Roland Pym Obituary

This is the Obituary for Roland Pym by Alan Powers. I post it because he is mostly forgotten now.

Roland Pym, artist: born Cheveley, Cambridgeshire 12 June 1910; died Edenbridge, Kent 12 January 2006.

Roland Pym was a painter, illustrator and theatrical designer whose work was redolent of the lyrical and romantic mood of the 1920s and 1930s in England. He had a slight acquaintance with Rex Whistler (five years his senior), and after the Second World War was one of the artists able to supply a similar type of evocative trompe l’oeil decoration. “I suppose Rex Whistler gave me the lead that you could do old things in new ways,” he said in a interview for Country Life in 1999, “but I never consciously imitated him, I would naturally draw like that too.”

Born in 1910 at Banstead Manor, outside Newmarket, Pym moved at the age of four to the family home, Foxwold, near Brasted in Kent, when his father, the future Sir Charles Pym, inherited it. Later he made his home in the nursery wing (lovingly attended by his sister Elizabeth), while his brother, the architect John Pym, occupied the main part of the house.

After education at Ludgrove and Eton, he studied at the Slade School and specialised in theatre design, with Osbert Lancaster (two years his senior) as one of his fellow students. Like Lancaster, Pym had an excellent eye for drawing architecture and landscape, but his vision was sweeter, and he peopled his nostalgic landscapes with dashing beaux and doe-eyed belles straight from a Frederick Ashton ballet.

Pym’s mural painting began with a decoration for the Refreshment Room at Lord’s, somewhat in the Doris Zinkeisen manner, won in competition. He painted a bathroom decoration of Victorian Cromer at 39 Cloth Fair, commissioned by the architect Paul Paget for his father, the retired Bishop of Chester.

One of his pre-war commissions, for figures in blank windows at Biddesden House, Wiltshire, was the beginning of a long friendship with Bryan Guinness (later Lord Moyne) and members of his family, in England and Ireland, for whom many murals and illustrations were produced down the years – the books including The Story of Johnny and Jemima (1936), The Children in the Desert (1947) and The Story of Catriona and the Grasshopper (1958), all with Bryan Guinness, and, with his daughter Mirabel Guinness, Biddesden Cookery (1987).

During the war, Pym enlisted in the 16th Regiment of the Royal Artillery as a private soldier, and endured some taunting as a fish out of water. However, when he swore back at one of the chefs in the food line, he received a round of applause from the whole canteen. They arrived at Basra in December 1941 and he fought at Tobruk and El Alamein, remaining in the field until 1944. Throughout he kept an illustrated diary, initially in Greek and later in French, for security purposes.

Back in London, he enjoyed his heyday in the theatre, commissioned by Binkie Beaumont of H.M. Tennant to create sets and costumes for ballets and plays, including Oranges and Lemons and Pay the Piper at the Globe Theatre and A Master of the Arts by William Douglas-Home at the Aldwych Theatre. He designed Lohengrin at Covent Garden and Eugene Onegin in Paris.

This style of theatre went out of fashion, but Pym could fall back on murals. For the Coronation in 1953, he decorated the Queen’s Retiring Room at Westminster Abbey, and a sequence of domestic commissions, restaurants and hotels followed, with an altarpiece in an icon style at St Mark, Biggin Hill, in 1959. The Saloon at Woburn Abbey, 1971-75, in typical tones of blue and pink, was his largest single work, commissioned after he told the Duke of Bedford, on first encounter, that to paint this room was a life’s ambition. He never retired from murals, and, despite the frailties of age, recently completed a set of four classical figures for Ivry, Lady Freyberg in London.

His greatest achievement as a book illustrator (with a total of 60 books to his name) came late in life when Joe Whitlock Blundell at the Folio Society made the inspired move to commission illustrations for Nancy Mitford’s novels – The Pursuit of Love (1991) was followed by Love in a Cold Climate (1992). Pym did not need to research the Twenties and Thirties settings laboriously, as they were stored in his own excellent visual memory. When stuck for specific details, he could telephone one of the surviving Mitford sisters, and the Duchess of Devonshire commended him on the accurate portrayal of her father as Uncle Matthew, even though he had never met the original. He followed these books with Edith Sitwell’s English Eccentrics (1994) and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1996).

