NB: The copyright for the paintings in this article belongs to Newport Museum and Art Gallery. All these paintings are on display and we recommend you visit the gallery and view them in situ.
Note also, there will be a members' evening on 8th December when we will be discussing the work of Edgar James Maybery, Stanley Lewis and cartoonist Bert Thomas all of whom were closely related to Newport.
Richard began by telling us how he came to study Art at Newport and how this turned out to be a fortunate choice because there were so many tutors who were excellent artists. He then lauded the collection which is of such importance and there are over 500 works of art many by noteworthy local artists and also by artists of national repute. He stated;
‘One of the things many people ask when they start to take an interest in art work is where do artists get their ideas and influences from? Children almost instantly take to drawing and painting with a wonderful innocence and what they see is what they do. Some artists strive to achieve this child like state, but it’s almost impossible. It’s not just the influences that affect the artist it is the materials they use and this has varied over time. Today we will see a variety of materials and techniques that have been used, some completely classical whilst others cutting edge and experimental. Very few artists did not receive some training of some sort and in many cases a long period of training, and it’s often during these formative years that they were influenced in style.’
1. Artist Sir Gerald Kelly (1879-1972) produced the classically produced work of oil paint on canvas but his work of art caused a public outcry when it was bought by Newport Museum and Art Gallery in 1947. The real title of this painting is D. D. V (a); Nude Study; The Little Model; Petite modèle Anglaise. DD were the initials of the sitter and V was the 5th painting for which she had been the model.
Richard told us the story;
‘This is hardly a classical subject, as she’s looking provocatively at you, the viewer, and she is smoking! Furthermore the South Wales Argus, 30th December 1947 wrote “Withdraw that picture - Newport demand” and Mr Dorian Herbert of Caerleon Road had this to say in his letter to the Editor. “The subject matter is unwholesome suggestive and offensive to good taste. It is an affront to the respect due to the dignity of womankind, its deleterious effects upon immature persons who might otherwise justifiably assume that it represents an acceptable ascetic standard of our time”. However the Vice Chairman of the Museum and Art gallery Committee stated, “I think it’s one of the finest pictures I have ever seen “
The artist, Sir Gerald Festus Kelly, was a favourite artist of the Royal family and a highly respected and established member of the art world. Born in 1879 Kelly had a privileged upbringing and was educated at Eton, then went onto Trinity College, Cambridge finishing off in Paris where he studied art. Best known for his portraits, the artist Whistler heavily influenced his work. He travelled a great deal, to places such as Spain, America, South Africa and Burma. In 1920 he married Lilian Ryan whom he painted a lot, called her Jane in paintings and included Roman numerals indicating in which year each painting was exhibited. He painted the likes of T.S. Elliot and Somerset Maugham who included Kelly in a number of his novels. His father was founder of Kelly’s Street Directories.2. Josef Herman (1911-2,000) ‘Two Women in the Fields.’ born in Warsaw, a Polish Jew, his background influenced his art.
Richard explained the influences on his art:
‘The lack of detail in his figures was deliberate and it was the emotion that he wished to portray, and he was particularly influenced by African tribal art. He liked the simplicity and the lack of facial features and the depersonalisation of the figures. This man’s life and experiences, where he grew up and his politics have all played a very important part in his art. Josef attended the Warsaw School of Art and Decoration but didn’t stay long, however, he continued his work as an artist and co-founded a left-wing artistic group. It increasingly became difficult for a left wing Jew in Warsaw and he decided to leave his homeland. His family saw him off at the railway station and his mother said to him, “Never come back”. In 1938 he settled in Belgium, as he preferred the artists of this country rather than France, and spent hours in the local museums and art galleries coming into contact with the Expressionist movement which aimed to express emotion through art. He left for France when Germany invaded in 1940 with a column of refugees arriving at La Rochelle and boarded a boat to Canada. Threat of U Boats forced it to Liverpool and he had to register at the Polish Embassy which was in Glasgow. The Glasgow scene was vibrant and he was supported through this difficult time by Jewish businessmen who commissioned his work. Here he met his first wife Catriona MacLeod. In 1941 he worked with a theatre company called Glasgow Unity Theatre, a left wing group, and he produced sets. In 1942 he discovered that his entire family had been killed by the Germans and understandably he had a break down entering a very dark period in his life and produced a whole series of work entitled Memories of Warsaw. He moved to London in 1943 and shared a room with L.S. Lowry.
