Towards the end of the first decade of the Free Painters and Sculptors opinions were expressed that something important had been happening, and someone ought to write a history of the Group. Time passed and the idea took on a note of regret. ‘If it isn’t done soon some of the people involved will no longer be here to give their account of what happened.’ This presupposed that without witnesses there could be no proper history of FPS. There was some justification for anxiety, although inevitably history is a matter of interpretation of known facts, much of which has been distilled in people’s minds, mirroring their own judgements. As the Director of the Loggia Gallery, responsible for the programme of exhibitions, I was faced with the prospect of planning the fortieth year celebrations without a history of the Group. This would seem to be a gross neglect of provision of information for that occasion, and something had to be done. An initial attempt to provide a history through a group of readers who produced summaries of documents was quickly abandoned. It was neither time-saving nor impersonal. And the archive material was not entirely complete and would require me to bridge many of the parts. There seemed to be no alternative to writing the history myself. It was pointed out that having belonged to the Group since its early years, and during the recent seven years occupied a position that was central to FPS affairs, I was the person whose experience encompassed all the areas of its history. An outside writer would work from the source material and not as easily be able to impart the flavour of events.
My own role in the affairs of FPS involved difficulties as well as advantages. If it is a history that is required then impartiality is not as easily come by, and this work should more properly be regarded as a personal account. There was a distinct difficulty in the latter section where I play a central part and it could easily have become autobiography. I have sheltered behind various titles, ‘Gallery Director,’ ‘Director,’ and also ‘Gallery’ — where decisions were often arrived at through consultation, thereby unfortunately drawing colleagues, Marjorie and Freda Wadsworth, Max Birne, Philip Worth and Aithea Gee behind the screen of anonymity which I have attempted to put up for myself. I trust they will accept that the exigencies of writing a balanced narrative do this, and in no way imply a lack of recognition of the valuable part they have played. The same is true of the many artists who find they have not been included by name, and to them I apologise.
Those who look to this account to be a critique of art will be disappointed. I have merely indicated the character of artists’ work and the effect of their dedication to the Group. There has been a great sense of continuity within FPS. Its ability to renew itself in changing times is worth telling.
THE FORMATIVE YEARS
During the Thirties a number of artists, with Moore, Hepworth, Sutherland and Ben Nicholson in the forefront, were the small voice of a modern artistic preference in Britain. Inevitably the war was a catalyst for changed opinion, although in the visual arts change didn’t occur immediately after the cessation of hostilities. London galleries mainly returned to what they felt was the safe option — a well- mannered and not too adventurous version of what they had been offering in the past, as though the war had simply been a hiccup. New ideas had to find their way through post-war years that were in part being furnished with sentimentality for the past. The reputations of the vanguard artists of pre-war needed to be cemented in.
In 1951 the Festival of Britain on South Bank highlighted the emergence of the new art, in an atmosphere of excitement and to a huge audience. And the prize exhibition, ‘The Unknown Political Prisoner,’ while not entirely succeeding in its political intentions did at least make people aware of the striking work being done by sculptors. And the Institute of Contemporary Arts, then in Dover Street, was the meeting house for all those brave hopefuls intent on giving the arts a large push forward. It was in the buoyant atmosphere of the ICA that the Free Painters and Sculptors was born. There had been talk among members of separating into specific groups, and interested painters met on the 6th December 1952 to form a painters group. It was a foggy night, few attended and no business was done. A time before clean air regulations, when a fog could completely immobilise communications in the capital. A fortnight later the first business meeting was held with fifteen people attending and Lyall Watson was made temporary chairman.
Subsequent meetings were spent working out a policy, which was put to the First Annual General Meeting, held in the ICA on 21st June, 1953. Roland Penrose, then Chairman of the Managing Committee of the ICA, having agreed that the name ‘Painters Group from the ICA’ would be acceptable to the Institute, the title was adopted. Lyall Watson was elected Chairman. Others on the Executive Committee were Florence Searle (Organising Secretary), Roy Fitchett (Secretary), Denis Bowen (Minute Secretary), Eve Diffley (Treasurer), Bernard Boles, Margaret Jadot and Maurice Jadot. At the invitation of Lyall Watson who was well-known in Lambeth for his mural painting, several members of the group exhibited at the ‘Brighten our Borough’ exhibition for designs for murals in public buildings, sponsored by Lambeth Civic Society. At the ICA regular group meetings provided an opportunity for members to bring their work and exchange ideas and invite criticism.
