In the World's Art Centres


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Thomas MacGreevy

Original Source: The Studio. January 1940. p. 25-26.

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In the World's Art Centres

Commentary by Thomas McGreevy

It has not, after all, taken so very long to evolve a war-time routine in the matter of artistic activities in London. Though the great treasures from the past have had to be removed to places of safety, lectures on the history of art are once again being given every week at the National Gallery and, what is more, are being well attended. Similarly, the most famous of the art societies and clubs, such as the New English, The London Group, the Royal Water Colour Society and others have decided to "carry on" and are holding their usual autumn exhibitions. At the moment of writing most of the commercial galleries are either holding exhibitions or have made arrangements to open exhibitions in the immediate future. There are many collective exhibitions and a round half-dozen "one-man shows." And, for one who believes that art is not a luxury but a necessity, it has been pleasant to find all those he has visited being well patronised. At every one there was a good sprinkling of visitors, while here and there a picture had affixed to it the little red seal which showed that somebody had expended a few guineas for the sake of the comfort — and the courage — that art communicates not less surely in dark than in bright days. It is natural to assume that in the East End the percentage of purchasers amongst the visitors should be smaller than in the West End, but at the Whitechapel Art Gallery where the East End Academy has been holding its eighth exhibition there were quite a few red seals, and on the day I was there, towards the end of the first week, the visitors were numerous. They were obviously much interested in the exhibits. And equally obviously most of them belonged to the district. All of which only goes to prove, if proof were needed, that art matters in every community, and in every section of every community, and at all times.

I think perhaps the best work in the exhibition was in the engravings section. Here the series of "inspirational drawings" by Mrs. Madge Gill inevit [p.26] ably attracted attention, but I liked better the clean technique and the ruefully amused philosophic attitude discernable in G. R. Cordwell's pen and ink drawings, notably Amoebic Eternity. A group of lino cuts by Frank Hall were also worthy of note; so were a lithograph and some drawings by Nathaniel Kornbluth, some pencil studies by Louis Ronnis — including a pleasant still-life that might be described as a meditation on a gas mask — a portrait in black wash by John Pickard revealing genuine feeling for character, and a couple of sketches of Stonehenge and Bolton Abbey by George Edwin Sales, which, though not very adventurous, had something of the lyrical quality of the eighteenth-century "landscape with ruins" tradition.

If it be permissible to make a suggestion to the East End artists in oils and water-colour, it would be that they should concentrate more on the figure. For here there was more evident weakness than in their treatment of landscape and genre. Thus in John H. Brewer's Joan, the artist's keen sense of character was to a certain extent vitiated by inadequate "handling." Similarly with Rose Baron who uses the figure for decorative purposes but is still inclined to let herself indulge in over-statement. And there were a few exhibitors who need to be told that out-of-date symbolism deriving from the Pre-Raphaelites and Blake does not make up for lack of technical accomplishment. In landscape and genre, however, there was some delightful work. I have space only to express my pleasure in the exhibits of amongst others, Victor Keeling, Arthur G. McQuire, J. M. Laidman, Bertha Olyett, Archibald Hattemore, Justus Hill, Cyril Liebner, John Millman, J. Myerson, Eric Hartley, George James Dodson, Walter E. Spradbery, Jean D. Alexander, and Ernest W. Kirby.

Suffolk Street Galleries (New English Art Club)

If this year's New English exhibition was less brilliant than sometimes in the past, it was nevertheless, in a London denuded of masterpieces, extremely agreeable to spend an hour amidst pictures and drawings that were mostly marked by accomplishment and taste and that included some which could be rated as genuine works of art. Thus amongst the engravings and water-colours which one came on first, were two, Incoming Tide, Cromer and Easter Monday, Serpentine, Hyde Park, by Sir Muirhead Bone, which were amongst the choicest things the distinguished artist has exhibited for a long time, combining spaciousness of design with delicacy of penmanship. Similarly, though Mr. Steer's The River at Chelsea was topographically unrecognizable, the richness of colour effect was achieved, thanks to the artist's feeling for atmospheric perspective, without any weakening in the sense of structure. Less splendidly free, but within its limits hardly less beautiful, was Mr. Philip Connard's "1939": Rain, a harmony of misty colour and lightly but surely balanced design. And a series of studies by the late Alfred Thornton included a gravely majestic Desolate Spain which was little short of masterly.

