Edwin Smith is renowned for being a photographer but few knew that he was a painter as well. His wife Olive Cook was a self taught painter and was educated at Benton End under Cedric Morris on weekends.
Edwin Smith – Self Portrait, 1970
He was born in Canonbury, Islington, London, the only child of Edwin Stanley Smith, a clerk, and his wife Lily Beatrice. After leaving school he was educated at the Northern Polytechnic, transferring to the architectural school at the age of sixteen. He then won a scholarship to the Architectural Association, but gave up his course and worked as a draughtsman for several years. He became a freelance photographer in 1935, working briefly for Vogue as a fashion photographer. However he concentrated his artistic efforts on subjects such as the mining community of Ashington in Northumberland, the docks of Newcastle, and circuses and fairgrounds around London.
In 1935 Smith married Rosemary Ansell, but the marriage ended in divorce two years later. A few years later Smith was living with Olive Cook, whom he married in 1954.
The Fry Gallery holds a great deal of Smith’s painted works and they are naive but I would say competent; I think there is something free and wonderful in them.
Edwin Smith – Stacking Peas with a view of Waveney Church, Norfolk
Great Bardfield being a small community of artists, it is only natural that they would borrow ideas, items and homes from each other to work in. Here are a few examples of connections in illustrated books by the people in the community that all were published within a few years of each other.
Edward Bawden – Sunday Evening, 1949 (Life in an English Village)
The picture above shows the sitting room at Ives Farm, Great Bardfield. Tom Ives is pictured in the corner with his pipe. It’s depicted in a lithograph by Edward Bawden from the King Penguin book ‘Life in an English Village’ (1949), around the same time Aldridge himself used this house in a book illustration for ‘Adam Was A Ploughman’ (1947) by Clarence Henry Warren.
John Aldridge – Living Room, 1947 (Adam Was A Ploughman)
On the fireplace you can see a Staffordshire figure of a lion by a tree, it was illustrated again on another page in ‘Adam Was A Ploughman’, pictured below.
John Aldridge – Lion, 1947 (Adam Was A Ploughman)
The photograph below is from Volume Five of The Saturday Book (1945), in a chapter by Edwin Smith on ‘Household Gods’ and is the same Staffordshire Lion.
Edwin Smith – Lion, 1945 (The Saturday Book)
Back to the drawing of Ives farm living room is a corn-dolly hanging up, below in the King Penguin book ‘Life in an English Village’ I have picked it out in yellow.
John Aldridge – Living Room, 1947 (Adam Was A Ploughman)
Edward Bawden – Corn-dollies, 1949 (Life in an English Village)
To the bottom right of the image above is also the bell used in the Pub lithograph below. Below the bell, the one-eyed man is Fred Mizen, a gardener and thatcher who also had a talent for making corn-dollie, it is likely all of them are by him.
Edward Bawden – The Bell (detail), 1949 (Life in an English Village)
Michael Rothenstein – Clock and Candlestick, 1942
The painting by Rothenstein above is a curious still life of a table and village scene. Curiously enough these items appear again in fifth Volume of The Saturday Book, along with the Aldridge Lion photograph. The article mentioned the clock ‘flanked by exotic shapes contrived from coloured balls on candlesticks’ it is wisely assumed that the picture is from Rothenstein’s house.
Edwin Smith – Clock and Candlestick, 1945 (The Saturday Book)
Clarence Henry Warren – Adam Was A Ploughman, 1947
Leonard Russell (Editor) – The Saturday Book, 1945
Noel Carrington – Life in an English Village, 1949
This post is not really connected in the typical way my articles are, but just points to a curious link between the Bardfield Artists being on Brighton Pier. I have also included a photograph by Edwin Smith – All of these artists are represented by the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden.
These drawings are from the 1946 book ‘A Clowder of Cats’ an anthology of literature containing cats. The illustrations are by Edwin Smith. He was famous as a photographer and his almost annual contributions to The Saturday Book. Smith was the husband of Olive Cook, a Cedric Morris pupil and she was one of the founding members of the Fry Gallery in 1987, but together they wrote many books on cottages and stately homes.
While internationally acclaimed as a photographer, with contributions in some forty books across the world, Smith passionately wished to be recognised as an artist, and engraved, drew or painted every day, but with limited recognition during his lifetime. He was self-taught, his training being as an architect although he hardly practised before being drawn into photography.
He shared a love of the countryside, and of crafts and traditions within it, and his photography sits comfortably within the neo-romantic tradition, as was demonstrated by his inclusion in the Barbican Art Gallery exhibition on this subject in 1987 after his death in 1971. You can see more of his work here: at the Fry Gallery Page on Smith.