At the end of the year, November 19th-December 1st, the Group had its first exhibition, which was opened by John Berger at the Three Arts Centre, Great Cumberland Place, WI (Marble Arch). Twenty-six artists exhibited. Among them were Denis Bowen, Graham Fry, Cynthia Fuller (later Francyn), Violet Fuller, Maurice Jadot, Joan Knoblock, Rosalie de Meric, Peter Stroud and Lyall Watson, most of whom have survived actively to recent times. There were paintings of strong figuration, of fantasy, metaphysical landscape and completely abstract works . . . a prophetic glimpse of ideas that were to preoccupy members till the present day. The exhibition was described in Arts News and Review as a first exhibition that showed courage and promise.
The following year the name of the group was changed for its next large exhibition, which was described as the Second Annual Exhibition of The Free Painters Group. It was held at Walker’s Galleries in New Bond Street and was well attended by the Committee of the ICA, dealers, critics and friends of the Group. The term ‘Free’ appeared to confuse some of the critics, but there was no ambiguity among the members. They were outside the well-trodden path of academic art, finding other paths for themselves, mutually bound together in friendship and toleration. The exhibition was opened by Roland Penrose, and in the introduction to the catalogue Bernard Boles touched upon the problem of ‘an embarrassing plethora of young painters and sculptors who, while in receipt of all available goodwill, cannot with certainty be accommodated with a West End display of their work.’ This was to be an abiding problem for individual members and of worrisome concern to the organisers for more than a decade. In the second annual exhibition Kenneth Coutts-Smith, Margery Haddon Chambers, Arthur Moyse, Francis Souza and Halima Nalecz, who were to be part of the mainstay of the group for many years, made their first appearance. There were reviews in The Scotsman, The Manchester Guardian, The Jewish Chronicle, Arts News and Review, and local papers. Nineteen Fifty-Five was dominated by an event that enabled the Group to feel it had come of age.
Through the introduction of one of its members it was invited to exhibit at the Galerie Creuze, Avenue de Messine, Paris, 13th April-2nd May. Trewin Copplestone, Sada Bakre and John Ratcliff were new names among the twenty-four exhibitors. There were seven reviews in the Paris press, and Lyall Watson and Halima Nalecz appeared on television while they were out there.
The Third Annual Exhibition of the Free Painters Group was again held at Walker’s Galleries, and was opened by Paul Reilly. It was reviewed in Art News and Review, The Manchester Guardian, The Scotsman, and Art. The London Correspondent of the Manchester Guardian in his review made an unfortunate and mistaken assumption, which was taken up by Margaret Jadot who recently had become Secretary of the FPG. Her polite and factual letter was published in the newspaper a week later, together with a generous apology from the correspondent. It was an example of the quality of professional administration guiding the Group, setting a standard which has enabled it to survive to the present day. The Scotsman spoke of the third exhibition at Walkers being by far its best, and of great imagination that gave genuine pleasure. It was also reviewed in the Polish press. Lyall Watson, whose influence from the start had been outstanding in helping shape the Group, wrote an introduction to the catalogue that gets to the heart of its character, which has carried it over forty years to the present time. He spoke of painting being both a social and a solitary pleasure, and the viewer sees in it a new vision which the community comes to accept, and in turn forms the climate of that solitude in which following painters must work. In their third exhibition their comradeship and individual friendships had strengthened and spread. And although they had no communally held theory they believed their individual art to be of richer texture and warmer humanity through the help and encouragement they had gained one from the other. At the turn of the year, in January 1956, the Group was engaged in an exhibition at the 0 Theatre in Kew. And in May the Full Members of the FPG (precursors to the present Fellows) exhibited at the Polish YMCA. The reviewer in the Art News and Review described the Group as having great vigour and the work being most stimulating.
Walker’s Galleries in New Bond Street again was the venue of the annual exhibition, the fourth, which was opened by Sir Hugh Casson, who in his opening speech praised the lively quality of the work and expressed the hope that it would not set into an academic jelly. The Group was continuing to attract new followers, and among the exhibitors that year were Frank Avray Wilson, Albert Berbank, Robin Craig, Aubrey Williams, Olga Karczewska and Karel Lek.
