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A Collection of Works by William John Caparne

Lloyd Ellis has acquired a collection of pastels and watercolours by the artist and horticulturalist William John Caparne (1855-1940).

W J CaparneThis idiosyncratic polymath offers one of the least acknowledged and most intriguing stories of English art in the first half of the twentieth century. Our collection largely dates from the 1930s, a period when his art reached a new sophistication and maturity. His use of soft, rich colour and a misty, atmospheric evocation of coastal landscapes around his home in southern Guernsey, together with brilliant portraits of the flora to which he devoted so much of his life are deeply influenced by French Impressionism and the later works of J M W Turner.

After training at the Slade in 1874, Caparne moved to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the Académie Julian, subsequently taking the post of drawing master at Oundle School. At the same time, he began to develop his life-long passion as a plantsman and horticulturalist. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began to specialise in irises – an area in which he later achieved global renown.

Caparje St Martin GreenhouseIn 1895, following the death of his wife, and his departure from Oundle, Caparne left the East Midlands, initially for Devon, (changing his name from Caparn to Caparne) and then to the Channel Islands, and Guernsey, where he eventually settled at Bon Port near St Martin in 1920. He continued to develop his work as an iris and bulb specialist, creating the completely new variety of intermediate bearded iris in the 1890s. Working from his self-built bungalow and a studio and greenhouse made from an old tram carriage, he gradually transformed his immediate surroundings into one of the most beautiful gardens on the island, and himself into an accomplished landscape and botanical artist.

Caparne Bank of Belladonna Lilies

His transformation from a slightly staid English watercolourist to an inventive painter of light and manipulator of saturated colour owes much to a number of visits to Claude Monet and his circle at Giverny during the first decade of the twentieth century. He and Monet struck up a friendship after a visit to Giverny inspired by Caparne’s admiration of Monet’s depiction of waterlilies. On subsequent visits, Caparne presented Monet with (inevitably) a collection of iris bulbs, receiving a Monet drawing in return. It seems to have been at Monet’s suggestion that Caparne embarked on a series of tours of France and Europe before the First World War.

Caparne sky study

In the 1930s, with failing eyesight, Caparne produced many views of the sea and coast of south Guernsey, as well as studies of the cacti, succulents and South African flora which increasingly formed his horticultural interest. The great majority of these works were intended for his own reference and pleasure. Few are signed or dated, in contrast to the meticulous record-keeping of his earlier work and more precise botanical studies. The majority of our works fall into this category – freely worked, evocative images, although indisputably by Caparne’s hand. It is likely that our collection, acquired as part of the stock in trade of a retired print dealer, originally formed part of the final dispersal sale of Caparne’s work in 1980.

Caparne Guernsey Bay

Posted in Research, Stories

Victor Mathias: An artistic mystery

 

Little is known of the life Victor Mathias, a prolific and idiosyncratic British artist. Tentative life dates of 1898-1987 and 1890-1960 have been suggested, and he is said to have been born and to have grown up in the town of Haverfordwest, in South West Wales. The town certainly provided many subjects for his early works, painted in a loose, 20th century Impressionist style.

 

It has also been suggested that, as a result of experiences in the Great War, Mathias later followed a reclusive and solitary life, with painting becoming an almost obsessive activity. He certainly painted on any piece of card which seems to have come to hand. Pictures with Lloyd Ellis have been painted on bits of old cardboard representing cut up boxes for anything from Bisto, to sugar cubes, Pontefract cakes, and Mexican Matzos.

Mathias landscape 4

His small paintings on these pieces of cut-down card are remarkable. Rarely more than 16cm square, they are carefully signed and dated, and painted with confidence and bravura in a kind of urgent visual shorthand. Dabs of paint and a mixture of fluid and dry media are built up to give a rich texture and tonal range. The great majority represent an ideal landscape – calm river scenes, suffused with a golden light, dreamy detail and soft treescapes fading to mountains in a dim blue distance. The same scene is painted repeatedly, with delicate variation of viewpoint and detail. Reminiscent of southern France, it seems unlikely that the views could have been painted from life – particularly since most dates fall within the years of the second world war. Perhaps they represent a happy memory or a conjuring of such idyllic  places as an escape from wartime Britain.

