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Mid Century Romanticism : 4 Artistic Commercial Design


Alongside the comparative explosion of creativity in artistic book design (see earlier blog) was the appearance of well printed commercially originated art sponsored by the Oil major, Shell, and others. Working with a number of top artists of the 50s and 60s such as Rowland Hilder (above – Kent) they produced a number of educational as well as promotional work for schools, such as their large and wall hung Key to the Countryside posters, some of which will be on display at the Archive Collection in 2020. These featured commissioned, somewhat romanticised, landscapes of the County concerned.


Also included were a paragraph or two of background information on the County, together with a map with key, and it appears that the posters were circulated around schools by the Local Education Authority concerned.  The quailty of reproduction suggests that they were lithographically printed with a good colour accuracy, and were charming in their detail, including objects of local interest such as in this image of Inverness-Shire by Leonard Rosoman.


Mid Century Romanticism : 3 Ceramics

This quite charming sculptural work of the period by William Newland is typical of the work of William and his circle of creative friends which included Margaret Hine (see immediately below), later his wife. A group of these ceramics of the 50s and 60s to be very kindly lent by the family, will feature in our 2020 exhibition.


Newland’s circle rose to strong artistic prominence in the colourful and modernistic coffee bar society of the time, eclipsing the predominantly brown pots and ‘Sung Standard’ of the Leachian tradition. Leach somewhat vituperatively nicknamed the group ‘the Picassoettes’ in a reference to the colourful works produced by Pablo at Vallauris. So fashionable were the Newland coterie that they were chosen in preference to those of the Asian born Bernard in a major British design promotional show of the time that travelled to the USA.

William is also interesting for his espousal of classical and Mediterranean themes in his output, again evocative of the New Look in design of the period. A typical example is shown below.


Mid Century Romanticism : 2 Book design

The post WW2 period saw both a democratisation of overseas (air) travel, and perhaps in hand with this, an internationalisation in design, cuisine and taste generally. Probably the most famous cookery writer of the day, Elizabeth David, was the leading standard bearer for the cookery and recipes of the continent and the Mediterranean. It is notable that the designer chosen to illustrate her books was the neo-romatic artist, John Minton. Probably his best known book design features above.

Minton was one of a group of metropolitan based artists, several of whom were homosexual, who emerged from a briefly tortured aesthetic in their art during the war (see later art blog) to the sunlit uplands of the Mediterranean. Minton is particularly interesting for me in his prolific contribution to book design in the late 1940s and 1950s which represented a democratisation of design for the wider public.

Minton will feature in a talk on post war book design to take place here in June 2020, to be given by Professor Martin Salisbury, who teaches at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge and has two recent publications on the subject. Also under consideration will be a peer of Minton, John Craxton, who was the subject of a major show the other year at Pallant House, Chichester.  Probably his best known book design, for a travel book by Patrick Leigh-Fermour, is shown below. Art by both Minton and Craxton will feature in 2020.

a time of gifts

Mid Century Romanticism : 1 Textiles

This is the first in a short series of blogs about our main show for 2020, Mid Century Romanticism (1930-1970) which looks at what happened to the 1930s Pastoral and Romantic trends in art and design after WW2. The current plan is to show a representative display of original and print art, complimented by design in textiles, book illustration, ceramics and furniture of the 1950s and 1960s.

In anticipation of holding this show, we have acquired designer textiles of the period published by Sanderson and Heals, who employed top artists and designers of the day. The top image is of part of a pair of screen printed curtains using the ‘Stones of Bath’ design created by John Piper. This was one of a number of commissioned works that marked the anniversary of Arthur Sanderson and Co in 1960.

Sandersons are perhaps now better known for their range of arts and crafts themed William Morris and Morris & Co designs, but also as can be seen dipped their toes into the contemporary art market after the war. The abstract quality of this Piper creation is very evocative of his moody often architectural landscapes produced in prints and paintings at the time.

As a corruscating contrast is the bold design of Teasels by Jane Daniels (below), used in a curtain fabic published by Heals at around the same time.  It has that freshness of aesthetic that characterised the post Festival of Britain scene in interiors, furnishings and ceramics of a time that saw the nascence of Scandinavian design influence in both imported goods and the response of English manufacturers and makers. It will feature in a period interiors display as part of the 2020 exhibition.

Teasel - square

So it is this emergence from the years of wartime austerity and rationing, and blossoming of colour and contemporary design, that we intend to encapsulate in some small way in our exhibits next May/June. So objects both made in and influenced by Mediterranean and international design will feature, including ceramics made by Michael Cardew by that time inspired by village traditions under an African sun in Ghana and Nigeria.

Focus on : David Jones

This superb and lively woodcut is part of a group of ten wood engravings by the artist and calligrapher David Jones, who in his early career worked in Ditchling alongside Eric Gill. Made to illustrate a publication of the letterpress publisher, the Golden Cockerel Press, for a 1927 book, they feature the story of Noah and the Deluge both before and after the event.

