20th Century British Art

John Cecil Stephenson (1889-1965)

Painter, born in Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham. He studied at Darlington Technical College, 1906-08, at the Leeds School of Art, 1908-14, the RCA, 1914-18, and Slade, 1918. Between 1915 and 1918 he did war work, making tools. In 1919 he took on Sickert's studio, 6 Mall Studios, Hampstead, where he was later joined by Herbert Read, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. From 1922 until 1955 he was Head of Art Teaching in the Architectural Department, Northern Polytechnic, Holloway Road. In 1932 he began making his first abstract works, exhibiting during the next decade in many abstract and constructive shows in England, France and the USA. In 1934 he exhibited with the 7&5 Society, along with the likes of Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Ivon Hitchens, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and John Piper. During World War II he returned partly to figurative work, making paintings of the Blitz. From the 1950s he returned to large abstract paintings, realising many of the abstract compositions he had sketched out on a small scale in the previous decade, when materials had been in short supply. In 1951 he made a l0 ¥ 30 ft. fluorescent paint mural for the Festival of Britain, and began working with ply glass for murals. In 1958 he suffered three strokes, which left him unable to move or talk. Partly for this reason he is today less well-known than many of his contemporaries, but he was one of the key figures in the development of abstract art in Britain. He is represented in the collection of the Tate and internationally.

Selected Literature Cecil Stephenson 1889-1965, Fischer Fine Art, London, 1976.

Simon Guthrie, The Life and Art of John Cecil Stephenson: A Victorian Painter's Journey to Abstract Expressionism, Cartmel Press Associates, 1997.

 When in the fifties, I became engaged to Simon (David)
Guthrie, he took me to meet his mother, Kathleen Guthrie,
and his stepfather, Cecil Stephenson. They lived in a studio;
to me, a novel idea. 6, Mall Studios, in Belsize Park, had been
Cecil’s habitat for some thirty years. The main studio was a
large room with a big north light running from the floor up
into the roof. In one corner were Cecil’s easel and paints;
in another were his machine tools and lathes and in a third
was his piano [figure 1]. The fourth corner contained a sofa
and some bookcases, where Kathleen could sit and read,
or listen to Cecil playing his favourite Brahms or Chopin.
Kathleen was Cecil’s second wife. She was herself a professional
artist; a Sladey-lady and like Cecil, a founder member
of the Hampstead Artists’ Council. There wasn’t room for her
to paint in the studio,
so Cecil had built her a painting shed in
the garden
[figure 2]. The garden also had a small pond with a
large population of newts and some very decorative Koi carp,
and a monorail for Cecil’s hand-built model steam locomotive.
Cecil was a warm-hearted man of many talents, but
modest and self-effacing, and meticulous in all his many
under-
takings. His output of paintings was small, due to the
pressures of earning a living by teaching, and his inability to
refuse requests for his engineering skills, whether it was to
make a new part for a friend’s old Lagonda, dash off a metal
staircase or a new set of wrought-iron gates. Perhaps he was
overshadowed by his brilliant friend and erstwhile neighbour,
Ben Nicholson. Other neighbours included Barbara Hepworth
and John Skeaping, the art critic and writer Sir Herbert Read,
and later, Henry Moore and Bernard Meadows.
When Cecil died, he left quite a body of works which the
family have cherished and enjoyed for the last forty years.
These include most of the pictures in this exhibition. Simon
retired from academic life in 1990 and he devoted himself to
trying to promote his stepfather’s reputation. First he wrote
a biography, based largely on Cecil’s abbreviated but carefully
kept diaries. He then devoted much time and energy to
trying to persuade a gallery to mount a proper retrospective
of Cecil’s work, particularly the early abstracts. Remembering
Cecil’s northern roots, he tried hard to interest various galleries
in the north of England in such an exhibition. Sadly his
ambition was never achieved. So his family were very willing
to co-operate with the suggestion of The Fine Art Society to
mount this show, in the hope that many more people could
derive pleasure and satisfaction from these fine paintings.

Marjorie Guthrie

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Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Study for Fugue, circa 1953

John Cecil Stephenson
Study for Fugue, circa 1953
£500
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Abstract in dark blue, red, brown green and yellow, 1950s

John Cecil Stephenson
Abstract in dark blue
£1100
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Kneeling nude, c.1940

John Cecil Stephenson
Kneeling nude, c.1940
£2500
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Abstract in yellow, white and brown, 1942

John Cecil Stephenson
Abstract in yellow
£625
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Approved Design for Festival of Womens House

John Cecil Stephenson
Approved Design for Festival of...
£960
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Bagatelle, c. 1960

John Cecil Stephenson
Bagatelle, c. 1960
£3000
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Abstract in yellow, orange and green. circa 1942

John Cecil Stephenson
Abstract in yellow
£725
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Abstract in blue, yellow and brown, mid 1940s

John Cecil Stephenson
Abstract in blue
£1100
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Untitled abstract study, circa 1944

John Cecil Stephenson
Untitled abstract study, circa 1944
£800
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Seated Female nude, rear view, 1944

John Cecil Stephenson
Seated Female nude, rear view, 1944
£2500
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Untitled, circa 1944

John Cecil Stephenson
Untitled, circa 1944
£4020
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Life Class

John Cecil Stephenson
Life Class
£2500
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Triple Life Study, three quarter rear view

John Cecil Stephenson
Triple Life Study
£1200
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Study for Fugue, 1953

John Cecil Stephenson
Study for Fugue, 1953For sale 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Silk screen print by Kathleen Guthrie from a painting by Cecil Stephenson 1938

John Cecil Stephenson
Silk screen print by Kathleen...For sale 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: The End of a Doodlebug, Hampstead Heath, 1945

John Cecil Stephenson
The End of a DoodlebugFor sale 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Three Graces, 1945

John Cecil Stephenson
Three Graces, 1945For sale 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Orange Sketch, 1939

John Cecil Stephenson
Orange Sketch, 1939 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Rondo. (Subtitled a nous la liberte)` 1953

John Cecil Stephenson
Rondo. (Subtitled "a nous la... 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Uprights 1936/37

John Cecil Stephenson
Uprights 1936/37 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Tonality

John Cecil Stephenson
Tonality 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Madona of the Rocks circa 1945

John Cecil Stephenson
Madona of the Rocks circa 1945 
Artist John Cecil Stephenson: Monody, circa 1959

John Cecil Stephenson
Monody, circa 1959