 

Other small works show a more naturalistic approach to landscape, freely painted, they have the quality of quick, plein-air sketches.

Mathias landscape 6

But who was Victor Mathias? So far no searches of census, war records or family history have offered a possible lead. He is an enigma, who deserves further investigation.

Posted in Research, Stories

David Weeks, a sculptural modernist

King Edwards Totnes begun

David Anthony Weeks RCA (1927-1996)

 

We have been privileged to display and offer a large body of work by the British sculptor David Weeks, including sculptural works, maquettes, designs and studies.

Standing figure 1

David Weeks was a significant sculptor and educator, based in the South West of England, whose work merits much wider recognition. He studied at Plymouth and the Royal College of Art, receiving the RCA silver medal for sculpture in 1952.  Co-founding and editing ARK, the Royal College of Art Magazine, he worked with Raymond Hawkey as art editor, a fellow Plymouth graduate who went on to become one of the most influential graphic designers of print journalism, and with whom Weeks shared an exhibition, Class of ’49, at Plymouth Art Gallery.

Class of 49 poster

Weeks played an important role in the post-war reconstruction of Plymouth during the 1950s and early ‘60s. Two of his most significant public commissions were for the Plymouth Guildhall and the Plymouth Pannier Market. The ceiling of the Guildhall carries his series of sculptural elements representing the 12 labours of Hercules – the principal sculptural ornament in the rebuilt interior. The radical concrete structure of Plymouth’s Pannier Market (1959-60), a project on which Weeks was artistic consultant, was one of the last elements of Plymouth’s civic centre to be completed and came to represent the rebirth of the city from the ruins of war. The interior contains large schemes by Weeks of murals in the south porch and figures in the north porch. Both buildings are now listed in view of their significance in post-war architecture and design.

Guildhall arms in progress

In addition to Plymouth, Weeks executed commissions for schools, churches and public spaces in the south west, including a large scale wooden mural for the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament at Buckfast Abbey in 1966. Although he continued to work as a sculptor, he became increasingly involved in education, and was course leader at Newton Abbot School of Art from 1960.

St Marys School Poole 1967 fibreglass

Weeks’ work the 1940s and ’50s is figurative, with a powerful sense of mass and volume, showing a strong awareness of the work of both Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland. His development of large-scale family and mother and child groups during the decade coincided with Moore’s exploration of the same themes. The later ’50s showed the increasing influence of European sculptors such as Alberto Giacometti and Germaine Richier. Weeks exhibited extensively, and held a major solo show at Reading Museum & Art Gallery in 1956.  During the later 1960s, Weeks became more concerned with formal, geometrical structures, and it was this aspect of his work which formed the basis of his exhibition at Dartington in 1969.

Figures 1956                        King Edwards Totnes

 

Posted in Research, Stories Tagged with: ,

Ryuson Chuso Matsuyama: A Japanese artist in England

Matsuyama-photo

We have been fortunate to acquire a collection of works by the Japanese artist Ryuson Chuzo Matsuyama (1880-1954). He was a member of a small but intriguing group of Japanese artists working in England during the first decades of the 20th century. While the best known of this group are the printmaker Urushibara Mokuchu and the illustrator Yoshio Markino, Matsuyama is arguably the more interesting, bringing a freshness of practice and perception to the essentially British art form of watercolour. He also adopted Britain as his home, marrying an English girl, Mabel Davies, in Chelsea in 1914, and bringing his family up in London and the Surrey countryside. Unlike the great majority of the Japanese expatriate community, who left the UK to return home in the face of increasing anti-Japanese feeling in the 1920s and ‘30s, Matsuyama remained in England, becoming a naturalised British citizen in 1947.
After initial training in a broad range of media, as well as receiving an introduction to watercolour in Tokyo, Matsuyama travelled to England in 1911 to develop his knowledge and practice. We have two small sketches produced during his journey – recording scenes in Singapore (shown here) and Marseilles.Matsuyama-Singapore-2 Settling in London, he, like the painter Sato Takezou, studied at the Chelsea School of Art, while also working as a decorative painter, restorer and lacquer repairer. His watercolours of London scenes found a ready market within the Japanese community, and he exhibited regularly at the Japanese Club in Cavendish Square, showing alongside his compatriots as well as artists such as Frank Brangwyn and George Clausen, who were active supporters of the group of Japanese artists. He was also an active and successful member of the British art world, exhibiting from 1916 at the Royal Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy, the National Portrait Society and regional art galleries. He was a member of the Holborn artists’ society and was elected an Associate of the British Watercolour Society – an honour he was asked to resign in 1947 in the aftermath of World War II – a shameful act by the Society, which coincided oddly with his receipt of British citizenship