Pym’s Indian summer continued, with drawing for the parish newsletter at Brasted, edited by his niece’s husband Edwin Taylor, and published in 2004 in book form as The Kentish Scene: pages from the Brasted Diary 1999-2004, with pages from his war diaries and a brief retrospective of other aspects of his work.

Roland Pym never married, although once he came close enough on one occasion for banns to be published. By mutual consent, the relationship ended, however, and he remained wedded to his art and comfortable in his familiar surroundings. As he wrote in The Kentish Scene, “Perhaps it is as beautiful a region as anywhere.”

Alan Powers

The Abbey

John Sebastian Marlowe Ward was a religious and spiritualist who set up a commune for the second coming of Christ at 89 Park Road, New Barnet. He had acquired the large property and land, and in 1934 he opened the Abbey Folk Park which by 1937 comprised 46 buildings, included historic shop fronts and a 17th-century smithy saved when East Barnet village was redeveloped and five old cottages relocated from Hadley Green. The park closed in 1940 and did not reopen as Ward sold it and moved his community to Cyprus in 1946 following legal difficulties in England that he had enchanted a young lady away from her family. The case went to court and the damages of £500 against Ward meant he had to sell the Folk Park. In looking for money he sold one of the cottages (said to have once belonged to a witch) on the estate to Gerald Gardner, a sensationalist Pagan. The cottage was exchanged for some land in Cyprus where the commune then moved.

The rest of the land and buildings was bought by William Ohly, a Jewish art dealer who had fled the Nazi persecution in Germany. Ohly was an art dealer who ran the Berkeley Galleries in Davies Street, London. His galleries dealt with mostly non-European art and ethnographic items. He set up the Abbey Arts Centre in 1946 at the Abbey. The Arts Centre consisted of one large three-storey building and a cottage set in about three acres of landscaped garden and orchard.

William Ohly turned the folk museum into one for ethnography in 1952 and it was opened by the director of the Arts Council. His “Primitive Art” exhibitions attracted collectors, socialites, and artists such as Jacob Epstein, Lucian Freud, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. He also housed many expatriate artists during the post war years 1947–1951. It became an early base of operations for artists, trying to gain a foothold in London’s contemporary art industry but unable to afford the cities rents.

Other artists who visited the centre include the Scottish painter Alan Davie, the Irish painter Gerard Dilon, the English painter Phillip Martin, and Helen Grunewald and Inge Neufeld from Austria and Germany respectively. Animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger and her husband Carl Koch (director) lived and worked at the centre for about 25 years.

William died in 1955 and his son Ernest inherited his love of art, but was a more reserved character.

Ernest Ohly’s death provoked a ripple of excitement at the lucrative top end of the ethnographic art world. He was rumoured to have an extensive collection. His statues from Polynesia and masks from West Africa were auctioned in 2011 and 2013. And that, dealers assumed, was that.

But his children knew otherwise. In old age, he had told them he had one more sculpture. It was in a Barclays safe box and not to be sold, he specified, unless there was another Holocaust. In 2016 matters were taken out of the children’s hands. Barclays on Park Lane was closing its safe boxes; it told customers to collect their belongings.

Inside the box was this genuine Benin Bronze head. It was sold for 10 million pounds to a collector with the help of dealer, Lance Entwistle.

Inexpensive Playlist: May

Pyramid of Skulls

Paul Cezanne laboured at his skull paintings for around fifteen years, some pleased him but he seemed unhappy with the pyramid of skulls, trying hard to get some realism. In the last ten years of his life he worked upon the topic over and over again. It was a period in time where many of the props he used in his paintings were used. Apples, pears, a curtain from his Paris studio, books, a brass candlestick and napkins.

Most people see the skull in Cezanne’s late work as a sign of mortality coming in, showing a man in the final years and looking at memento mori.