He was invited to go and stay with a friend in the south Wales mining village of Ystradgynlais. He later wrote that on his first night he was standing near a bridge as the sun was setting and a group of miners came across it. The sun appeared as a halo behind their heads and he immediately knew this was the place for him. He stated, “I went for a weekend and stayed 11 years” He closely associated with the local community, which was in many ways similar to his home in Warsaw, a tight knit community with its own language. The miners shared his socialist views and were a creative and cultural people, with life being centred around the Welfare Hall, which they had built themselves. The miners took to Herman and within weeks he was nicknamed “Joe Bach”. His paintings and drawings depicted the dignity of work and yet expressed the sadness of hard working lives. He would sketch every day beginning work at 4 a.m. in the morning and as the miners made their way to work they would see the light on in his studio and related to him as a man who took his work seriously. He described “Drawing as action, whilst painting is meditation”. He did eventually move back to London, where he continued to work and in 2000 he died at the age of 87.
3. Evan Charlton (1804-1984) entitled ‘The Intruder’, painted in 1978. An example of a surrealist artist painting after the movement was almost dead and finished.
Richard described the painting and its surrealist basis:
‘Another very well-known art movement was Surrealism, and although the picture we’re going to look at now was painted well after the movement was almost dead and finished we have an example here that is thoroughly British and even rather modern. It is oils on board and is classically painted, with attention to perspective and proportions.
He was born in London. He studied at London University from 1923 –27 where he obtained a degree in Chemistry and following this he went to work for the London County Council and then in his father’s business in Finsbury. Between 1930 – 33 he studied at the Slade School of Art in London where his early work was influenced by his tutors. They were notably Henry Tonks, a surgeon who had been an official war artist during WW1 and whose remarkable pictures of mutilated faces of soldiers are well known, Philip Wilson Steer a leading British impressionist and Allan Gwynne-Jones, professor of painting. He had begun a course at the Slade in 1914 but was called up, and was awarded a DSO at the Battle of the Somme. His style around this time reflecting his influences could be called English Impressionist and was described as ‘nice but unadventurous’. However he was becoming more and more interested in the Surrealist movement and was encouraged to explore these themes by a fellow student F.E. Mc William who went onto to become a sculptor whose work was clearly influenced by the Surrealists.
In 1935 he took up a teaching job in The West of England College of Art in Bristol. Whilst here he meet his future wife Felicity, who became an established artist as well. They moved to live in Llandaff in Cardiff where Evan became the Principal of Cardiff School of Art from1938 –1945, and whilst there visited the “International Surrealist” Exhibition in London which greatly inspired him and with the encouragement of Ceri Richards, a fellow tutor, he gradually began to shift in that direction. From 1945 - 1966 he became the first HM Inspector for Art in Wales, which put the brakes on his creativity. As he was no longer in the cut and thrust of the contemporary art world constantly rubbing shoulders with practising artists he found it quite isolating. Retiring at the age of 62 in 1966 he began a new life as a born again artist. They had moved to a house in Porthkerry, near Barry in 1957 and they had chosen it specifically because it had such a large dining room, 27 feet by 17 feet. Felicity had her studio at the end which looked out over the garden and the Bristol Channel, whilst Evan was the far end by the kitchen. Here they worked together in complete happiness.
His painting uses the craft of perspective according to the principals of Leonardo with a vanishing point and graded horizontals, here seen in floorboards, paving stones. His own models were the masters he has seen in the National Gallery, the Victorian London Landscape, the view from his house and unrelated objects. Light was important to him and as can be seen it is just coming from one source which makes the picture more interesting. His work described as a reinvented world is made from recognisable pieces of everybody’s world but reconstructed on a different plane of reality. He stated, “I like to think that at times I arrive at a personal kind of reality that although different from the natural world, had a parallel to it”. It took him about 3 months to create a work and that there is no story in the picture.’
4. Alfred George Janes (1911 – 1999)
‘Mumbles Gone West’ someone whose technique can be described as inventive.
Richard told us about his life and influences:
‘Alfred George Janes was born on 30 June 1911, in the city centre of Swansea, South Wales, above his parents' fruit and flower shop in Castle Square. He attended the Bishop Gore School and then the Swansea School of Art and Crafts from 1927 – 31. He is also remembered as one of ‘The Kardomah Gang’, an informal group of young artists in Swansea that included the poets Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins and the composer Daniel Jones. At the age of 16 he exhibited at the 1928 National Eisteddfod (held in Treorchy). Three years later, he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the mayor of Swansea, Arthur Lovell. In 1931 he painted a portrait of a 17-year-old Mervyn Levy, thought to have been the painting that won him a scholarship to study art at the Royal Academy Schools in London. At the R.A. his drawing tutors included Tom Monnington, but he was also stimulated by the modernist works displayed in the commercial galleries of nearby Cork Street, and he did not complete his Academy course because he went into the War in the Pioneer Corp, but had defective eye sight. He stopped painting but learnt languages, particularly Italian and was a POW whilst in Egypt.
