Sale of the Cambridgeshire Collection of Original Artworks for Schools

I was recently contacted by Cheffins Fine Art of Cambridge with the news that they are handling the sale of the Cambridgeshire local authority collection, which includes 400 pictures by artists including Malvina Cheek, Robert Tavener and Tirzah Garwood.

The collection was established in 1947 – the year the first Pictures for Schools exhibition took place – under the aegis of Pictures for Schools Chairman Nan Youngman, who worked for Director of Education Henry Morris as the county’s art adviser from 1944 to 1954.

Although not entirely unexpected – since I started my PhD I’ve had a lot of difficulty finding out about the location and status of the collection, and I understand that individual works from it have been sold previously – it’s sad if it’s true that not enough schools in Cambridgeshire are interested in making use of the service, especially as Derbyshire School Library and Museum Service is still lending pictures to schools and has been reaching out of late via a social media presence.

Read more about the rationale behind the sale in this Cambs Times article from August 2015.


Tadek Beutlich in Ditchling

An artist whose work was very popular at Pictures for Schools in the 1960s is the Polish-born printmaker and weaver Tadek Beutlich (1922-2011). Between 1963 and 1969 Beutlich, along with his wife Ellen, sold work to county council and school loan collections including Buckinghamshire, Manchester, West Sussex, Hertfordshire, the London County Council, Nottingham, Cambridge and the Inner London Education Authority Circulating Pictures Scheme, as well as Sion Manning School in Ladbroke Grove, London, Dunningford County Junior School in Hornchurch, Essex and Uppingham School.

Beutlich’s colourful, striking work is among my favourite to be shown at Pictures for Schools, so I loved the chance to see it in real life at two exhibitions in the picturesque and crafty village of Ditchling, East Sussex, which sits under the spectacular green hills of the South Downs, where he lived and worked for several years in the 1960s and 1970s. Tadek Beutlich ‘Beyond Craft’ is currently on at the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, and shows a small selection of his prints as well as textile sculptures, drawn from the Beutlich family collection as well as the nearby Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

I was surprised by how big and vibrant the prints are when seen in person (I’d previously only seen them on a screen). Whilst some focus in on elements such as birds’ beaks, and depict insects, creating pattern from detail, many are more generalised responses to natural phenomena and processes such as radiation, germination, pollination, sun, heatwaves and sunsets, using layered relief prints from objects such as foam and wood and experimenting with the process of mark-making as the basis for imagery and composition in a limited yet effective colour palette of reds/oranges, greens and purples.

A much larger selection of Beutlich’s work and output, drawn from his studio, is on display – and for sale – for a short time only at the Jointure Studios down the road. This shows the range of Beutlich’s work and his experimentation with materials, from different types of grasses and fibres to PVA glue, to create responses to organic forms such as shoots and fungus, as well as vertical wall hangings incorporating objects such as X-Ray tape. Also on display are teaching aids used by Beutlich, who taught at Camberwell School of Art as well as later running workshops and exhibiting at the Metropole Galleries in Folkestone; his wife Ellen, a former tapestry student of his at Camberwell, still lives in the town. At Camberwell, Beutlich worked with another printmaker who sold work at Pictures for Schools, Michael Rothenstein, and devised his own inventive methods for printing that didn’t involve the use of a printing press.

Among the prints on display is Radiation II, which was sold to Buckinghamshire education committee as well as the Catholic Sion Manning School in Ladbroke Grove, London. Out of all the artists whose work was selected to hang and be sold at Pictures for Schools, Beutlich’s is the easiest to imagine capturing children’s attention and making a visual impression in post-war schools, particularly among the relatively blank slate environments of system-built schools. In its colour and bold shapes, it’s unmistakeable both as Beutlich’s work and as a product of the 1960s, when both art and science sought both new understandings of and new ways of representing the world and its natural forms.

Tadek Beutlich – Prints and Textiles is at the Jointure Studios until 12 March.

Tadek Beutlich – Beyond Craft is at Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft until 16 April.