.Matsuyama-still-life-1As well as London scenes, Matsuyama’s earlier subject matter includes floral still-lifes, reminiscent of prints by Urushibara, and an aesthetic in landscape and genre scenes which seems to owe much to the Japanese shin-hanga movement. He undertook a range of painting tours to archetypal picturesque areas such as North Wales, the Lake District and the South West, but also visited Flanders and Northern France in 1920, recording the devastation wrought by the First World War, as shown in his view of Ypres (right).Matsuyama-Ypres-2
It is perhaps his mature work of the 1920s and ‘30s that is most striking, He seems to have taken delight in the colours, activities and seasonal rhythms of the English countryside, recording particularly the landscapes of Surrey and West Sussex. His landscapes are rich, authoritative and idiosyncratic: flooded with saturated colour, applied from a heavily laden brush, and contrasted with precise, calligraphic linear outline.Matsuyama-Walking-to-Littlehampton-1 Most are carefully annotated with place and date, and convey real pleasure in the subject,  sometimes recording favourite places or walks. Much of his work is subtly imbued with a charm and gentle humour – more obviously seen in his cartoon of the family (noticeably excluding Mr Matsuyama himself) struggling to hoist the roof onto the family’s new shed.
While much is documented relating to Japanese ceramic artists working in Europe, particularly those associated with Bernard Leach, too little is known of the community of Japanese painters, printmakers and illustrators working in London at the beginning of the 20th century. The work of Matsuyama and his contemporaries deserves more serious research.Matsuyama-Garden-Shed-2Matsuyama-Putney-Heath-2

Posted in Research, Stories

An exotic chocolate box for A J Caley of Norwich

Caley-Box-1The firm of A J Caley of Norwich were manufacturers of jolly things in the 19th and 20th centuries – making mineral waters, Christmas crackers and chocolates. Still going strong in the twenty-first century, they reintroduced their classic chocolate ranges in the 1990’s, moving to Fairtrade products in 2006. But our little box (one of two identical pieces – both now sold) seems to be associated with their early ventures into chocolate making. Caley-Box-6It bears a label from their Fleur de Lys factory, built in the Chapelfield area of the city in 1890, which suggests that the box was used as a form of high quality packaging. Although the box itself is fairly simple, it would still have made a very expensive form of mass packaging, specially imported and nicely finished. So perhaps our box was intended as a specific gift or promotional piece. Caley’s set great store by the quality of their chocolate, the recipe for which was intended deliberately to compete with imported Swiss milk chocolate, so maybe dressing their still-relatively new chocolate (they only started making milk chocolate in 1883) in a flashy box was all part of the market positioning.
It’s relatively unusual to find imported objects being used as commercial packaging. Porcelain ginger jars and packaging for tea and so on can be beautiful and elaborate, but they were imported together with their contents.
It’s a bit of a mystery really.

Posted in Stories

Halima Nalecz (1917-2008)

Halima Nalecz brought a mid-European glamour to a rather dowdy post-war London art market. In establishing the New Vision gallery in Marble Arch in 1956, and her own Drian Gallery in 1957, she created a vehicle for the active promotion of new British artists, as well as for her own work.

Halima Nalecz was born near Vilnius in 1914, and spent much of her youth as a refugee, travelling around Europe and the Near East, before arriving in Britain in 1947, and marrying Zygmunt Nalecz in 1952. Her work is fresh, idiosyncratic and decidedly un-English, drawing on imagery from nature – fat, heavy flower heads and startling upright foliage, strange animals, vivid starlit skies – all transmuted through a semi-abstracted vision. The National Portrait Gallery holds some lovely images by the photographer Bob Collins of Nalecz in her studio, surrounded by examples of her mature work.

