Tuesday - 21 October 2014

Mackintosh, cloak and dagger…

25 July 2002Written by ATG Reporter

Artists at Walberswick: East Anglian Interludes 1880-2000 by Richard Scott, published by Art Dictionaries Ltd. ISBN 0953260941 £29.95hb

CO-published with art book publishers Sansom & Company who produced The Dictionary of Artists in Britain since 1945, this book does, in part, the same, with its profiles of the 400 late-19th and 20th century artists who legged it up to East Anglia, many from London and, come 1859, using the railway. This then travelled at a maximum speed of 16mph (any driver exceeding this limit would be liable to two years’ imprisonment), from Halesworth along the Blyth Valley, and onwards, where painters and muses could murmur about the glories of the Walberswick light, the shimmering of the plankton-green sea and the wonders of painting ‘en plein air’ in and around Southwold and the River Blyth.

They’re all here. The most famous art personage to come to Walberswick was Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who, as WWI took hold and Walberswick residents worried about enemy invasion, was arrested as a suspected spy due to his habit of wandering around Walberswick in a black cloak, and who left “under a scandalous cloud a year later”.

And then there was Philip Wilson Steer, who occupied a similar presidential position at Walberswick as Stanhope Forbes did at Newlyn. Habitués, too, were the Stannards, Harry and Lilian, and Charles Keen, the illustrator, “greatest artist since Hogarth”, said Whistler of Keene, who was in the habit of drawing directly on the spot with pen and ink, the ink bottle wired to a waitscoat button.

For the 20th century enter Frank Brangwyn, John Piper and Margaret Mellis, while Stanley Spencer’s 1937 oil of the beach at Southwold is enchanting. There is a new group of collectors for the work of Peggy Somerville, once a child prodigy artist in the 1920s who, aged three, had two watercolours shown at the Royal Drawing Society, London and who was exhibiting in the 1960s. Useful source book, most particularly for the 222-page biographical summaries of artists.

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