On the trail of Edward Bawden: the Fry Art Gallery and Great Bardfield

I also used the Easter holidays as an opportunity to visit the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, Essex, along with the nearby village of Great Bardfield, in the north of the county. The Fry houses works by the group of artists associated with Great Bardfield from the 1930s until the 1960s, including Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Kenneth Rowntree, John Aldridge, Sheila Robinson, Michael Rothenstein, George Chapman and Walter Hoyle, with the artists famously passing on not just techniques to each other but decorating their homes and furniture. Saffron Walden is fairly close to Cambridge, where Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman lived and socialised and many of the Great Bardfield artists, along with others from across the wider area of East Anglia, were involved with and sold work through Pictures for Schools. The museum was smaller-scale than I expected, but I spotted several of the artworks which were sold at Pictures for Schools, including Sheila Robinson’s print ‘Knife Grinder’, a vivid and personable portrait of a now exotic profession, and the softer ‘Trent Bridge’, which shows her own children sitting on a bridge. One work, a busy cockerel by Michael Rothenstein, was produced for schools in collaboration with the London County Council and another of his works was sold through the School Prints. There were a lot of works depicting the local area in colourful detail, from market squares to country paths, churches and the artists’ homes – although the large, fuzzy shapes of Michael Rothenstein’s more abstract prints were among my favourites – alongside material relating to the artists’ sociable village life in Great Bardfield and the open houses that were held in the artists’ homes and studios.

As well as artworks, there were commercial products, from printed fabrics to book covers and illustrations for books such as the Shell Guides to Britain as well as the quaint Life in an English Village, which depicts places still familiar today such as local shops and the schoolroom. There were also designs for murals in public places such as ships and the Festival of Britain, along with Bawden’s humorous, cartoonish advertisements for companies such as Twinings tea and Fortnum and Mason. Among my favourites were pieces of pottery designed by Bawden and Ravilious and produced by Wedgwood, and pottery produced for P&O liners. I particularly loved a series of plates, bowls, etc themed around the garden and depicting leisurely uses of the garden in light lines and a hazy yellow palette, from weeding and picking produce to lazing under a tree, along with a set using a collection of garden implements to decorative effect.

Although I associate the eastern side of the country, and Essex in particular, with a flat landscape, the countryside around Saffron Walden was surprisingly hilly, with lots of windy country lanes. It felt unlike anywhere else I had visited in England, a small and unrepresentative pocket living up to the olde-worlde image so many people associate with England. Saffron Walden, like many of the villages around it, comprised narrow, slightly tilting, streets of old buildings, painted in pastel colours, many of them adorned with swirling patterned paint and tiles, interspersed with thatched cottages, with the centre dominated by a large church. Directly behind the museum was a large formal park with a walled garden, rose garden, ornamental hedges and greenhouses, one of several well-maintained green spaces, with others including a very large village green. Today, the narrow streets of Saffron Walden are congested with traffic, and the town centre is full of gastropubs, craft shops and clothes boutiques.

It must have been an adventure for Edward Bawden and co, when they moved into their homes without electricity in the 1930s, although they maintained one foot in London, catching the daily bus to London to teach at various art schools. For me, it felt cut off, islanded in the middle of fields. It was all very pleasant, but as a city dweller it all felt too enclosed, too pretty and picturesque, too quiet and idyllic. It felt like looking in from the outside, where one would always remain in relation to that kind of place, the type of place one goes to forget about the real world, and I found myself yearning for the life and variety of the city. Yet, conversely, maybe that is why the work of these artists and the moment in mid-twentieth century life and culture associated with them is still so appealing and in many ways still and timeless. These paintings and prints represent places and buildings that have been there for centuries, and will continue to be there long after we are gone, as life changes to a greater or lesser extent around them.

I also enjoyed this Radio 3 programme about Bawden and Ravilious’ friendship, presented by Alexandra Harris, which was on a couple of months ago.


Guest blog post for the Cambridge Primary Review Trust (and a note on Isabel Alexander)

Further to the reference in my last blog post about the fascinating stories behind some of the artists submitting and selling work through Pictures for Schools, and the frustrations of trying to find information about some of these artists, many of whose names are no longer known, I recently received an email from Professor Robin Alexander, Chair of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust, whose mother, the painter Isabel Alexander, submitted several paintings and lithographs to Pictures for Schools over a five-year period in the 1960s. Professor Alexander told me that though she exhibited widely at the time and attracted “quite a following”, with her work represented in public collections, she remains relatively unknown today. I was able to tell Professor Alexander about some of the buyers of his mother’s work (primarily landscapes, although she had moved towards more abstract work by this point), which included Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, Nottingham Education Committee and Cambridge Education Committee (which still appears to have the work in its collection) and in return he sent me some images of her bold, vibrant paintings and illustrations and a brief biography.

Isabel Alexander had a long and interesting life and I wad pleased to hear about her story. After Birmingham School of Art she taught briefly and then attended the Slade, before returning to teaching in Bromley, Banbury and Rotherham and later lecturing at Saffron Walden Training College. Professor Alexander told me that she was a member of the Society for Education through Art and subscribed to its journal Athene, so was well aware of developments in education. She travelled in Europe and went on to work in the documentary film movement in the 1940s. Her painting and illustrative work included drawing for Mass Observation, social documentary work of Welsh towns and miners and illustrating Puffin picture books. Pictures for Schools had strong links with East Anglia and Essex (with the Great Bardfield group of artists being closely involved with the scheme), and Isabel Alexander lived in Thaxted in Essex. Along with Pictures for Schools, she also contributed to a scheme for Pictures in Essex Hospitals.