Members had an active year. Francis Souza had a successful one-man exhibition at Gallery Creuze in Paris, and in his one-man exhibition show at Gallery One, Litchfield Street, WC2 he sold out. He and Denis Bowen had works in the Commonwealth Exhibition at the Imperial Institute, South Kensington. Halima Nalecz was invited to take part in an exhibition in Rome, ‘La Mostra Interplanetaria.’ Denis Bowen was the secretary of the Groupe d’Espace in this country.
There had been two lectures during the year. One by Dr. Roland of Roland, Browse and Delbanco of Cork Street, the other by Michael Rothenstein on colour printing technique. Carol Johnson, a personal friend of the chairman, offered his services as Honorary Solicitor to the Group, which was gratefully accepted. He had given valuable help and advice during the Paris exhibition. He also introduced Gunner Anderson a dealer from Lanskrona, Sweden who bought twenty-five works from the Group.
It was still a difficult time for artists with a modern vision to find galleries willing to show their work. Some London galleries were beginning to hold occasional exhibitions of the work of avant-garde artists, but sales were infrequent and gallery directors were not prepared to risk too much time out of their programmes. It was therefore a brave and praiseworthy venture when three artists from the Free Painters Group — Denis Bowen, Halima Nalecz and Frank Avray Wilson opened the New Vision Centre Gallery devoted entirely to non-figurative art. The gallery was situated in Seymour Place, Marble Arch, and began to absorb some of the talent that had been in waiting. It was to be of help individually to a number of FPG artists and to the Group itself.
The following year, February-March, 1957 a non-figurative exhibition, ‘Form plus Experiment,’ organised by the Free Painters Group was put on at the New Vision Centre Gallery. In mid-year there was an exhibition at Lambeth Town Hall of Contemporary Figurative Paintings by the Free Painters Group. A critic in Art News and Review wrote ‘compelling canvases explore the fascinating fruitful regions which lurk somewhere between abstraction and realism.’ In the autumn at the Fifth Annual Exhibition at Walker’s a critic remarked on the majority of the paintings being in one or other of the abstract styles of the day. . . and there being some very good figurative works in the show. The character of the work being done by artists of the group reflected the movement of art that was taking place, and it was praiseworthy of the members of the FPG that the dichotomy created by figurative and non-figurative work never split the Group. However antagonistic the conflict raged outside, it never ruptured the friendship and mutual toleration within the Group. It helped that the figurative artists were not academic, but were individualistic and experimental, as were the non-figurative artists. There was debate. But also there was common ground.
That year Halima Nalecz opened her own Drian Gallery in Porchester Place, Marble Arch, while remaining a partner at the New Vision Centre Gallery till 1962. At the Drian she exercised a distinctive influence, always alert to the nuances of art as they appeared. She brought many distinguished artists from abroad to show in her gallery, at the same time was always eager to show the work of British artists, both the established and the promising. She believed in respecting and helping individual talent, no matter what nationality talent springs from. Many FPG artists were given opportunities for exhibitions over the years and her gallery has survived into the Nineties. The Group continued adding to its membership. Eighty artists passed selection for the annual exhibition. Among the new names were Jack Clemente, Dorothy Bordass, the sculptor Roy Rasmussen, Jolan Williams, George Claessen, Don Tibbenham, Nina Hosali, and the Belgian Surrealist E. L. T. Mesens.
It was not just the exciting field of work which attracted new members to the Group. People often had to be informed of its existence. Aside from their painterly abilities many members, especially on the Executive Committee, displayed a talent for public relations on behalf of the Group which helped contribute to its success. The Chairman, Lyall Watson was an eloquent speaker and contributor of ideas of strategy and policy. Margaret and Maurice Jadot were tireless in their devotion and work for the Group, ever seeking out talent to join its ranks. Roy Rasmussen tells of meeting them at a private view at the Royal Institute Galleries in Piccadilly, where he was very much an outsider among other exhibitors — a token modernist, and they advised him to join the Free Painters Group where he would find himself among kindred artists. And Denis Bowen, Halima Nalecz and Frank Avray Wilson were always providing encouragement for those trying to find their feet in an uncharted region of art. The administrative side was served loyally and with great effect.