Amongst the oil pictures the honours went, I think, to Mr. Dunlop's At the Mouth of the Liffey, Dublin, in which the clarity of the Irish atmosphere was caught with a sureness that, without discourtesy, was almost surprising, for it is not for their luminosity, their atmospheric clarity, that one usually likes Mr. Dunlop's pictures. His On the "Hard," Mersea Island here, for instance, might well have been more luminous. In Porthleven, Cornwall and The Walls of Dublin, Mr. Stephen Bone seems to have gained in breadth and freedom of handling, but he has taken to the use of a blue that is hard and opaque, more suitable for arbitrary effects of the mediæval illustration type than for atmospheric studies of the modern world. Mr. Vernon Wethered's two Greek landscape studies on the other hand were as light in touch as water-colours and, particularly in A Greek Harbour, the effect was charming. There was genuine radiance in Margaret Fisher Prout's somewhat conventionally designed Blue Pool and beautifully distributed warm light in E. Beatrice Bland's White Houses, Instowe. The movement of the horses in A. Purtscher's Reaping Machine was caught with remarkable skill and in Geoffrey S. Wylde's Portrait of a Civilised Woman there seemed to be genuine feeling for character though there was a suggestion of uncertainty in the treatment of the background. Well-known artists like Miss Walker, Lady Patricia Ramsay, Elizabeth Polunin, Mary Adshead, Fairlie Harmar, C. R. W. Nevinson, J. B. Manson, Allan Gwynne-Jones, Robin Guthrie, P. H. Jowett and many others contributed characteristic and pleasing works to this satisfying exhibition.

Leicester Galleries (Contemporary Art Society and Modern British Artists)

I should like to see Victor Pasmore's Parisian Cafe which was acquired by the Contemporary Art Society in 1938 and now included in this exhibition, hung beside the well-known Family Group by Degas which belongs, I think, to the Luxembourg Gallery. For it seemed to me that by entirely different methods the French master and the young English artist arrived at very similar effects. Degas was all virtuosity of draughtsmanship whereas Pasmore is all tentativeness and understatement, yet, in both, feeling for abstract form is combined with unusual observation of individual character and some intangible suggestion of self-effacement on the part of the artist. The two exhibitions at the Leicester Galleriesoverlapped in the sense that many artists, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Vivian Pitchforth, John Piper, Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, etc., were represented in both, and all by works that showed them at their best. In addition there was a Still Life: Flowers by the late Roger Fry in which a hyper-sensitive talent applied itself successfully to the handling of an expansively baroque theme and some good examples of the work of the late Mark Gertler. And there was admirable pottery by, amongst others, M. Cardew, C. Vyse and W. S. Murray.

Other Exhibitions

The Goupil Gallery Salon at the New Burlington Galleries made a brave show. It included fine work by many artists who are already celebrated. I also noticed a number of poetically conceived and technically highly accomplished landscapes by Letitia M. Hamilton, A.R.H.A., and Eva Hamilton; a vivid Still Life by Ronald Power; a study of Barry Jones as King Charles by Lady Gatti which suggested that the artist might venture into the more exalted realm of historical painting proper; a Reaping Machine by Dora Crockett that was full of light, and an over-luxurious flower-piece by the same artist; a couple of vivacious genre pictures by Clive Branson; a study of Le Lavandou by V. Sozonov that had nice movement and light; and a fine nude study, rather in the Ethel Walker manner, by Dorothea Travers-Smith. At the same galleries there was a "Special War-time Show" by the London Group, from which it was evident that all the young people of what, before the war, was coming to be known humorously as the Cork Street Front, are carrying on energetically, courageously, and, what is more important, with no loss of artistic integrity. There were characteristic works by Eileen Agar and Edna Ginesi, by John Tunnard, Ivon Hitchens, Robert Medley, Frank Mundy Coombs and many others of the younger generation. I liked particularly Guard's Van, L.N.E.R. by Lynton Lamb and The Pope by Winifred Pasmore, artists whose work I have not come across before.

At the Redfern Gallery Mr. Richard Eurich had a one-man show of pictures, mostly sea-pictures, all marked by the robust poetry of effect for which the artist is becoming known. Mr. Eurich might be described as a Canaletto who seeks for truth rather than for beauty of effect but his accomplishment is unquestioned and I think he has progressed in the sense that his tones tend now to be subdued to the general harmony of his colour schemes.

A comprehensive exhibition at the Cooling Galleries included some splendid seventeenth-century French flower-pieces in the form of dessus-portes and dessus-cheminees and a couple of fine landscapes by a London "Sunday painter" of the present day, R. Tilbrook.

Carrying On

Further information has been received about art activities in wartime, subsequent to that published in the November issues.

Mr. S. Arthur Lindsey is carrying on with his classes in oil, water-colour and miniature painting at 12 Redcliffe Road, London, S.W. 10.

The Frobisher School of Painting, at Bushey, Herts, is also continuing to give instruction.