Bliss, Douglas Percy

(1900 – 1984)

Aerial View, circa 1940

Gouache and coloured pencil

DESCRIPTION

Provenance:
The Artist’s Studio

Douglas did not have an adventurous war and it had little impact on his work as an artist. He was past the age of conscription, having served in the First World War, so to do his bit’ as he called it, he volunteered for the RAF Reserve, and was sent to an officer training centre in Uxbridge. Douglas was called up in 1941 and the RAF first stationed him at Felixstowe where he did a radar course. He served in Brighton and then Bournemouth for a time in 1942, where he learned to ride a motorbike. Most of 1942 and early 1943 was spent at Bishopriggs, Glasgow at a decoy site intended to simulate a city by the use of electric lights and flares sited in open countryside in order to attract enemy bombing and save nearby Glasgow. 

There were nearly 800 of these sites in a sophisticated civil defence system named Starfish. He spent a period during 1943 at Hoghton Tower in Lancashire, where mock tanks were made; later that year he was transferred for the rest of the war to join the Camouflage and Decoy Unit based at Pinewood Studios, 

We are grateful to Simon Lawrence of the Fleece Press for assistance.

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THE ARTIST

Bliss, Douglas Percy

1900 – 1984

Douglas Percy Bliss (28 January 1900’11 March 1984) was a Scottish painter and art conservationist. Bliss’s family was from Northamptonshire, England. Bliss himself was born in Karachi, India (now in Pakistan). Bliss was raised in Edinburgh and educated at George Watson’s College from 1906 to 1917.

Bliss left school in 1917 to join the Highland Light Infantry until the end of WW1

In 1922 he was awarded an M.A. in English Literature by the University of Edinburgh. He had studied Art History in his first year. Bliss then studied painting at the Royal College of Art in London. In his post-graduate year he studied engraving. In 1925 the Oxford University Press published his engravings illustrating Border ballads. Bliss then received a number of commissions, including a commission to write A History of Wood Engraving. This work received such critical acclaim that Bliss’ reputation as an artist was overshadowed by his reputation as a critic and teacher.

In 1928 Bliss married Phyllis Dodd, who was a painter. Encouraged by his wife Bliss took up painting again, painting oil and watercolour landscapes in Scotland and England. Coincidentally his paintings record the end of an era of small-holding. He also painted some urban scenes just before the towns were transformed by high rise and high-density buildings.

In the 1930s Bliss established the Blackheath Society, which continues today to attempt to protect the amenity of life in south-east London. In the 1930s he taught at the Blackheath School of Art and was the London art critic for The Scotsman.

In 1941 Bliss joined the RAF and was stationed in Scotland. After the war he was appointed Director of the Glasgow School of Art. He referred to Glasgow as “the greatest industrial city in the Empire”. Bliss was instrumental in saving much of the Art Nouveau architecture and furniture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. He continued as Director from 1946 until 1964. When he completed his period as Director, Glasgow School of Art was listed by Whitaker’s Almanack among the six top Art Schools in Britain.

Bliss’s own art was exhibited around Britain. There was an exhibition of his work in the Glasgow School of Art, in the northern hemisphere summer of 1998.

Much of the work of Bliss’s youth has been lost. Most of his engravings were unpublished before the beginning of the War in 1939 and his entire collection was stolen during the Blitz. Decades later sixteen degraded blocks were identified at an auction. Most split when printing was attempted.

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