The Good Samaritan, c. 1920, artist unknown.
Keeping the Faith in Art: Hidden Gems go on Show
by Lucy Lethbridge
Art, Faith & Modernity
Mercers’ Hall, London, and touring to Liverpool Cathedral
Bombs can obliterate the present, but they can also resurrect the past. Among the revelations of post-war reconstruction in the City of London was a beautiful recumbent Statue of The Dead Christ, a miraculous survival of pre-Reformation sacred art found buried beneath the floor of the Mercers’ Chapel.
Since its star appearance in Tate Britain’s 2013 exhibition “Art under Attack”, The Dead Christ has been back behind the grille separating the rebuilt chapel from the Mercers’ Hall. But this month the statue is in congenial company as the hall hosts the exhibition “Art, Faith & Modernity” (viewable by appointment until 26 July, then at Liverpool Cathedral 6-30 August), designed by curators Liss Llewellyn to show that the best efforts of Protestant iconoclasts did not eradicate the religious impulse from the modern British soul.
The definition of “religious” is pretty broad. Some of the works on show were sacred commissions, like Charles Mahoney’s charming Angel Playing Tubular Bells, a 1940s study for his Lady Chapel murals at Oxford’s Campion Hall, and Frank Brangwyn’s lithographic Stations of the Cross (1934-35), a version of which is installed in the hall’s main chapel. Some were commissioned but never executed, like Glyn Jones’ darkly glowing Study for St Martin’s Altarpiece (c. 1927), mysteriously rejected by Canterbury Cathedral. But many were personal works that drew on religious symbolism in troubled times, such as The Good Samaritan (c. 1920) set in Flanders by an unknown artist who borrowed the simple style of Gauguin’s Breton period; it’s only when you lift your eyes above the horizon you notice the pair of feet at the base of a crucifix.
Though not anonymous, several of the artists featured are virtually unknown. One discovery for me was Robert Baker, who as a young graduate from the Royal College of Art painted Breakfast at Harlech College (c. 1935). Scratch the surface of this mural set in the canteen of a Welsh working man’s college and you’ll find a Last Supper: Baker goes off script in including Christ’s mother and Mary Magdalene at the breakfast table tucking into eggs and bacon.
The religious content of Evelyn Dunbar’s Seven Days (1939) is more elusive. Like her lover Charles Mahoney, Dunbar was a passionate gardener and, in this apparently cheerful design for a mural, Tuesday to Saturday are represented by figures carrying gardening tools, flowers and fruit, while Monday humps laundry and Sunday has her nose in a Bible. In an earlier sketch, Monday carried a baby and Sunday was eating cherries; the mood and symbolism changed after Dunbar miscarried Mahoney’s child. Nothing in this show is quite as powerful as the pre-Reformation Dead Christ, but for serious artists of any era every work is an act of faith.
To view the exhibition at the Mercers’ Hall, call 020 7520 9225 or email email@example.com
Helen Blair (1907-1997), Scene from the Book of Job, c. 1935.
Summer 2019: The 10 essential art exhibitions
By Mark Hudson
Thomas Monnington (1902-1976), Study for Allegory, c. 1924.
Must-see gallery shows opening this July and August
By Anna Brady and Margaret Carrigan
New commercial gallery shows – from a sense of spirituality in Liverpool to Long Island loving in New York
Art, Faith & Modernity
Liss Llewellyn, Mercers’ Hall, London, then Liverpool Cathedral, until 26 July (London), 6-30 August (Liverpool)
In their mission to raise awareness of lesser-known figures in Modern British art, Paul Liss and Sacha Llewellyn are working with institutions to mount a series of exhibitions. Their next, which takes its title from the art historian Alan Powers’ essay, includes 172 works (some for sale) by 73 artists including John Tunnard, Winifred Knights and Stanley Spencer, “loosely grouped under the umbrella of religious art”. Religious art is perhaps a misleading term – what unites the works here is spirituality in its broader sense.
Curator Sacha Llewellyn alongside works on display by Marion Wallace Dunlop. Photo: James Hardisty
Heroines of all Hues
By Chris Bond
Fifty British women and their work from the early 20th century are celebrated in a new exhibition in Leeds
If you asked most people to reel off the names of famous British female artists from the first half of the 20th century it would, in all likelihood, be a short list. Wakefield’s finest, Barbara Hepworth, would surely be mentioned and perhaps Dora Carrington and Laura Knight, but beyond that they would probably be stumped. It’s an indication of the gender bias that existed at the time and which depressingly can still be found, albeit not to the same extent, today.