Famously unselfish, she was a generous supporter of new talent, giving artists as diverse as John Bellany, William Crozier and Leon Zack their first major London shows. Her commitment to buy a new work from another artist for every picture of her own which she sold, enabled her to present a large collection of contemporary art to the Polish state in 1983.

Read more about her in the Guardian obituary by Adam Zulawski.

See her work for sale with Lloyd Ellis

Posted in Research, Stories

A Cecil Hepworth Archive

We have been lucky enough to acquire a significant group of still images from the archive of the great pioneer British film maker Cecil Hepworth (1874-1953). The collection includes both portrait stills and stills from Hepworth’s extraordinary film output from the first two decades of the 20th century, including images from films now lost. The date of the photographs is unclear, but they appear relatively recent. The original film from which the copy images are taken is unknown.

Cecil Hepworth was both a pioneer cinematographer and technical innovator. A photographer, director, producer, screenwriter, actor and inventor of commercial film and sound techniques, he established himself as one of the principal figures of the early British film industry, and established the industry as one of the most dynamic and inventive in the world.

From setting up his first production company, The Hepworth Manufacturing Company, in Walton on Thames in 1899, his film output was prodigious. Commercial success came in 1905, with the wildly popular ‘Rescued by Rover’. Hepworth’s move into directing ‘feature’ films, collaboration with other production companies and the development of a stable of regular actors facilitated an increasingly ambitious range of work.

However, little of his work now survives. Following bankruptcy in 1924, his entire film stock was melted to retrieve the silver, destroying the great majority of one of the most important early British film collections in existence. Half a dozen films have been saved, together with around 85 previously known still images.
Hepworth-Ernest-Bliss Still image from the 1920 film The Amazing Quest of Mr Ernest Bliss

Our collection includes stills from several films for which no other evidence exists, as well as images featuring several of his ‘stars’, such as Chrissie White (1895-1989) and Henry Edwards (1883-1952). Many of the images are previously unknown, and not included in the catalogues of his work.

More information is available through the British Film Institute.

Posted in News, Research

Antoine Guillemet (1843-1918)

It isn’t often that we have a chance to offer a work by an artist at the very heart of the French art and literary world in the 19th century, whose work encompassed both Salon and Impressionist rebellion.

Guillemet-in-frame

A pupil of Corot and Daubigny, Guillemet’s career began with his debut at the Salon of 1859. Gregarious as well as talented, his friendships included Monet, Cezanne, Stevens, Courbet and the writer Guy de Maupassant. His close friend Eduard Manet included him in his famous painting Le Balcon (Musee d’Orsay), flanked by Berthe Morisot and the violinist Fanny Claus.

Manet-balcony-detail

Under the influence of his friend Emile Zola, from the 1870s Guillemet became increasingly interested in Naturalisme, and the depiction of rural, peasant life in a fresh, impressionistic style. This became the foundation of his work after he settled in the Dordogne later in his career.

By the time of his death, he was both highly decorated and honoured: a Commander of the Légion d’honneur and a member of the grand jury of the Salon.

Posted in Stories

Shepton Mallet Antiques and Collectors’ Fair

Shepton is our largest fair, in the Bath & West Showground, just down the road from the charming Somerset town of Shepton Mallet. Here we have a chance to create our own environment in one of the fair’s shopping arcades (we are always in Arcade No 6 – about a hundred yards on the left from the Fair’s entrance) – a much more exciting prospect than setting out a few tables in one of the big sheds. It also gives us a chance to bring a wider variety of stock than we would normally carry – including material associated with rural industries, larger scale sculpture and furniture too.
Confronted with an empty tent, it feels a bit like setting up an exhibition in a gallery – but having to do it in 3 hours, without any solid walls to work from. We first dress the tent walls with fabric, set out and hang pictures and finally set out the tables and arrange the objects. Daisy the dog is briefed to welcome visitors and provide basic information on our stock and at 12 o’clock the show opens!
Images are from last week’s fair, when the sun shone and the crowds roamed free.

Another day, another Newark

Great fun at the IACF Newark International Fair. Lots of new and old friends and customers – including this elegant young poseur.

 

Bedlington at Newark

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