Still Life with Skull

Still Life with Skull, 1885

Still Life with Skull, study, 1885

Still Life with Skull, 1902–04

Still Life with Skull, 1902–04


Still Life with Skull

Still Life with Skull


Nigel Henderson

From the late 1940s to the mid 1950s Nigel Henderson worked and lived in East London. He looked to be keeping up and extending the ideas of Mass Observation in his own way, . Included in this selection is an extensive series of images of the East End of London which Henderson shot between the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Nigel, Judith and Drusilla ‘Jo’ Henderson in the garden of 46 Chisenhale Road, Bethnal Green, 1952

Nigel Henderson’s parents divorced when he was young. His mother, Wyn Henderson, creatively inspired him to pursue a career in art though her friends and connections. At the beginning of her career Wyn managed ‘The Hours Press’ for Nancy Cunard (the first person to publish Samuel Beckett) in Paris and found herself mixing with Surrealist artist and poets. After a quarrel with Cunard, Wyn returned to London to live in Gordon Square, the heart of the Bloomsbury Set. The young Nigel saw an early performance of Virginia Woolf’s Freshwater in Vanessa Bell’s studio and stayed with Bell and Duncan Grant at Charleston.

Nigel Henderson – Wig Stall, Petticoat Lane, 1952

Nigel was able to meet Max Ernst on a trip to the south of France in 1932, Ernst inspired him to become a full time artist. At this time in 1938, Wyn was managing Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery ‘Guggenheim Jeune’ at  30 Cork Street, London. Peggy Guggenheim was an airess of the mining
Guggenheim family and her father had died on the RMS Titanic. The
gallery links helped Nigel meet Marcel Duchamp as well as Jean Cocteau
and Wassily Kandinsky.

Nigel studied biology at Chelsea Polytechnic in London from 1935–1936. He then worked as an assistant to Helmut Ruhemann from 1936–1939 restoring old master paintings. In the late 1930s Henderson developed paintings inspired by Yves Tanguy, another of Guggenheim’s artists. Nigel displayed two of his collages at the gallery. Peggy Guggenheim closed Guggenheim Jeune with a farewell party on 22 June 1939 having made a loss of £600 in the first year.

Nigel Henderson, Shop Front, Bethnal Green, 1949-1953.

Henderson put his passion for art aside to join the war effort as a pilot in Coastal Command. In 1943, he married Judith Stephen, daughter of Adrian and Karin Stephen. The niece of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, Judith had graduated from Cambridge when she met Nigel. She was stationed in Bethnal Green as part of a social anthropology project.

Judith’s access to the working class and poorer parts of London inspired Nigel to go out and photograph the nearby people and shops. He also continued to experiment with collages and the physicality of photography, he achieved abnormal effects by using various techniques such as altering negatives and placing images on light-sensitive paper to create Photograms.

As a biologist, Henderson was fascinated by the universe revealed by the microscope. As a pilot, he was familiar with landscape perceived from the air. His experiments with cameras, enlargers and developing combine the
two perspectives. What looks like a study of cellular structures turns out to be a photograph composed of bomb debris.

He enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. At Slade he befriended Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull. With Paolozzi, he formed The Independent Group in 1952. The Independent Group’s other main members were Lawrence Alloway, Richard Hamilton, John McHale and Alison & Peter Smithson. They had their meetings at the Institute of
Contemporary Arts in London.

Following the suicide of Judith’s mother Karin Stephen in 1953, the couple moved into Judith’s Landermere family home in 1954 and bounced between there and London for the rest of their lives. Paolozzi moved across to the road at Gull Cottage in 1955.

From 1965–1968 and from 1972–1982 he headed the photography department at Norwich School of Art while working on independent projects.

Although part of the Independent Group and using ‘found objects’ to make art, Henderson’s photography and design was also more old fashioned and documentary styled than the Pop Art of Paolozzi.

Some photos

Cecil Beaton is a shit?

Cecil Beaton was a great photographer who got access to some of the rich socialites of the twentieth century who worked on both sides of the Atlantic. However with war looming in Europe he found himself working for American Vogue and then being sacks for his anti semitism. Rather than re-write something, I am going to just paste the page from Goldwyn: A Biography.

THE FEBRUARY 1, 1938, issue of American Vogue ran an article by Frank Crowninshield called “The New Left wing in New York Society.” It was about Manhattan’s “Café Society,” a “newly formed, colourful, prodigal, and highly publicized social army, the ranks of which are largely made up of rich, carefree, emancipated, and quite often, idle people.”