There were, however, an array of talented female painters, printers and sculptors at work at the time and they are celebrated in an exhibition at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds.
Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900-1950 builds on last year’s commemorations marking the centenary of partial suffrage for women and explores the long under-valued contributions of women to British art in the early 20th century, at a time when the country and the world were riven by upheaval.
The exhibition has been curated by Sacha Llewellyn who wanted to wave the flag for artists who in many cases have been all but forgotten. “When I was putting this exhibition together, a lot of people thought I wouldn’t to be able to find so British women artists to show. In the end, I could have shown 500. It’s not just about rounding up lost heroines, it’s about retelling their stories,” she says.
“I didn’t want to create an exhibition that’s judged as much on the women who’ve been left out as those left in. I’ve included some known and lesser known artists, but they’re not Sunday painters - they’re all professional artists who had careers.”
Many of these women didn’t get the recognition they deserve. “Though they had an art education and enjoyed successful careers, they aren’t part of the art historical narrative and as a result many of these artists have fallen into obscurity,” adds Llewellyn.
She chose each picture based on its merits and what it said about the artist. “I wanted to dispel the notion that women only painted flowers and landscapes. They were remarkably talented and if you look at their work it shows they weren’t just painting pretty pictures. Their work was often political and hard-hitting.”
As part of the exhibition, each of the works has an accompanying commentary with contributions from family members as well as actors, writers and journalists.
Among the 50 works on show are examples from a series of woodcuts by Marion Wallace Dunlop. Devils in Diverse Shapes were first displayed in 1905. Dunlop was an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, and three years later was arrested and imprisoned in Holloway for leading a deputation to the House of Commons. It was here that she went on hunger strike, becoming the first British suffragette to take such action.
Winifred Knights is also among the artists featured with Edge of Abruzzi: Boat with Three People on a Lake. “She was a prize winner at the Slade school and was the first woman to win the Rome Scholarship. She was collected by all the famous patrons of the day, but for a long time nobody had heard of her,” says Llewellyn.
Gladys Hynes was a painter, sculptor and illustrator who produced a string of powerful and arresting works. She was a close friend of the poet Ezra Pound and her work Penny for the Guy, which depicts a faceless man in a jester’s hat clutching a grenade, is on display, too. “It’s an allegorical piece about the politics of war,” adds Llewellyn.
The exhibition features artists from all kinds of backgrounds, like Marlow Moss a founding member of Abstraction-Creation – an association of artists set up with the aim of promoting abstract art. Moss was also a transgender artist whose stylised and simplified grid forms were developed alongside her close friend Piet Mondrian.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer breadth of work on display. “There’s industrial paintings, war paintings, portraits and self-portraits, landscapes and allegorical works. There’s a real mix of styles, there’s figurative, abstract, sculpture, print and collage,” says Llewellyn.
In many cases, though, she was shocked by how little information there was about these women. “I had trouble finding out even basic facts about many of them, such as when they were born and died.
“I looked through the list of some of the previous scholarship winners and prize winners of the Slade Fine Art Prize and I hardly recognised any of the names.” Llewellyn believes this makes their work even more significant. “They had to be strong and in some instances they even had their styles appropriated by male artists.”
It’s another reason why their work deserves to be more widely appreciated. “It’s important for these artists to have their talent acknowledged because they often faced obstacles and injustices during their lifetime, and it’s important for the future status of women artists,” she says.
“There are so many more stories to be told and hopefully this exhibition will encourage more research and more debate and help raise the profile of these remarkable artists.”
Fifty Works by Fifty British Women Artists 1900-1950, runs at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds, until July 27. Entry is free. For more details and opening times, visit library.leeds.ac.uk/galleries
This article appeared in The Magazine (The Yorkshire Post) on Saturday May 18, 2019.
Karl Hagedorn (1889-1969), Poster: Buy British.
The Future was Bright
By George Richards
George Richards asks why the brilliant, ground-breaking work of Karl Hagedorn, much celebrated in his own lifetime, is not better remembered today and takes a look at a new exhibition of his work.
