A history of art in Barnes

Barnes is an idyllic place for artists not just as a community but also for the plein air painting opportunities: Barnes pond with the elegant buildings overlooking the pond on various sides: The Terrace which faces the Thames leading to Barnes Bridge which is a masterpiece of Victorian engineering and a great subject for any painter.

Barnes Green has become a delightful subject with dappled light falling through the trees on the pathway towards the brook and the pastoral delights of the common beyond.

The river Thames with its bends and diminishing perspective inspired J.M.W Turner to do some drawings and well known paintings. He lived in nearby Twickenham and in 1825 came to Barnes to make a drawing of The River Thames at Mortlake, looking North-East towards Chiswick and Barnes.This stretch of the waterfront has a similar low-rise character today, although it is difficult to match individual buildings here to survivors among later additions. Turner notes the ‘W[hite] Hart pub, which was rebuilt in the late nineteenth century.

John Atkinson Grimshaw (6 September 1836 – 13 October 1893) was an English Victorian-era artist best known for his nocturnal scenes of urban landscapes.  He was also inspired by The Terrace in Barnes which he captured beautiful in a painting and sketch ‘On the Thames, Barnes’.

The earliest record of artists actually living in Barnes are the Williams family of painters, also known as the Barnes School. They were a family of prominent 19th-century Victorian landscape artists known for their paintings of the British countryside, coasts and mountains. Edward Williams (1781–1855), the patriarch of the Williams family of painters and founder ofthe Barnes School of artists, became very popular during the Victorian era for painting moonlit scenes of the English countryside. He was followed as a landscape artist by his six sons and several of his many grandchildren. This large family of artists became known as the Barnes School because from 1846 until about the turn of the century, Williams, several of his sons, and some of his grandchildren worked out of neighbouring studios attached to their home at 32 Castlenau Villas in the then rural setting of Barnes. Charles LeslieCaroline Fanny Williams, and Herbert Sidney Percy are probably the best known of the grandchildren of Edward Williams, and their paintings show up regularly at auctions and in galleries.

As much of Barnes was rural countryside in Victorian times, made up of quiet marshes beneath windmills, farms where horses pulled ploughs, and wheel-rutted dirt roads running past country inns or through shaded glens, it suited landscape artists perfectly as it still does today.

Barnes pond became a favourite subject for Royal portrait painter William Dring RA (1904-1990).

Joseph Pike lived at number 22 Nassau Road in the 1950s and had a studio in the garden. A Roman Catholic he was a master of the art of pencil drawing, he produced evocative sketches of old churches, and colleges, monasteries and modern offices, picturesque street scenes in historic towns such as Rugby and Chester, as well as a great number of London landmarks.When he died in 1956, the Catholic Herald referred to him as a distinguished artist, though not personally well known. A recent biography of Joseph Pike, The Happy Catholic Artist,reveals early attempts to launch a professional career as an artist were interrupted by military service in the First World War, and it was only through dogged determination and hard work that he managed to establish himself in the 1920s. He was friends with Ronald Knox and Bede Camm, his work for the Benedictine monks of Caldey Island and the Dominican Friars in London and Oxford, and demonstrates how his artwork helped preserve the memory of the Catholic martyrs and forgotten shrines of historic England.

This is the story of a remarkable artist and quiet, modest man, hugely admired by his contemporaries, whose contribution to 20th century British art deserves greater recognition.

From 1942 the German collage artist Kurt Schwitters lived in Westmorland Road. As a budding art student at Camberwell he was one of my inspirations. He was a maverick artist who worked in different genres and media – Dadaism, constructionism surrealism, poetry, sound sculptures, sculpture, graphic design, topography, installation art but is most famous for his collages called Merz pictures-[a nonsensical word he invented]. These pictures were made of rubbish materials – tickets, bits of wood, contents of his waste paper basket and other debris.

One of the earliest galleries in the Barnes area was Abbott and Holder in 1942. Robert Abbott and Eric Holder’s partnership was to provide affordable art dating from 1750. Robert Abbott bought a large house on Castelnau Road which acted as both home and gallery for rapidly increasing stock and the informal, domestic display of pictures became established as their house style. In the days when supply outstripped demand and watercolours and drawings formed the core of distinguished collections, and could be purchased for a few pounds, the house became something of a mecca for enthusiasts.

In the early 1980s The New Grafton Gallery transferred from Mayfair to 49 Church Road (now Gail’s) and became a mecca for collectors and artists alike. It’s founder was the delightful David Wolfers (1917-2001), a leading light in London’s private gallery community who vigorously promoted a cross-section of British talent which included the established names such as Elisabeth Frink, Carel Weight, Mary Fedden, Ruskin Spear, Tom Coates, Peter Greenham, Keith Vaughan, Carel Weight and John Nash. Its stable of contemporary emerging artists includes Richard Pikesley, Sarah Spencer, Julian Bailey and Ruth Stage

Still living in Barnes we have a number of well-known international artists to inspire local talent:

Jan Pienkowskiis an artist, illustrator and a long-time Barnes resident. Famous for his series of picture books Meg and Mog.  Born in Warsaw in 1936 he came to England in 1946 and after school went on to study classics and English Literature at Kings College Cambridge.