In February 1958 a Free Painters Group open exhibition was held at the New Vision Centre Gallery. The reviewer in Art News and Review spoke of the daunting task for a critic, some seventy works by sixty-five artists crammed together on the walls of two small rooms, a staircase and two passages’. But it was a time when an artist could be happy showing in an avant-garde basement gallery (before the ground floor space was acquired for the New Vision). Crowded hangings were part of a great adventure. It was a crowded year for members. The Sixth Annual Exhibition at Walkers brought more new faces. Anthea Alley, Crome Barratt, John Coplans, Frank Fidler, Cliff Holden, Eric Alan Taylor, Baz, Bill Newcombe, and Cynthia Fuller who for the first time appeared on a catalogue as ‘Francyn.’
The exhibiting net was being flung wider. During that year Karel Lek showed at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, in the exhibition ‘Contemporary Welsh Painting and Sculpture.’ Francis Souza, Robin Craig and Guta Vardy showed with the London Group. Dorothy Bordass exhibited in Kuala Lumpa, in the inaugural exhibition of the National Gallery of Malaya. Gudrun Kruger showed in Stuttgart, Germany. She also selected a series of large prints and drawings from the Free Painters Group, New Vision Centre Gallery and the Drian Gallery for a British show in Gallerie V in Reutlingen, Germany — FPG artists included Maurice Jadot, Baz, Nalecz, Bowen, Coplans. E. L. T. Mesens had work at the Tate Gallery in ‘The Urwater Collection’. He also had work in two Paris galleries, Galerie Furstenburg and Librairie Nicaise. Maurice Jadot showed at Roland, Browse and Delbanco, Cork Street. Dorothy Bordass and Jolan Williams were included in the travelling exhibition of the Scottish section of the Arts Council. Denis Bowen, Roy Turner Durrant, Frank Fidler, Halima Nalecz and Frank Avray Wilson were invited to show in the Picture Fair at the ICA. In the Richmond Art Galleries, Melbourne, Australia, works were shown by Baz, Bowen, Gordon Dent, Maurice Jadot, Halima Nalecz and Peter Reid. And in Johannesburg, South Africa, Denis Bowen and John Coplans shared an exhibition. Francis Souza was one of the five artists chosen by the British Joint Committee to go before the International Committee for the Guggenheim Painting Award for 1958. Francis Souza was also one of the British artists invited to participate in ‘The Religious Theme’ at the Tate Gallery. Frank Avray Wilson exhibited at the Redfern Gallery, Cork Street in ‘The Christian Vision’. And Janina Baranowski, Dorothy Bordass, Nina Hosali, Rosalie de Meric, Halima Nalecz, Mary Oppenheim, Jennifer Pike, and Jolan Williams all had work in the Women’s International Art Club at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.
In that year there was a change in status for the Full Members, who had been called upon to represent the Group when it was required to display its special qualities. They included several honorary members who had been elected for services to FPG. The name was changed to ‘Fellows’. The new list was substantially the same as before, with the exception of two people who left the group. Gordon Allen drifted away from painting for domestic reasons, and Florence Searle had retired and been replaced by Margaret Jadot as Secretary. The Fellows were Denis Bowen, Roy Turner Durrant, Francyn, Violet Fuller, Maurice Jadot, Rosalie de Meric, Halima Nalecz, Francis Souza, Peter Stroud, Lyall Watson and Frank Avray Wilson. The Honorary Fellows were Louise Berhendo, a purchaser of members work, and an indefatigable supporter and propagandist for the Group. The Secretary, Margaret Jadot, who carried an awesome burden on slender shoulders with charm and patience, and a professionalism that ensured affairs were always properly organised. And A. T. S. McGhie, the outgoing Treasurer, who was shortly to emigrate to New Zealand.
There were changes on the Executive Committee. Maurice Jadot became Treasurer, an office he was to fill with distinction for many years; his business experience enabled a continuity of funds. Financially the Group only pulled through because of his skills. John Ratcliff, an architect of reputation, who brought a separate and distinctive skill to his abstract paintings, became Vice-Chairman.