They will be on show at our forthcoming exhibition, All Critters Great and Small, which opens on Saturday 9th November 2019 at 9am, and features the use of animals in art and craft, both in antique and folk work, and in 20th century art and design. Jones was an exceptional artist craftsman, and employed a shallow intaglio technique in his wood engraving. The result is a sharpness of line that creates timeless and strong images.

The story of Noahs Ark has been a ready source of creative expression over hundreds of years, and we are using it as a core theme this autumn show, uniting as it does both land and sea. So we will be populating our displays with a suitable menagerie in ceramic, wood and paper, and including in it delightful folk work such as the childrens toy below.


Focus on : CF Tunnicliffe

This recently acquired early etching by Charles Tunnicliffe, The Harvesters (1925) which features in our forthcoming November show, All Critters Great and Small (animals in art & craft), will surprise many who primarily know him by his later bird and animal illustrations. It dates from the time of the great neo-pastoral revival in England in the wake of a major contemporary London exhibition on Samuel Palmer.

Critics believe this work to have been contextually influenced by the continental 19th c artist Boehle. For me it has a distinctly Italianate quality, although it also compares with some of the rural output of Durer. Whatever the source of inspiration, it shows an exceptional eye for detail by a young artist at the start of his career.

Tunnicliffe’s early prints are of a particular interest to us as they show a strong ruralist vein not out of keeping with the 1920s output of Sutherland, Drury and subsequently, Tanner. They date from a time when Charles was still living on his family’s farm in Cheshire which evidently provided him with a wealth of subject matter.

Indeed, it is very likely that the subjects were known to him, possibly working as labourers on his parent’s farm. The very distinctive dappled Percheron draught horses also feature in a number of his works of the 1920s.


In May and June 2020 we will be continuing our review of English romanticism in the 20th century in the guise of a new show Mid Century Romanticism (1930-1970). We had originally intended to concentrate on the post WW2 scene, but a long term loan of the 1st edition of the Ravilious illustrated High Street published by Country Life in 1938 has led to a review and rescheduling.

Our good friends at the Fry Gallery in Saffron Walden use the term Rural Modernists in relation to the Bardfield group in which they specialise. However, whilst this classic ER title is broadly 30s in style, its spirit depicted in beautiful lithographs such as that below appears to me truly romantic.


Certainly some of the businesses depicted and their shop fronts bear little relation to a typical retail outlet of the period seen in period photographs or that I have experienced in my lifetime. Not a criticism in the slightest, but a grateful appreciation of a delightful flight of fancy, almost escapist at a time when the storm clouds were already gathering in Europe.


And Ravilious was not alone in his confection of  a delightful demi world of the imagination; Rex Whistler, also sadly a casualty of conflict during WW2 depicted a neo-classical revival in his style far away from contemporary life. So it is our intention to include an (illustrated) bookish element in our brief overview in Summer 2020.


Sarah Burns talk on Barron and Larcher

Also on Saturday 22nd June we were delighted to be joined from Steyning in Sussex by contemporary textile designer Sarah whose new book on Painswick based textile designers Barron and Larcher was published last autumn. Sarah is a present day practioner of both block printing and the use of natural dyestuffs so it was very interesting to hear her speak about such Cotswolds local craft heroes of the 1930s.

Sarah was able to illustrate her presentation with period examples of B&L textiles kindly loaned for our Cardew’s Craft Circle show. In the above photograph she is seen holding a rare and interesting dress made and owned by Eve Simmonds using Phyllis Barron material. Eve was the wife of the sculptor and puppeteer William Simmonds, and was a very fine needlewoman in her own right.

Phyllis made the material by using a dye employing walnut skins, the design being achieved by then applying wood blocks dipped in nitric acid. This colour discharge technique provided for a very strong pattern and the garment is a rare survivor from the 1930s.

Sarah also showed a very interesting boult of textile used by B&L for trialling abstract designs (below). This scarce material was very kindly lent by the family of the artist and educator Robin Tanner, in the person of his niece Helen Rice.

sarah burns 2.jpg

Textile Afternoon at the Archive Trust

On Saturday 22nd June 2019 we were entertained by a very interesting demonstration of indigo dyeing by textile worker Jan McMillan who in the 1970s was the co-founder of the Postlip Community on Cleeve Hill where she still lives. The demo took place on a glorious day in the garden of Queen Anne House, the home of the Winchcombe Archive Collection.

Jan a member of the Gloucestershire Guild has been a specialist in spinning and dyeing wools for many years, sometimes using wool from her own flock of sheep kept in fields at Postlip. She has also employed natural plant dyes including madder and onion skins to produce deightful soft colours in her garments that are on sale from time to time at the Guild shop near Cheltenham Museum.

textile 2

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