By 1946 he was back in civvies and began experimenting in art. He developed a method of keeping paintings wet as long as possible, using non-drying paint, oils, olive oil, liquid paraffin and Castrol oil. He produced many works of art such as “Little Cactus”, “Mountain Landscape” and satirical works such as “Don’t look now” and “Bank Holiday”. His pictures were almost liquid so he worked fast. He stated, “Most of what I have done has somehow come out of this love of materials and tools and methods. To me, craft is just doing things well…” Alfred Janes.’
5. Thomas Rathmell (1912- 1990): 'Sideboard. 1974'; This artist actually interviewed Richard for his place in Newport Art College.
Richard knew Rathmell well and informed us:
‘He was born in Wallasey, Cheshire and trained at Liverpool School of Art and the Royal College of Art. John Wright, a former Principal of Newport Art College commented,
“In his pictures ordinary things become extraordinary as he reveals them to us. People show all of themselves, and the places reflect the humble search he has made for his own interpretation of reality. The changing movements of art have hardly affected the look of his work and so at times he has been neglected, as the prevailing avant-garde (particularly in Wales), his drawings and paintings will continue to tell us about his art and our world and with honestly survive and appreciate because of this”.
During WW2 he worked in naval camouflage and after the war he taught at Newport College of Art 1947-1972 becoming Head of Fine Art and then Vice-Principal. In 1969 he was commissioned to paint the official painting of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in Caernarvon Castle which now hangs on the wall of Prince Charles’ home in west Wales.
His traditional mode of painting was often concerned with figures in interiors depicted in a style derived from intimism which was a style of painting that developed at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of 20th century and made an intense exploration of the domestic interior as subject matter. It set out to convey the warmth, comfort and quiet isolation of the interior scene. He followed the style of French artists called Nabists who were influenced by Japanese woodblock artists, French symbolist paintings and the Pre Raphaelites. Although not unified by a style, the artists emphasised the flatness of the painting surfaces as does Rathmell. Roger Cucksey, former Keeper of Art at Newport, commissioned Tom Rathmell to paint a new painting in a sort of homage to Mullock of view over Newport from Christchurch Road. This was completed and can now be seen in the lobby outside the art gallery. Roger can be seen in the picture as well.’
6. Stanley Lewis (1905 -2009) and his painting ‘The Home Front’ an unfinished mural which he commenced in 1942 and which he gifted to Newport Art Gallery in 2001.
Richard told us the story of Stanley Lewis’s rediscovered mural:
‘Stanley Lewis was an ex-Newport Art College lecturer with a different style all together. Lewis was born near Llanfrechfca outside Newport and brought up on the family farm Whitehall Farm. As a young boy he was keen on sketching he studied at the Newport School of Art from 1923 to 1926. Stanley represents the first generation of modern British artists in Britain, many of whom have remained unrecognised. Britain seemed slow to embrace modernism and the art intuitions were still obsessing with drawing this was the world that Stanley entered.
He was awarded a place at the Royal College of Art where he studied from 1926 until 1930. In 1930 he won second prize in the Rome Scholarship Awards in Mural Painting, and later that year returned home to take up the post of Painting Master at Newport School of Art. Stanley began to exhibit annually from 1931 to 1961 and in The Royal Academy Show of 1937, his painting The Welsh Mole Catcher was voted the most popular picture. (This is also in the Newport collection.) It was whilst teaching in Newport that he met his wife Min who was 13 years his junior, she was aged 18 and he 31. He quickly found himself in trouble with the Principal regarding this relationship and he was duly summoned to the principal’s office, where he was given a dressing down. Eventually Stanley invited him to their wedding in 1939 and the matter as far as he was concerned was closed. In 1939 World War II was declared and he became a Fire Warden and was based in the college on night shifts. One night whilst on duty at the college, Stanley heard a noise coming up from the Bristol Channel which disturbed him. His colleague shrugged it off as spitfires returning home. However it was a Dornier and it was dropping sea mines in a row and one landed in Chepstow Road where Stanley lived and blew him off his feet. Getting home Min was safe, but she wanted to move and they moved to her mother’s home in Rogerstone.