Olive Muriel Cook was born in Cambridge on 20 February 1912, the daughter of Arthur Cook, a librarian at the University Library for 56 years, and his wife, a dressmaker for Robert Sayle (John Lewis Partnership). She was educated at the Perse School before gaining a scholarship to Newnham College in 1931, where she read Modern Languages. She obtained her MA in 1942.
Olive Cook – I Am the Ancient Apple Queen, The Fry Gallery
Her first job was that of art editor for Chatto and Windus, followed by supervisor of publications at the National Gallery (1936-1945), where she worked with Kenneth Clark and Arnold Palmer. She met and became friends with official war artists including Eric Ravilious, Thomas Hennell and Stanley Spencer, and it was during this time that she met Edwin Smith, whom she married in 1954. In 1945 she left the National Gallery to devote herself to her own writing and painting and she and Smith started to write and illustrate articles for The Saturday Book edited by Leonard Russell, to which they both contributed annually until Edwin’s death.
She took a two week painting course at Sir Cedric Morris’s Benton End school in Hadleigh Much. She is now one of his forgotten pupils of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing. The other prominent artists of the school are Lucy Harwood, Lucian Freud, Maggi Hambling, David Kentish, Bettina Shaw-Lawrence, Lucy Harwood, Joan Warburton, Glyn Morgan, Valerie Thornton and top legal scholar Bernard Brown.
Olive Cook – Portrait of Michael Rothenstein Reading – The Fry Gallery, 1947.
She wrote ‘Suffolk’ in 1948, ‘Cambridgeshire: Aspects of a County, 1953’, and children’s books illustrated by George Adams in 1954. That same year saw the publication of ‘English Cottages and Farmhouses’ with text by Cook and photographs by Smith, their first major work for Thames and Hudson. After their marriage they lived in Hampstead where they had a large circle of artist and writer friends. More joint books followed including ‘English Abbeys and Priories’, ‘British Churches’, ‘The Wonders of Italy’, ‘The English House Through Seven Centuries’.
Olive Cook – In The Garden, from my collection.
They moved to Saffron Walden in 1962, where Olive Cook pursued her passion for the preservation of the countryside, her book ‘The Stansted Affair’ presenting the case against the development of the airport (1967). They purchased the Coach House in 1967, remodelled and decorated it in their own inimitable way (see photos in Series 9). Sadly, Smith died of cancer at the early age of 59, leaving Cook devastated. However, a woman of great spirit, she rallied and continued to further the reputation of her beloved husband, producing ‘Edwin Smith: Photographs 1935-1971’ in 1984, and continually promoting his work through exhibitions and in books of others, such as Lucy Archer’s ‘Architecture in Britain and Ireland 600-1500’.
Her own writing also continued: she wrote the libretto for ‘The Slit Goose Feather’ composed by Christopher Brown, ‘Tryphema Pruss’, illustrated by Walter Hoyle, as well as the introduction for his ‘To Sicily with Edward Bawden’. And, in the 1980s she along with Iris Weaver was instrumental in establishing the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, writing biographical sketches of the artists of the North West Essex Collection deposited there.
Olive Cook had an enormous capacity for friendship, as the hundreds of cards in her papers attest, and although she had no children herself, she was clearly a great favourite with those of her many friends. Right up to the end of her long life, messages came pouring in. She died on 2 May 2002, aged 90.
Olive Cook – Edwin Smith with Flowers and Ducks, National Portrait Gallery, 1954.
Edwin George Herbert Smith was born on 15 May 1912 in Canonbury, London, the only child of Edwin Stanley Smith a clerk and his wife Lily Beatrice. After leaving elementary school he was educated at the Northern Polytechnic, transferring to the architectural school at the age of sixteen. He then won a scholarship to the Architectural Association, but for financial reasons gave up his course and worked as an architectural draughtsman for several years, most notably for Raymond Myerscough-Walker. >From 1935 he became a free lance photographer, though painting remained his first love, working briefly for Vogue as a fashion photographer, but mostly concentrating on the mining community of Ashington in Northumberland, the docks of Newcastle, and circuses and fair grounds around London.
In 1935 Smith married Rosemary Ansell, daughter of Henry Ansell, a confectioner. Their son Martin was born in 1941, but the marriage ended in divorce two years later. By this time Smith was living with Olive Cook, whom he married in 1954. Smith was also a writer, producing photographic handbooks, including ‘All the Photo Tricks’ (1940), for Focal Press. But he is best known for his photographs of architecture and landscapes, both of Britain and Europe. His books include: ‘English Parish Churches’ (1952), ‘English Cottages and Farmhouses’ (1954), ‘The English House Through Seven Centuries’ (1968), ‘England’ (1971) ‘Pompeii and Herculanaeum’ (1960) ‘Rome: From its Foundation to the Present’ (1971). Many were collaborations between him and Cook: his photographs, her text.