After corresponding about my research and the work of Isabel Alexander over email, Professor Alexander invited me to contribute a guest blog post to the CPRT blog, partly to raise awareness and partly to try and stimulate debate about the role of original artworks in schools today and the value of the creative curriculum, which has now been published at http://cprtrust.org.uk/cprt-blog/pictures-for-schools-a-brilliant-idea-worth-reviving-or-an-expensive-luxury.


Fourth visit to Tate Archive (and library)

This week I took advantage of travelling down south on family business to visit the Tate Archive on my way back. During this visit, I spent some time looking at an extensive photographic collection, which mainly consisted of photographs of Nan Youngman’s work, both in colour and in black and white. Although I had seen Youngman’s work reproduced in books, and several original paintings and sketches, I was really struck by the volume and diversity of her work, including early portraits of her friends and acquaintances, a wartime sketch of an air-raid shelter, later, slightly dreamy, hazy seascapes in pastel hues capturing children and families playing, paintings of technology such as radio telescopes, and striking paintings and drawings of industrial scenes, including one of a kiln belching black smoke in Stoke-on-Trent, a painting of a steelworks, a derelict-looking pigeon loft captured in sharp detail and one work depicting a traditional, small-scale house incongruously nestled next to a huge gas tower, as well as some touching drawings and paintings of family life and a photograph of a mural at Youngman and Rea’s Cambridge home the Hawks, painted by Youngman, Rea and Elizabeth Vellacott, inspired by a restaurant garden in France. It was also great to discover a folder of photographs of Youngman’s Christmas cards – including one casting herself as a mischievous pirate in 1985, when she would have been nearly eighty – as well as of Christmas pantomimes, comic strips (‘comichawks’, based on Christmas at her home at the Hawks near Cambridge) and limericks inspired by the Rea family (‘Hawkericks’).

I also saw some photographs of Nan Youngman at her retrospective exhibition at the Minories in Colchester in 1971 (although, interestingly, the press release for the show, and newspaper cuttings, all started by highlighting Youngman’s work as an educationalist, often with reference to her relationship to Marion Richardson and then Pictures for Schools, before moving on to discuss her work as a painter). Also tucked in among the photos were press cuttings relating to the 1992 exhibition Ten decades of women artists, curated by Katy Deepwell, which focused on ten artists born between 1897 and 1906, showing how they had had to fit the production of art around family ties and asking why women had been marginalised in the study of art history. As well as Barbara Hepworth, the exhibition included Nan Youngman and Betty Rea, as well as the art educator Evelyn Gibbs and Youngman and Rea’s friend from Artists’ International Association days, Mary Adshead (apparently less well-known than her husband, Stephen Bone – both were regular Pictures for Schools contributors), and there was extensive press coverage, both locally and nationally, of Youngman’s involvement in the exhibition.

I also spent some time in the Tate Library, looking at four exhibition catalogues for Pictures for Schools exhibitions which took place elsewhere in the country than the longstanding series in London and Wales. Three of these related to exhibitions held at the Laing Art Gallery and Museum in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1956-58, which were direct spin-offs of the London exhibitions, organised by the North East Branch of the Society for Education through Art, in whose name Pictures for Schools was organised. Although far smaller in scale – they contained only 45-50 pictures and 8-10 sculptures each time, along with textiles such as printed wall hangings – they replicated some aspects of the London exhibitions such as asking children to vote for their favourite work, with encouraging children to form their own opinions on modern art a stated aim of the exhibitions. The exhibitions also explicitly set out to have a ‘local character’, with artists living and working in the area well-represented, as well as, intriguingly, a section dedicated to ‘Costume designs for ‘Northumberland teachers’ opera group’ production of Prince Igor held at the Theatre Royal, 1957′. It was interesting to see Richard Hamilton and Harry Thubron represented in the first exhibition, as both were associated with the Basic Design courses being developed in Newcastle and elsewhere in the North East. Some other names, such as Sadie Allen, an embroidery artist, I recognised from the catalogues of the London Pictures for Schools exhibitions, although most were unknown to me. Like its London counterparts, the work seemed to be dominated by still-lifes and landscapes, often based on the mundane, industrial or everyday, such as a brick factory, furnace slag heaps, docks, old men and a bus stop.