In 1961 he co-founded Gallery 5 with Angela Holder producing greetings cards, children’s friezes, and decorative papers. To start with he drew most of the cards himself – later on he began to commission other artists.

His illustrations are distinctive. He traces influences back to pre-war Poland where there was a folk art tradition of paper cut outs and wood cuts which as a child made a strong impression on him. The silhouette is a fundamental element in his draughtsmanship – a way of seeing which pervades his pictures.

The first Meg and Mog [created with Helen Nicoll] was published by Puffin in 1972. Haunted House with paper engineering by Tor Lokvig was published in 1979.This was a pioneering popup book which sold over a million copies, and won the Kate Greenaway Prize in 1980 as did The Kingdom Under the Seain 1972.

Judith Kerr is fondly known for her series of 17Mogbooks based on her own cats and in part her family and set in her own house in Barnes. The Tiger Who Came to Tea is similarly well known and popular and for older children. Born in Berlin in 1923 she studied at The Central School of Art and Crafts and is a long-time Barnes resident. She started writing and drawing children’s books when her own children were learning to read.

Gillian Ayres, Painter and Printmaker, sadly died this year (2018). Born in Barnes in 1930 she attended St Pauls School for Girls and then Camberwell School of Art 1946-50

Gillian was a member of a group of artists in the mid-1950s whose anti-authoritarian feelings helped to form a new British school of abstract painting. She didn’t draw, line was irrelevant to her, and instead, like the American artist Jackson Pollock her way of working was to splatter paint on huge canvases laid on the floor. She disliked being asked for the meaning in her art for there was none; it was all visual, about shapes, space and colour.

She was the only woman artist included in the influential Situation exhibition at the RBA Galleries in 1960. This was a show of work of 20 artists linked by two common threads, that their work was totally abstract.

In 1978 she became the first woman to head a fine art department in a British art school when she was appointed head of painting at Winchester. Her most creative period came after she had resigned in 1981 and moved to North Wales where she painted gigantic canvases using thick layers of oil paint and an emphatic, lawless palette of colour.

She was the leading British abstract painter of her generation, was elected Royal Academician in 1987 and in 1989 was short listed for the Turner prize.

Bruce McLeanis an internationally acclaimed Sculptor, performance artist, printmaker, painter living in Barnes. He was born 1944 in Glasgow and studied at the Glasgow School of Art 1961-3 and at St Martins School of Art from 1963 – 6 where amongst his tutors were Anthony Caro and Philip King. In reaction to what he regarded as the academism of his teachers he began making sculpture from rubbish.

In 1965 he abandoned conventional studio work in favour of impermanent sculptures using water and performances of a satirical nature directed against the art world. Awarded a retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1972 he opted for an exhibition titled mockingly ‘King for a Day’- lasting a day.

Two of his conceptual art pieces were set in Barnes in 1969.  Taking a Line for a Walk in Barnes High Street.

From the mid-1970s he increasingly turned to paint, sculpture and film work. He’s had numerous one man exhibitions including at the Modern Art Gallery in Vienna and the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford. In 1985 he won the John Moores Painting Prize. You can see some of his work on the wall at Sonny’s restaurant in Church Road.

Francis and Philippa Hoyland are a both artists who enjoy the green spaces of Barnes. Philippa is an authoritative draughts woman; she can set down things on canvas or paper with great assurance. Francis has also exhibited his work extensively as well as writing books on art and has had an impressive career teaching at Chelsea, Camberwell, Cardinal Wiseman Catholic Comprehensive and currently at The Princes School of Art in Shoreditch.

And now Barnes has its very own Art School in the High Street. The Barnes Atelier was set up and is run by artists Travis Seymour and Nancy Fletcher, together classically trained at the Angel Academy in Florence as well as The Water Street Atelier and Grand Central Academy in New York. Their expert teaching and lovely studio provides a core full-time program, with a supporting part-time schedule which follows the same curriculum. In addition they provide, a weekly portrait masterclass and evening figure session, as well as workshops throughout the year.

The OSO (Old Sorting Office) now hosts workshops for children lead by the innovative Picassos in the Park which is the inspiration of Chloe and Laura, both Mums with Art and Photography backgrounds who are driven by their desire to inform, nurture and transform young children’s understanding and enrich their life experience. 

From the exciting addition of The Boécho Gallery in White Hart Lane, featuring contemporary international art, Linda Bird with her decorative, organic and tribal artwork to the  Riverside Gallery which specialises in paintings and prints of Barnes as well as at least two private galleries, it looks like art is beginning to be taken seriously again in the community.  

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