Students were gradually disappearing to join the forces but Stanley managed to hold onto his job, he was in Newport when the Heinkel crashed into the Phillips family home on the night of 13th September 1940. He was commissioned to paint a picture depicting wartime Newport and he hung the huge canvas in the art college. In it he sketched the incident of the 13th September and he included various bits of equipment that was brought over to the college for him to sketch and he used students as his models, but sadly the work was uncompleted as he was called up. He travelled to North Wales for initial training and joined the Searchlight Regiment of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Somerset. Later being transferred to The Fleet Air Arm in Yeovilton where his artistic talents were put to use and he painted a number of paintings which ended up in the officers’ mess. Whilst working on one, Bomber Harris turned up and sat down with him and declared that once the war was over he should return to being an artist. He was commissioned to paint the sinking of the Turpitz which know hangs in the Fleet Air Arm Museum.
After the war he returned to Newport but not long after that he was offered job as principle of Carmarthen School of Art where he taught until his retirement in 1967. They moved house on many occasions and for a while they lived in Laugharne where he became friends with Dylan Thomas’ and in 1967, many year later, his wife Min wrote a story called “Laugharne and Dylan Thomas” and Stanley illustrated it. Lewis’ war time mural would probably have gone completely unrecognised had it not been for a chance meeting in the art gallery between Roger Cucksey, the keeper of Art, and a relative of Stanley’s. Roger quickly made contact with Stanley who by now was a very old man living in Kington in Herefordshire with Min his wife. Here Roger was shown the uncompleted wartime picture of Newport, which Stanley gave to Newport with a large collections of drawings relating to its creation. The canvas was restored and was unveiled in 2002 in Newport where he had a show of his wartime drawings. The following year Min died but Stanley passed away in 2009 aged 103.’
7. John Selway (b.1938) ‘The Hunchback in the Park’, another Newport Art College lecturer and one of Richard’s tutors at Newport Art College. Richard and John Selway are good friends and this became evident as he told us about his art:
‘Born in 1938 in Yorkshire he moved back to the family home in Abertillery in 1940. Aged 15 he attended Newport Art College where Tom Rathmell was one of the tutors. Following National service he attended the Royal College in London and during his second year was actually discovered by a dealer who exhibited his work becoming “famous” before David Hockney and Allan Jones, two of his fellow students, who went onto to great things. John gained a scholarship and travelled around Spain, becoming very interested in circuses.
John could have remained in London and joined the artistic elite as he still had an agent and was doing very well, however, he hankered for Wales and came home to his roots in Abertillery. He finally ended up teaching in Newport Art College and for the last few year of his “employment” he worked in Carmarthen Art College. At one time he talked about setting up an independent art college as he was particularly unhappy about painting and drawing being taken off the syllabus in the art college. John continues to work from his studio in Newport market.'
The work on show is ‘The Hunchback in the Park’. It is based entirely on the poem by Dylan Thomas. Richard read the poem to us and related the poem to the images in the painting.
8. James Flewitt Mullock (1818 – 1892) ‘Tredegar Park from Ebbw Bridge’, 1883 (looking north into the park fence running across the river which was to prevent the deer from escaping). He was an artist who worked in tradition materials and chose contemporary subjects. There is an exhibition of his work at the moment in Newport Art Gallery.
His family moved to Newport in 1806 and he was the eldest of ten children. Sadly little is known about his early life or where he studied art. His first work was completed at the age of 21 and is probably one of his most famous pieces of work. It’s a lithograph and shows the Chartist’s attacking the Westgate Hotel in 1839. This is a well-executed piece particularly as you have to draw the picture in reverse on stone, however he has made a mistake in the name of the hotel. He had three sort of phases during his life in respect of his art, starting with the 1840 - 1850’s. During this period he was taken under the patronage of Lord Tredegar. Mullock was to record the winners of the annual Tredegar Cattle show, first prize for each event a cup and a painting by Mullock of the owner with his beast. In 1841 The Newport Mechanics Institute was formed its aims
“The instruction of their members in the various departments of literature, Art and Science, and affording rational amusement conducive to the cultivation of intellectual and moral habits, and the diffusion of a correct taste, especially among Mechanics, by means of a library, reading room, collection of apparatus, lecturers on various subjects, classes and exhibitions of works of art”.
He was also directly involved in the creation of Newport Museum and Art gallery as well as the library and the art college. In 1854 he was appointed the clerk to the newly formed Burial Board and in 1857 he married Elizabeth Louisa Morgan and they had three children sadly she died in 1860 aged only 26. His artist output seemed to freeze for the next 20 years, however he was still running art classes and was listed in the street directory as “Professor” of art and at that time he was the sole art teacher in Newport. In 1877 he was joined by W.J. Bush who taught at Newport School of Science and Art. He never became an established artist, exhibiting in London or elsewhere but it is thanks to him that many of the important events taking place during the 19th century were recorded during the period when Newport was developing into a growing port and town.
NB: Copyright for these paintings belongs to Newport Museum and Art Gallery