It was more difficult to gauge the relationship between the Pictures for Schools exhibition held at the Midland Group Gallery in Nottingham in 1963 and the London exhibitions. Although works had been borrowed from directors of London galleries, including the AIA Gallery, for the exhibition, no reference was made to the London exhibitions in the catalogues. However, regular Pictures for Schools contributors such as Mary Fedden, Sandra Blow, Fred Uhlam and Philip Sutton were represented, along with Nottingham painter and gallerist Dorothie Field, who had been among Nan Youngman’s students at Highbury Hill High School and went on to receive renown as a socialist realist painter. The exhibition was divided into two parts – more costly invited works, and members’ works. Interestingly, a tiny minority of the works could also be hired. My interest was also piqued by an invitation at the back of the catalogue to a discussion entitled ‘Children as patrons’, featuring painters Michael Granger and Dennis Hawkins, and sculptor LR Rogers, at which questions were welcomed. However, it was unclear whether the exhibition was a regular occurrence, or a one-off.


Interview with Nan Youngman’s nephew, John Youngman

A couple of weeks ago I did my first oral history interview in a while, this time with Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman’s nephew, John Youngman, a former architect who moved to Totnes in Devon a few years ago after thirty years of living in Cambridge.

John is the son of Nan Youngman’s brother, Harold, to whom she was very close (just as I had read about in Nan Youngman’s autobiography, John discussed her love of dancing with his father when they were young), and her friend from the Slade, a South African called Lynda Burnett. He is around the same age as (although a couple of years younger than) Julian Rea, the son of Betty Rea, who was brought up by Nan Youngman and Betty Rea, who I interviewed earlier in the year. In a lot of ways, John’s life path is similar to that of the Rea children – they were sent to boarding school as young children, sent to live in America during the war and attended Cambridge. However, despite John growing up in Cambridge he did not see his aunt particularly regularly, although he did design a studio for her at her long-term home the Hawks in Waterbeach near Cambridge.

John’s wife Philippa, a copy editor for Cambridge University Press, was very fond of Nan Youngman, who she got to know after becoming engaged to John in the 1960s. Philippa told me that she wanted to be like Nan Youngman when she grew up, telling me that she admired her personal integrity and relish for life and what she was doing – although she was disappointed that notorious trouser-wearer Nan Youngman wore a skirt to her wedding! The picture I got from both John and Philippa was of a woman who was principled and impulsive, hard-working and sociable but could be fiercely critical and intolerant of perceived weaknesses in people.

Like the Reas, John and Philippa Youngman had some artworks by Nan Youngman on their walls, along with some abstract paintings by John’s mother, Linda, who, like Nan Youngman and Betty Rea, was a member of the Cambridge Society of Painters and Sculptors. It was really interesting to hear about John’s discussions with Nan about abstract art – John saw her as being a very academic painter – and to talk to someone who had clearly thought a lot about her paintings and had identified a narrative and humorous element in her work.

I found it amazing how vivid some of John’s memories were regarding people and places, and how much he had experienced in his life – like Betty Rea’s children, he was sent to America during the war on a steamer. Another early childhood memory was being sent to stay with his aunt and Betty Rea in London, and sleeping in Betty spacious studio surrounded by the ghostly outline of sculptures covered in sheets. Something thing which came across strongly was the childhood preoccupations of his generation, from fishing to iceskating. John’s description of his childhood in Cambridge gave me a real idea of the social background people like Nan Youngman came from. John, whose father was a doctor but whose grandfather (Nan Youngman’s father) was a corn merchant in Maidstone, was sent away to boarding school in Essex at the age of five before briefly being evacuated to experimental boarding school Dartington Hall in Essex. John also showed me a photograph of him and his older sister, Gilly, as children, with their nanny and under-nanny – his parents initially had several staff – although he said that things started to change after the war.

Although we didn’t talk about Pictures for Schools much – Philippa recalls attending a preview in the late-1960s, but more for the party than the art – the interview really made me realise how complex people and family relations can be and how differently people can feel about the same people and events. One small anecdote is that I had heard that Nan Youngman wasn’t a great cook, which surprised Philippa, as she remembers eating at Nan Youngman’s and inheriting a frying pan when she died.


Research poster no.2: Nan Youngman

I’ve been required to make another research poster for an upcoming event in my department, the Grenfell-Baines School of Architecture, Construction and Environment at the University of Central Lancashire, for staff and post-graduate students to share what they are working on (see last year’s poster here) . This time, I decided to focus on Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman, as through my archival research and oral histories it has become apparent that her life story was intertwined with Pictures for Schools, and that a biographical focus on Nan Youngman will form a key part of my thesis. My recent PhD transfer viva also revealed that my discussions of Nan Youngman had piqued a lot of interest in her among people I have talked to about my project, both as a personality and as a central figure to Pictures for Schools.

(Click on the poster for a larger version)

Natalie Bradbury Nan Youngman poster