In mid-year another gallery sympathetic to FPG aims opened, The Woodstock Gallery, in Woodstock Street, off the top end of New Bond Street. It was started by Lyall Watson and Joan Knoblock. Shortly before the opening date Roy Rasmussen joined them to organise the sculpture, and later became a co-director. The Gallery’s policy was catholic, attracting figurative artists of the time as well as non-figurative, thereby creating a balance with the other two galleries. Although the three galleries were independent from the Group, they reflected its styles of painting and sculpture, and had a sympathetic attitude towards members, thereby giving it strength and confidence in the long haul to bring the modern idioms of art before the public. Although the FPG had become an autonomous body, by arrangement with the Institute of Contemporary Art it continued to enjoy the use of their facilities in Dover Street for monthly meetings, where a number of well-known figures were invited to give lectures, and where discussions on members’ work continued. Information was circulated through the Group’s bulletin which began in 1955 and was published monthly. The Treasurer reminded members in the May number that subscriptions were due for 1958 and the new rate would be one pound — ten shillings for students full time in art schools.
Before the year ended Joan Knoblock left the country with her husband who was an economic adviser with the United Nations and whose work took him to Rabat, Morocco. It was the beginning of several years extensive travelling to different parts of the world. There were breaks when she would return for a period to this country, and would help on the Executive Committee with the business of FPG. Her place at the Woodstock Gallery was later filled by Mary Brooks. On November 15th Cliff Holden gave a talk on the BBC Third Programme — ‘An Artist as Teacher — Reminiscences of David Bomberg’. Bomberg had died the previous year. Cliff Holden worked under him from 1945 to 1951 and spoke about Bomberg’s approach to painting and his contribution as a teacher. John Ratcliff was elected a Fellow, and took part in the Fellows Exhibition held Feb-March 1959 at the Woodstock Gallery. Success had its own problems. The Group was increasing its influence, and the administration faced greater pressures which led to some reorganisation. At the Annual General Meeting in June, 1959 Lyall Watson spoke of the development of the Group, and of his happy association with its individual members during the six years he had been in office. He then expressed his wish to retire in favour of John Ratcliff, and said that he would be willing to serve on the Executive Committee. Roy Rasmussen and Don Tibbenham had earlier joined the Executive Committee. At the Election of Officers John Ratcliff was confirmed as Chairman, and Don Tibbenham was elected Vice-Chairman.
Margaret Jadot said that after five years she would like to resign from the post of Secretary, but as the meeting was unable to find someone to take over at that moment she agreed to continue on a temporary basis. It was agreed that an exhibitions committee be formed in order to spread some of the burden. Five members of FPS showed with the London Group that year. Denis Hawkins, Cliff Holden, Kathleen Guthrie, Robert Payne and Cecil Stephenson. One of the two paintings shown by Cecil Stephenson was purchased by the Arts Council. Cecil Stephenson had been a member of the small group of artists in Britain who pioneered abstract art in the 1930s, including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and lyon Hitchens. In 1919 he took No 6 The Mall Studios, Hampstead, from W R. Sickert. In 1942 he married Kathleen Guthrie. The Tate Gallery have acquired work of the artist for their collection.
At the Woodstock Gallery in June, Eric Alan Taylor and Roy Rasmussen held a joint exhibition, ‘Painter and Sculptor Collaborate’. The idea had been born nearly eighteen months previously at the FPG exhibition at New Vision Centre Gallery when the two artists were pondering over their two works which had been hung alongside one another. The works they produced from their partnership were large, and examples of ways painting and sculpture could be integrated on the same surface. The implications were architectural and Sir Hugh Casson looked at them in Taylor’s studio before the exhibition. The exhibition was well received by the national press, although it was left to the Gazette de Lausanne to strike a prophetic note, ‘a daring and beautiful effort has been realized which, it is to be hoped, architects will know how to welcome . . . The pity is that in England architecture lags several decades behind the staggering audacities of Continental or South American practice’.
In Brussels the Belgian Association of Art Critics voted the exhibition of eighty-two collages by E. L. T. Mesens at the Palais des Beaux- Arts as the best of the month of May. Denis Bowen and Frank Avray Wilson showed at the Redfern Gallery, Cork Street. Joan Knoblock returned from abroad after being away a year and agreed to help. She accepted the appointment of Secretary to cover the day-to-day business of the Group. This would exclude the business of exhibitions, the Bulletin, and lectures. Maurice Jadot had become Chairman of the Exhibition Committee, as well as continuing his duties as Treasurer.
