During the current lockdown I have been revelling in a particularly glorious spring here in Winchcombe. A selection of images are available through clicking on this pdf link:
Sitting on a contemporary Danish teak tray, this small group of tableware and cutlery are typical of Scandi homewares very popular here in the 1960s. The stonewares were made the Finnish firm Arabia and are in their Ruska design, whilst the cutlery is by the Swedish company Gense and are from their Focus De Luxe range originally designed by Folke Arstrom in 1955.
Ruska made a full range of tablewares for the breakfast, tea and dining table. When originally sold, they were fairly expensively priced and I recall buying pieces for my eldest sister’s wedding in 1968 – I couldnt afford many! Ironically, a generation on, sets frequently turn up modestly priced in charity shops – as did our own. Gense were and remain top quality makers, their Focus De Luxe range proving award winning, and indeed was named a design classic of the period by a leading US newspaper.
They both display well with Danish made teak wood wares, this condiments set with smoked glass oil and vinegar containers and mixing bowl being a good quality example. Russells were not the only UK manufacturer to be influenced by Scandi design: the electric mantelpiece clock below made by Smiths is a classic example.
The image above of a Danish condiments set paired with a 1960s Smiths clock sitting on a Gordon Russell of Broadway sideboard in teak, laurel and beech encapsulates well one of the significant themes of our 2020 show. Set against a period Heal’s Teazel curtain designed by Jane Daniels, the group exemplifies the popularity and impact of Scandi style in the British interiors scene of the 50s and 60s.
As a general rule, Scandinavia did not go through as pervasive a period of industrialised manufacture as the UK in the 19th century, and traditions of hand making and original craft infused design remained strong there into the 20th century. Additionally, whilst parts were badly affected by the Nazi scourge, modern movement design in craft quality making remained proactive in the 50s at a time when our own homeland was still gripped by rationing and post WW2 rebuilding.
For whatever reason, fresh looking, stylish and quality made Scandi interior furnishings became very popular in Britain, establishing a trend that influenced the production of traditional furniture firms like Russells and Gibbs. This may be evidenced by the photos of a 60s Gordon Russell sideboard (above) and chest of drawers (below), the latter paired with John Piper’s Stones of Bath.
The work of post WW2 Devon based textile designer Susan Bosence also features in our 2020 displays. I became aware of Bosence through working with the family of Robin and Heather Tanner, as Heather used her fabrics both for curtaining at their family home, Old Chapel Field, and in Heather’s own clothes (Jagged Stripe below).
The Tanner connection is partly through the Painswick based 1930s textile designers Barron and Larcher. B&L were notable for their use of hand carved woodblocks for printing on materials, with at times quite elaborate designs employing many natural dye stuffs.
Bosence knew Phyllis Baron personally immediately after WW2, and was influenced by her in her continued use of similar organic colours. However her designs were somewhat simpler in style, with plain repeat motifs and a restrained range of colours. Bosence taught at Dartington, Fanham and Camberwell in the 1970s, producing an important technical title, Hand Block Printing and Resist Dyeing in 1985.
The artist John Piper whose Stones of Bath textile will be displayed in our 2020 show was interesting for his transition from the creator of individual works to art and design intended for reproduction, working in tandem with industry. His prints, often featuring architectural detail, are perhaps better known than his work for large textile firms such as Arthur Sanderson (above) and David Whitehead (below).
Work for Sandersons often featured in a series of different colourways, a reflection of their use in a variety of interiors. Some additionally had an almost architectural detail in their design, notably Arundel (below) which has a distinctive look akin to stained glass windows.
Piper’s fabric designs, whilst only a form of reproduction, have become collectable in their own right. This a reflection of the production values of the companies with whom he worked, although the condition and size of the material and the rarity of a particular design are inevitably considerations.
Another overseas artist designer to feature in our Summer exhibition, Tibor Reich was a Hungarian jewish refugee who came to England to escape Nazi persecution. Reich worked initially in Haute Couture although wartime rationing led him to transfer his skills to interior textiles that were not so restricted.