“A day will come when people will see as much beauty in a decorative arrangement of lines and circles as they see now in a laboured masterpiece of the Pre-Raphaelite school, which may have taken years to paint.” (Karl Hagedorn, Manchester Playgoer, July 1914)
Having excited much furore in the press with his “Rhythmical Expressions in Line and Colour”, it was with conviction and prescience that Karl Hagedorn (1889-1969) set out his aesthetic theories, and issued a rallying cry to other British artists of the period. These vibrant, faceted designs were shown at the second exhibition of Manchester’s Society of Modern Painters on 23 October, 1913, and were quite unlike anything ever seen before in the North of England.
Liss Llewellyn has now reassembled many of these works from public and private collections and, together with additional material from the artist’s estate, they are the subject of a collaborative exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, in Chichester, which will then move to the Worshipful Company of Mercers, City of London, on 1 April. It is a rare opportunity to witness the radical painting and illustration of a figure dubbed “Manchester’s first Modernist”; a figure whose impact on the wider narratives of modern British art are only just beginning to be teased out.
Born in Berlin in 1889, Hagedorn emigrated to England in 1905 in order to study textile design at the Municipal School of Technology, Manchester. He secured work soon afterwards as a fabric designer in the Manchester cotton industry for Blakeley & Beving in what was to prove an inspiring move for the young artist. Under the aegis of fellow German expatriate Karl Beving, Hagedorn was exposed to a wealth of African textiles, from Ghanaian Asante Kente cloths to Yoruba Adire, as well as Indonesian batiks, which were popular on the Gold Coast. Beving was a manufacturer who had built up a substantial trade with West Africa, acquiring numerous textile samples during his visits, and when his collection was later donated to the British Museum in 1934, it was seen as the earliest documented and most important group of its kind. During Hagedorn’s time with his firm, these designs were used as prototypes for their own mass productions, which were then exported back to West Africa, finding their place within a thriving market.
Evidence suggests that African design was of lasting interest to Hagedorn. Not only is he still listed as a designer for Blakeley & Beving in the 1917-18 DIA membership list, but he organised an exhibition of his own West African textiles at the Southport Art Gallery in January 19351. Furthermore, one need only look at his illustration to see evidence of its influence there. Look at the whimsical poster of “Tutankhamun Coming to Life”, in which the figures seem to mimic Egyptian relief painting, while the batik technique of wax resist dyeing was commonly employed throughout Africa. Perhaps even more telling, given the wider interest in Britain for Egyptian culture sparked by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922, is what appears to be a Baule Mbolo portrait mask, displayed prominently in Hagedorn’s view of Africa from his Nations and Continents series.
The graphic strength of these designs means that they form an important part of the exhibition and accompanying publication. While they have been squared up for transfer, the exact purpose of this group remains something of a mystery, which invites further research. However, the assured treatment of the portrait mask reveals Hagedorn’s knowledge of African sculpture, and a sizeable number of these were found in the artist’s studio. They often feature in the background of his selfportraits.
Hagedorn’s curiosity about non-Western art and design was augmented with a more traditional, albeit modern education. In 1910 he studied at the Manchester School of Art under the French Impressionist painter Pierre Adolphe Valette, before heading to Paris in 1912 alongside fellow student, Francis Sladen-Smith. The two artists were very close, and had established the beginnings of a Freundschaftsbund in the German style, entitled Der Künstler Zwei, for which they contributed drawings and watercolours for a handmade publication. A number of these scrapbook leaves are included within the exhibition at Pallant House Gallery.
While in Paris, Hagedorn worked in the atelier of Maurice Denis, exhibited at the Société du Salon d’automne, and met Henri Matisse in his studio at Issy-les-Moulineaux, where he would have observed the melodious, energetic works undertaken by the artist for his patron Sergei Shchukin. Hagedorn returned to England in the early part of 1913 and in the ensuing months he set about absorbing and reinterpreting these lessons, producing the works he would display at the second exhibition of Manchester’s Society of Modern Painters. These “rhythmical expressions”, as he called them, were to be some of the boldest and most singular examples of Post-Impressionism ever exhibited in Britain. The response was sensational.
Unaccustomed to the contrasting primary colours and angular forms of these works, the critics were taken aback by this new idiom of expression and voiced their disapproval at a fevered pitch. Works such as “Portrait of a Woman” and “Washstand” – now in the collection of the Whitworth Art Gallery – were described as “Cubist puzzles”2 or “violent ( ...) prisms”3, while a commentator in the Manchester City News wrote that the artist “produces curves and cross-lines such as might haunt the Christmas dream of a schoolboy gloomily oppressed with thoughts of Euclid”4.