It had been foreseen from the previous year’s experience that the annual exhibition was outgrowing the space at Walker’s Gallery. Paintings were becoming larger as well as the number of submissions. Lyall Watson offered the use of the Woodstock Gallery on favourable terms so that the exhibition could be divided between the two galleries, which were situated two minutes walk apart. Professor Mischa Black opened the exhibition. Of the five hundred works submitted two hundred had been accepted. The prob1m of the Annual Exhibition continued. The final accounts of the joint gallery exhibition had showed a deficit of66. Halima Nalecz had loaned her gallery for a St. Nicolas Day sale which cleared the debt. Maurice Jadot pointed out that the logic was that either more pictures would have to be hung — the Woodstock Gallery had been overcrowded! — or more would have to be paid in fees.
Lyall Watson was agreeable to letting the Woodstock Gallery again for the same period as Walker’s and on the same conditions. Finances were in a healthier condition, and in view of the experience of the last annual exhibition it was apparent that subscriptions should rise. During the year Halima Nalecz and Maurice Jadot exhibited at the Galerie de la Madeleine, Brussels. Jadot also exhibited at Roland, Browse and Delbanco, the Molton Gallery and Kaplan Gallery. And Maurice Jadot and Roy Rasmussen exhibited at the Whibley Gallery (at that time in George Street). Leonard Wyatt made a first appearance together with Violet Fuller at the Three Towns Exhibition at Ilford Town Hall.
Eight hundred catalogues were taken up during the second of the two-gallery annual exhibitions, and another crop of new members joined FPG. The Executive had good reason to hold the view that the exhibitions were a notable attraction and it was vital to continue with them, pushing the format as far as possible. But the problem of space was still unsolved and artists disposed towards large paintings and sculpture had to be accommodated. Walker’s Gallery were not prepared to accommodate the Group in 1961. Lyall Watson advised that the Group should be prepared to accept a period of the year other than October, which was the most popular period, otherwise the alternative could only be to pay more for hire. But annual exhibitions were deficit funded. Halima Nalecz had greatly increased the size of the Drian Gallery and she generously offered the use of it for the annual exhibition. But later it was decided that it was not large enough to overcome the problem of reduced space and an inevitable increase in hanging fees, and so the idea had to be abandoned.
The Group had been in touch with the Arts Council over the problem and after many months of negotiation they were granted a fifty pound grant, to be specifically linked with the Annual Exhibition. The irony was that they were unable to find a suitably large gallery, and had to forgo the grant for that year — 1961. They did however manage to obtain a booking for the RBA Galleries for the following year, and the Arts Council agreed to award the grant for that occasion.
In January, 1961 five new Fellows were elected, strengthening the existing body. Frank Fidler, Cliff Holden, Jeannette Jackson, Roy Rasmussen and Cecil Stephenson. And the Executive Committee had been strengthening itself with the inclusion of active people from among the expanding membership, which by the end of the year was some 150 members. There had also been some movement of officers. The Executive for 1961/62 was: John Ratcliff, Chairman. Roy Rasmussen, Noel Baddow-Pope, Vice-Chairmen. Maurice Jadot, Treasurer. Rosalie de Meric, Secretary. Denis Bowen, Robin Craig, Robin Davis, Frank Fidler, Francyn, Violet Fuller, Jeannette Jackson, Joan Knoblock, Olga Karczewska, Halima Nalecz, Cecil Stephenson, Francis Souza, Don Tibbenham, Lyall Watson, Len Wyatt. In April there was an FPG exhibition at Norwich in the Assembly House, an attractive 18th Century building which had been restored and served as a cultural centre. The exhibition was arranged by Don Tibbenham who had been connected with Norwich for many years. Some thirty-five paintings were hung.
If it had to be a year without a major exhibition it certainly didn’t lack activities. There were lectures from Dr Rayner Banham and Roland Penrose, discussions of members’ work, a garden party in July at the home of sculptor member Marcus Arman, and a social evening in conjunction with an ICA party in December. But the event that proved the most joyful was a visit to Henry Moore at his home at Perry Green in Hertfordshire. It was initiated by Frank Fidler, resident in the area and involved in public art in the County, and a friend of Moore. He took Leonard Wyatt, the Social Secretary, to meet Moore and a visit by the Group was arranged. A coach was hired to take the party of forty FPG members to Perry Green. Henry Moore greeted them on arrival and they toured the studios and extensive gardens, where many of his sculptures had been setup in order that he could study them through the seasons. There was a long conversation with the artist in the small studio where much of his work originated.