Settling ultimately in the outskirts of Stratford on Avon just after WW2, Reich subsequently attracted high profile commissions to design for the Festival of Britain (1951), Coventry Cathedral (1960) and subsequently the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford (1964). He was one of a group of designers that helped transform the interior aesthetics in British homes, featuring a new and radiant use of colour.
His textiles are particularly distinctive, featuring ‘deep texture’ materials and a rich, almost impasto technique of colour printing, which reflected the method of weaving of the materials employed . He also designed for industry, notably his Tigo-ware developed in tandem with Bournes of Denby.
Our forthcoming Summer show will feature pottery made by William Newland, his wife Margaret Hine and their associate Nicholas Vergette, all kindly lent by the Newland family. William was born in New Zealand but following national service during WW2 some of it served in the Mediterranean, he was put through art college in London to assist his professional training.
The Newland group, sometimes referred to as the Picassoettes, rose to prominence through the coffee bar culture of the 50s and 60s in London and elsewhere, to which they contributed much decorative tiles and ceramics. Their sunny use of colour and blending with rural and Med themes were very distinctive, quoting both from a quirky take on English folk culture with aesthetics derived from the classical.
Newland also taught in London colleges, perhaps one of his most famous disciples being James Tower, a gouache by whom is shown below. All the group reflected an overiding trend in the use of brighter colours in home furnishings of the 50s & 60s, seen also in period textiles also on display at our show (see following blogs on Reich and Piper).
The spikey dreaminess of John Craxton’s 1943 work above evidences contrasting emotions illuminated by Palmeresque hills and sickle moon in the background. Craxton and his fellow gay artist, John Minton, for me the leading lights of the post war ruralist scene, certainly showed at least in their early work that Palmer was not forgotten as is evidenced below in the delightful 1944 work by Minton, Landscape with harvester resting.
Motifs beloved of their early hero are self evident, with themes of harvest and nature, although the monochrome palette employed is not without incipient melancholy, and the whole with overtones of abstraction. We hope to have loaned examples of Craxton’s work in our 2020 show as well as Minton, Keith Vaughan and others. This phase of introspection did not persist for ever, and the late 1940s and 1950s saw a warming of their palette, and a more positive Mediterranean light appear as in this 1947 Craxton work.
This escape to a foreign idyll from a war ravaged and bombed home landscape and a time of post war rationing was a surprising pervasive theme of the period, expressed in craft as well as art of the 5os and 60s. We hope that our Mid Century Romanticism show for next May/June will capture in some small way, something of these themes.
In shows at the Archive Collection in 2017 and 2018 we traced something of the origins and development of the Pastoral tradition in British art through exhibitions of the school of Samuel Palmer, the Palmeresque early print output of Graham Sutherland and the ruralist etchings of Robin Tanner. The Village (above), a 1925 etching by Sutherland typical of the period, is enthused with a traditionalist vision of the English (in this case Kentish) rural idyll.
Sutherland was not alone in espousing this aesthetic, and his fellow Goldsmiths College, London graduate, Paul Drury, also reflected in his output a somewhat ‘rose tinted’ vision of rural life. This did not reflect reality in the countryside of the period, afflicted by the Great Depression and rural decay, and was in this way a romantic vision of country escapism.
In significant contrast is Sutherland’s etching of 1930, Pastoral (below) which has more than a touch of the ‘blasted heath’ in its tortured inspiration. Some commentators believe that this change of spirit was a reflection of adverse personal circumstance with the loss of his only child during his wife’s pregnancy. Financial realities would also have been affecting Sutherland’s mood, with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 greatly diminishing the print market both here and the important US market.
Whatever the reason for this artistic step change, it was also part of a move towards increasing abstraction in Sutherland’s output and the wider art market of the 1930s. And inevitably, as emotional beings, artists could not help but be influenced by outside events both personal and in society in general, as may be seen in the linked blog on the Neo-Ruralists that follows.