A curious thread running through much of the criticism was this kind of use of mathematical terminology, reflecting the rigorous, geometric approach that underpins much of Hagedorn’s work in commercial design and illustration; areas in which he was increasingly active in the aftermath of the first world war. This is perhaps best seen in his “Buy British” poster, produced for the Empire Marketing Board in 1927, which employs repeated, tessellated forms to capture the movement of a marching band. A gouache study for the work in the V&A Museum, entitled “Drummer Boys”, shows the evolution of this design and the flattened and overlapping planes that reveal Hagedorn’s early textile training, as well as his growing awareness of the Futurist movement.
The dynamic mode of the Vorticists may also be glimpsed in Hagedorn’s illustration. It is known that Frank Rutter had introduced Hagedorn to Percy Wyndham Lewis before the publication of the Blast manifesto, and as alumni of the Slade School of Fine Art, it is likely that both artists had shared networks and interests. Interestingly, it appears to be the motif of a vortex that Hagedorn uses in his cover for the summer issue of the Radio Times, August 1929, as abstract shapes are drawn into a central, swirling mass. This work was commissioned during the celebrated editorship of Eric Maschwitz (1927-1933), when artists including Edward McKnight Kauffer, Rex Whistler, Eric Fraser and Paul Nash were employed by the magazine. In an interview with the BBC, fellow contributor Victor Reinganum recalled the “considerable prestige attached to drawing for the Radio Times” in the 1920s, as it was one of the only British periodicals prepared to take a risk employing avant-garde artists, and “illustrators with something new to say”5.
In addition to his ongoing commercial work – for companies such as Osman Ltd, and products including margarine and washing powder (Fig 4) – Hagedorn undertook charitable commissions throughout the 1920s. He designed the posters for the University of Manchester Rag Week, which also doubled as covers for the Rag Publication, The Rag Rag. Over a period of eight years, Hagedorn “brilliantly reinterpreted the motifs of sun and serpent in dazzlingly witty”6 ways. This arguably reached its high point with the 1927 cover (Fig 6), which employs a cunning use of mise en abyme – or the Droste effect – as students are shown swarming after a copy of the magazine themselves, suggesting an infinitely recurring sequence. Such demand was genuine, it seems, as the Cheshire Observer noted that the magazine had sold over 250,000 copies, compared with 159,000 the previous year. The commentator continues to say that the escalating success of the publication was due in no small part to the “striking colour design”7 by Hagedorn.
Cotton design was also of continuing relevance to Hagedorn throughout his career. When not involved in textile production itself, he produced shippers’ tickets for agents including Overmann & Co., which were attached to bolts of cloth or yarn, thus making goods instantly recognisable during transport. Some examples that he produced are included in the exhibition (Fig 8), and won Hagedorn the Grand Prix at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels of 1925 in Paris.
As late as 1941, Hagedorn was involved in an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, sponsored by the National Register of Industrial Art Designers, for which artists were asked to submit designs on cotton. Given his expertise, it is no surprise that Hagedorn earned special praise in this “remarkable and picturesque venture”, even though he exhibited alongside artists including Vanessa Bell, Ivon Hitchens, Eric Ravilious and Graham Sutherland8.
Although he was one of the best-known graphic artists of his era, it is strange that Hagedorn’s star should not shine as brightly today. In our efforts to champion the unsung heroes and heroines of British art, we seldom find a career that so clearly merits reanimation, and yet promises so much more in terms of discovery.
1. Lancashire Evening Post, 7 January, 1935.
2. Daily Mail, 24 October, 1913.
3. Liverpool Courier, 23 October, 19I3.
4. 25 October, 1913.
5. Driver, David (ed), The Art of the Radio Times: The First Sixty Years, British Broadcasting Corporation, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1981.
6. Manchester’s First Modernist: Karl Hagedorn 1889-1969, Whitworth Art Gallery.
7. Cheshire Observer, Saturday 21 May, 1927.
8. Liverpool Daily Post, 30 April, 1941.
George Richards is international relations and development manager at Liss Llewellyn Fine Art. Liss Llewellyn’s exhibition of Hagedorn’s work will be at the Worshipful Company of Mercers, City of London, from 1 April until 26 May. Visit www.lissllewellyn.com for details.
This article appeared in the Winter 2018-19 edition of Illustration.