to hear of his passing as I was myself – and this could be seen In the delight with which he showed us round the house when the local schools were exhibiting their work.

His own work was seen far too infrequently. His watercolours were among the most powerful and brilliant landscapes painted in this country in our time, dashing, incisive works which owed much to the best French traditions of Maurice de Vlaminck and André Dunoyer de Segonzac but which never lost that solid observation of nature which seemed so natural to a Yorkshireman who came to live in Constable’s country. His oil paintings, too, showed a delight in colour and pigment which made for exciting and satisfying viewing. There is no doubt that through his art he will live on.

Rowland Suddaby – Poplars, 1967

Equally his name will be long remembered through the tremendous work he did for Gainsborough’s House. He brought new life to an already successful institution and developed it into a centre of East Anglian art worthy of the man whose name it bears. He will be a hard man to replace for as Roy Turner Durrant said, in an eloquent letter to the East Anglian Daily Times, “he was a kind man and artists are not always kind”. East Anglia is indeed fortunate in that artists like Suddaby and Cavendish Morton give so freely of their time in order that we can benefit.

Photo Wallets

The other day I uncovered a lot of old wallets for photo and negatives and I thought they would be interesting to post. Really it is the graphic design of it all. The different audiences and eras of photography. Many of these date from 1930-1940. A lot of them are old photographs of Germany.

The Church Bell Foundry

In AD 945 the Abbot of Croyland had a great bell cast, which he called Guthlac, after the abbey’s founder. Egelric, his successor, added six more bells, called Bartholomew, Betelin, Turketil, Tatwin, Pega and Bega. Perhaps these were saints’ names, though some of them have a suspiciously pagan ring; one suspects though, that pious dedications cloaked a natural human instinct to give personalities to objects whose individual voices had so distinct an identity. It was not until the sixteenth century that the name of the bell founder himself began to appear on the bell, and it was a sixteenth century founder, Robert Mot, who opened the foundry in the Whitechapel Road. Two of the bells of Westminster Abbey bear his name and the rest have also been made or recast at Whitechapel. Indeed, many of his bells are still in use and frequently return to the Whitechapel Foundry for repair or rehanging. And the methods used for the casting of bells have changed little since Mot himself made them.
In 1738 the foundry moved across the road and took over the site of a coaching inn called the Artichoke. A remaining area of the old courtyard is still the centre of today’s complex of buildings (fragments of saltglaze bellarmine bottles still turn up). Here Big Ben was cast in 1858, only one of many famous bells that have issued from the foundry. The bell moulder at the time, Thomas Kimber, also kept records of the details and inscriptions of every bell that came into the foundry and it was from his drawings that the foundry was able to remake many bells which were destroyed during the Second World War.

Bells are commonly associated with change ringing, in which intricate patterns of sound are made by varying the order in which the bells are rung. The practice was introduced in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century and presupposes a set of bells of varying sizes, to give the different notes, The bells are swung by ropes on the frame on which they hang, so that the whole bell is turned through a full circle, and struck one blow by the clapper. This method of ringing gives a full deep tone, and naturally superseded the previous one in which the clapper was itself attached to the rope and so pulled against the bell.

The characteristic bell shape evolved during the Middle Ages. The bell grew longer, and the flared lip developed, with a soundbow, or extra thickness, at the point where the clapper strikes. Both these developments went to make better sounds, but an important advance came in the seventeenth century when (two Dutchmen, the _ brothers Hemony, learnt to adjust the harmonics of the bell, and to grade correctly not only the note heard when the bell first sounds, the “strike”, but the other notes which follow as the sound vibrates, the “hum”, which should be one octave below the strike, the partial tones in between, the minor third and the fifth, and the octave above the strike. The results of their experiments were lost however, and harmonics remained largely a matter of luck until they were rediscovered at the end of the nineteenth century.

To begin the actual making of a bell is a messy business. To build up the “‘core’”’, the mould on which the inner shape of the bell is formed, a mudbath of London clay, horsedung and horsehair is stirred in the middle of the floor and when the mixture is of the right consistency it is plastered by hand onto a layer of bricks. The shape is checked against a moulding board, which represents the exact dimensions of the inner curve of the bell. When finished, the mould is dried in an oven and coated with graphite and polished for a very smooth finish. A similar process is used to make the “cope”, the outside shape of the bell, which is built up inside an iron case. It is finished m the same way, but before dry ng any inscription is pressed to the damp loam so that it stands out in relief when the bell is cast.

Next comes the process of “closing down”. The cope is lowered over the core and the two moulds are firmly clamped together. A huge ladle is filled with molten metal from the furnace — approximately 77 per cent copper and 23 per cent tin – and this is poured into the space between the cope and the core. The metal must be at exactly the right temperature; small bells needing a higher temperature than large ones. Slowly the bell cools, taking between one and eight days, according to size. Finally the moulds are chipped off and the bell is ready for tuning.