Bordering the opening two pages of the piece was a pen-and-ink montage by Cecil Beaton. On one side he sketched symbols of old money: a manor house, portraits of ancestors, classical music, volumes of Shakespeare and French poetry; on the other he drew satirical nightclub scenes, a blaring jazz band, scandalous newspaper headlines, and Walter Winchell’s column. At the bottom of that page, in minuscule handwriting, Beaton’s marginalia trespassed into vulgarity. “M. R. Andrew ball at the El Morocco brought out all the damn kikes in town,” read the microscopic caption to his cartoon of a magazine society page; and in print just as fine, he wrote “Party darling Love Kike” on a Western Union telegram. Then on some cards and telegrams in and around a box of orchids—legible only by turning the magazine upside down and putting one’s nose to the page—Beaton wrote, “Why is Mrs. pelznick such a social wow? Why Mrs. Goldwyn etc. Why Mrs. L. B. Mayer?” Walter Winchell learned of Beaton’s act of veiled anti-Semitism as the first copies of the magazine were hitting the street, and he took Vogue to task in his column. Until then, publisher Condé Nast had not known of Beaton’s cryptic comments. Some 150,000 copies had already been shipped, and nothing could be done about them; the remaining 130,000 were reprinted with the objectionable lines expunged. Cecil Beaton—one of Vogue’s standard-bearers—was discharged, his work banned from the pages of all Condé Nast publications. Privately, Beaton referred to the incident as “a wretched little foible,” a joke; three months later, he asked Nast to reinstate him. Three years would pass before Nast relented.

A Kike is a derogatory American slang term for a Jewish person. It first started to appear in the 1880s following the Russian pogroms when jewish people were attacked and hounded out of towns, starting in Warsaw. Many of these families had names ending with Ki… (s)Ki

April Playlist


When doing art history one always get Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) projected into your face, likely because it’s designed to be interactive. However, the work of this era I have always favoured and that rather blew my seventeen year old mind was God (1917) by Morton Livingston Schamberg and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. It is an example of readymade art, a term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1915 to describe his found objects. God is a 10½ inch high cast iron sink u-bend turned upside down and mounted on a wooden mitre box.

The year is 1913 and Elsa Endell, kaleidoscopic performance artist and poet is on her way to New York’s city hall for her third marriage, this time to a German Baron named Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven. En route, Elsa spots a rusted iron ring. To Elsa this street trash was a totem of her marriage to be, and in an act marking a new era in the definition of ‘art’ — Elsa called this found object an artwork.

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was not credited with the shattering of artistic tradition. A year later, Elsa’s close friend Marcel Duchamp would showcase Bottle Rack — a found object he claimed as a new category of art, the ‘readymade.’


Though founded in 2001, wikipedia wasn’t the internet’s first enciclopedia. The idea was really formed with the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book and the iPad looking Guide with ‘Don’t Panic’ in friendly letters over the cover. Douglas Adams wanted to use the internet somehow and when the rise of the boom in the late 1990s saw companies, artists and musicians all trying to cash in on the free promotion of the internet he thought about making guide a real thing. It launched in 1999.

The website was called h2g2, and like wikipedia, it was a collaborative online encyclopedia project. Users would write and edit the content. Early on there was a focus on travel, to ape the idea of the Hitchhikers Guide.., it would have independent reviews of towns and good places to see. The early version was called the ‘Earth edition’ of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Over time people found it more useful for an encyclopedia

It describes itself as “an unconventional guide to life, the universe, and everything”, in the spirit of the fictional publication The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from the science fiction comedy series of the same name by Douglas Adams.

The website was funded by Adams himself. Originally to get the content going he employed a small staff to make basic listings as well as the coding to make the site possible. The software used was made in PERL for the site and called DNA (Douglas Neil Adams). It would be monitised by the software sales to other companies including the BBC. When the dot come bubble popped the BBC took over the running of the H2G2 website as they wanted a digital version of Teletext/CeeFax. They would use the DNA software until 2011 when the BBC had all their websites updated.