In addition to his photographic output (60,00 negatives are now at RIBA), Smith was also a prolific artist. When at home, not a day went by without him drawing or painting. Throughout his life Smith produced water and oil paintings, drawings, linocuts and woodcuts. And in later years at Saffron Walden, he drew up architectural plans for local properties. It was only after his death that exhibitions of Smith’s work appeared.
He became ill in the spring of 1971, but his cancer was not diagnosed until a few weeks before his death on 29 December. There is a poignant account in one of his notebooks written by Olive and addressed to him three months after he died, recounting in detail his last day.
Cook inherited Smith’s estate on his death, 29 December 1971, and towards the end of her life deposited his huge photograph collection of some 60,000 negatives at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) along with their letters to each other. The remainder of his papers became part of her archive at Newnham.
Olive Cook – Nude and Iris in the Garden, from my collection.
In writing the previous post I thought how Edwin Smith’s photos looked like some of Edward Bawden’s Linocuts. This isn’t to strike a claim of copycat, it’s just by chance. A nice chance and so here are three instances.
Edwin Smith – West Smithfield, 1953
Edward Bawden – Smithfield Market, 1967
Edwin Smith – Limetree Cottage, 1953
Edward Bawden – The Road to Thaxted, 1956
Edwin Smith – Post Office Underground Railway, 1957
It seams more and more in ‘second hand books’ that the photographic content and illustrations are boosting prices more than the topic of books themselves – easy examples are High Street by J. M. Richards, or anything with an Edward Bawden or John Minton dust jacket, it’s a mad rush for any artistic ephemera. But it extends to what were cheap magazines with articles by John Nash or Graham Sutherland, once they were disposed in the bin, now they are rare and so are getting expensive. Times past, there were high class standards like Verve or Derrière le miroir but a copy of The Country Life Cookery Book from 1937 can now equal those prices.
This week I bought a book of ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ by Marcel Brion. Noting what I wrote above, I am more interested in the artistic content of the book rather than the subject matter, but happily I am interested in history and archaeology too. This book is full of the photography of Edwin Smith.
As it happens, books with the photos of Edwin Smith seam to be very cheap, due to how popular he was in the 1950s and 60s. There were many reprints and print runs so you can find good copies on Amazon for 1p, or £2.81 with postage – but still a pittance. There are a Thames & Hudson series of books co-written with Edwin Smith’s wife Olive Cook too; English Parish Churches (1952) and English Cottages Farmhouses (1954) being the most popular and thus, cheap to buy. I bought ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ for £2.99 in a charity shop.
In the introduction Brion writes ‘I am indebted to Mr. Edwin Smith for his photography which I trust the reader will find as brilliantly evocative as I myself do’.
Edwin George Herbert Smith (15 May 1912 – 29 December 1971) was an English photographer. He was born in Canonbury, Islington, London, the only child of Edwin Stanley Smith, a clerk, and his wife Lily Beatrice. After leaving school he was educated at the Northern Polytechnic, transferring to the architectural school at the age of sixteen. He then won a scholarship to the Architectural Association, but gave up his course and worked as a draughtsman for several years.
He became a freelance photographer in 1935, working briefly for Vogue as a fashion photographer. However he concentrated his artistic efforts on subjects such as the mining community of Ashington in Northumberland, the docks of Newcastle, and circuses and fairgrounds around London.
Smith was also a prolific artist. He produced water and oil paintings, drawings, linocuts and woodcuts throughout his life, and in later years at Saffron Walden, he drew up architectural plans for local properties.
He became ill in the spring of 1971, but cancer was not diagnosed until a few weeks before his death on 29 December. It was only after his death that exhibitions of Smith’s work appeared, with a monograph finally being published in 1984.
After Cook’s own death in 2002, her papers and some of those of her husband were placed in Newnham College Archives, Cambridge.
A collection of over 60,000 negatives and 20,000 prints were given by Olive Cook, Smith’s widow and collaborator, to the Royal Institute of British Architects Library. From urban scenes documenting British social history to evocative landscape images and atmospheric interiors, the images displayed reveal the genius and breadth of his work.
Edwin Smith was also an avid collector and creator of Toy Theatre. On his wife’s death, the collection passed to the Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust. A collection of his paintings, woodcuts and photographs is held by The Fry Gallery.