In the tuning process fine parings of metal are taken off with a lathe until the bell reaches the correct pitch. Instruments for checking tuning have now become so accurate that they are in fact inaccurate, as they can record a range of sounds beyond the human ear and they adjust to a scale which sounds perfect no doubt to ethereal ears but quite wrong to flesh and blood ones. In the final stages therefore, only human sounding boards are used.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry also makes handbells, for which moulds of sand like little bell-shaped sandcastles are used for the core. In tuning bells of this size even the final polishing they are given can have an effect on the sound.

Every bell is made individually over a period of two or three months, If anything goes wrong, the whole process must begin again, with corresponding waste of time, money and labour. There are no short cuts. In such circumstances, skill is the very essence of the business.
One last request: please do not try to visit the foundry. They already have more visitors than they know what to do with and there is really not room for them in the high sheds, filled with Piranesi shadows and machinery, the floors covered with bells awaiting repair. Since the managers are too courteous to find it easy to drive people away, you might reflect that they have a two-year backlog of work and there are only two belles left in England. If to keep the belfries of the world reeling with changes, keep away and let them get on with it.

Iowa and Keith Vaughan

Here is a poem by Alan Ross on the death of Keith Vaughan in 1977. They had met when Ross was working with Minton on Time Was Away. At this point in time, they were living in the same house in different flats. For a time Ross was sleeping in the boiler room while trying to make a living as a journalist. In 1966 Ross also edited Vaughan’s journals, Keith Vaughan Journals & Drawings.

Keith Vaughan: Interior with Figures (I), 1940

Iowa and Keith Vaughan

Learning of your suicide,
The customary calm of your ending
In that methodical way,
The remorseless advance of the enemy
You could not stop gaining on you,

I look up
At your paintings of Iowa,
Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha,
Remembering my own journeys
Through that unpopulated landscape
West of Chicago – unpopulated
Because she wasn’t with me – my notes
So similar to those scratched
In the margins of your drawings,
As if it were them I travelled through,
Not the real thing, that emptiness
Spilling its way to the Pacific.

You observed:
“Red oxide barns with silver pinnacles”
“Pink pigs bursting from black earth like truffles”
“Ochre sticks of corn stubble”
“Space and sun”

And approaching Omaha
“For sale – Night Crawlers”
“The air of expectation; of probing contacts”
“Extraordinary prevalence of mortuaries,
Neon-lit and glittering like cinemas”.

What you drew
Were the black barns and white-timbered houses
Reminding you of Essex,
Snow patches and corn stooks,
Silos erect on the countryside like penises,
The starched white
Fences protective of loneliness.

I am in Iowa again,
Landlocked and frozen
In a numbing death of the spirit –
You knew before your own
How many forms death takes.

Hans Coper at Digswell

Digswell was a set of artist studios on the edges of Welwyn Garden City. When this new town was in a another phase of buidling Henry Morris has joined the councils board to advise on the arts in the area and the studios were his idea of having well known artists studios with the condition they could make works for the local area while being sponsored by industry.

The potter Hans Coper was one of the first artists to be invited there. With various conpanies sponsoring him, he spent a lot of his time making tiles and sinks. With a friend joking that they were signed by the H and C taps.

To get his grants, Coper had also agreed to make three works for architectural spaces while at Digswell. They are listed below:

One of them as a mural of abstract ceramic circles for the Swindon Community School. As Copers fame grew the school decided to sell it. It was sold at Phillips auction in 2011 for £181,250.

The second design was an abstract design of the Royal Army Pay Corps emblem that was on Armstrong Hall, Worthy Down. It has recently been restored and is now in the Corps Muesem.

The last work was his famous large candlesticks for Coventry Cathedral.

The Last Post

This is the suicide note of Keith Vaughan from his journals. After suffering from Cancer for two years, he arranged to be at home alone, sending his lover to his country home and for his friend to take him to hospital the next day (in the hope of his body being discovered).

Nov 4 1977
9.30 a.m. the capsules have been taken with some whisky. What is striking is the unreality of the situation. I feel no different. Ramsay returned to Harrow Hill yesterday. But suddenly the decision came that it must be done. I cannot drag on another few years in this state. It’s a bright sunny morning. Full of life. Such a morning as many people have died on. I am ready for death though I fear it. Of course the whole thing may not work and I shall wake up. I don’t really mind either way. Once the decision seemed inevitable the courage needed was less than I thought. I don’t quite believe anything has happened though the bottle is empty. At the moment I feel very much alive. Patrick Woodcock rang and asked me to dine out with him tonight. But I had already made the decision though not started the action. I cannot believe I have committed suicide since nothing has happened. No big bang or cut wrists. 65 was long enough for me. It wasn’t a complete failure I did some good…