The Bulletin had been replaced early in the year by the FPG News and the September number carried some of Moore’s remarks, as recalled by those present. ‘However abstract some of my work may seem, all of it is related to some organic form. Not everyone can recognise the connection. I work to please myself, as I cannot believe I am so unique in the world that there will not be people who cannot derive some pleasure from it.’ ‘The shape of the head and its relationship to the body is very important to me. I admire Michelangelo, who had the same outlook in this respect, and who was often criticised for his heads. The relationship of the head to the torso is fundamental; one can tell the kind of person a man is at some distance merely by the pose of the head.’ 'In earlier years, I had to finish a work quickly, as it would be overtaken by new developments if it was left for too long. In later years, when the rush of development has, quite rightly, slowed me down, I can afford to take more time. After all, Cezanne worked for seven years on ‘Les Grandes Baigneuses.’ ‘I always do a small maquette of a large sculpture first; to attempt ideas on a large scale is too unwieldy. I play around with very small pieces, often derived from natural forms, and put them away for a month or so. When I bring them out again, I select those I still like.’
In November-December the Fellows held an exhibition at the Qantas Gallery, Piccadilly under the title ‘Divergencies’, which seemed to best express the spirit that pervaded the Group. It was well received by the press, the coverage exceeding most other FPG shows. Those exhibiting were — Cecil Stephenson, Roy Rasmussen, Frank Avray Wilson, Lyall Watson, Francis Souza, John Ratcliff, Cliff Holden, Jeannette Jackson, Halima Nalecz, E. L. T. Mesens, Rosalie de Meric, Maurice Jadot, Violet Fuller, Francyn, Frank Fidler, Roy Turner Durrant and Denis Bowen.
The year ended without the centrepiece of the Group’s yearly programme. But it was not a failure. The Free Painters Group had climbed a mountain, and were now contemplating the peaks of their future. And that had taken nerve, resolute organisation and generous fellow-feeling.
THE MIDDLE YEARS
With the resumption of the annual exhibition in 1962 at the FBA Galleries in Suffolk Street the cementing in of the Group began. Many of the earlier artists had become self-assured practitioners in their chosen field, with extensive exhibiting experience, and in the next decade were to be joined by others who were to make their contribution to the art of the day. But progress was not simply the business of aesthetics; it also came from having a keen eye for the direction of the Group. Representatives of FPG attended the Annual General Meeting of the International Association of Plastic Arts, where the most interesting topic of discussion was the possibility of building an art gallery in the new Barbican project in the City. More than twenty years later their representatives would be negotiating for a large Trends’ exhibition in the Barbican. The Ninth Annual Exhibition was reviewed in the Guardian by Eric Newton, one of the leading critics of the day. He mentioned the historical perspective, of new bodies organising themselves under the banner of freedom as a protest to entrenched conservatism — the New English Art Club, the London Group, and now the Free Painters Group, ten years old but exhibiting on a big scale for the first time. It was recognition of the Group’s efforts. In the spacious galleries of the FBA the larger works of painting and sculpture were seen to advantage, giving authority to the overall effect of the exhibition, and the artists felt a sense of mutual achievement. It was like an arrival after many struggles. The formative years had been heroic, but ‘arrival’ can be a heady wine, inducing self-satisfaction when there is a risk that something of the vital force that comes with struggle can be lost. The FPG did not lose its vital force. The venue was a spur to producing work of the times and encouraging others of like mind. During the following decade the main exhibitions of the Group were staged at the FBA Galleries, attracting a large number of visitors.
A lot was owed to Halima Nalecz, who with her contacts abroad was able to introduce many artists of international repute to show with FPG. And the enlistment of many interesting artists of that time ensured a collective intent to make the most of the annual centrepiece, which also boosted the ongoing programme of outside exhibitions put on by the Group. The Exhibitions Committee, first under the chairmanship of Maurice Jadot, and then Noel Baddow Pope, was heavily committed at that time. Halima Nalecz hung the majority of the exhibitions, with a distinction that did not go unnoticed by the critics.
It was possibly the time when leading members of the Group were most heavily committed, for aside from the annual challenge of justifying the larger premises where they were exhibiting, other developments began to unfold. For some while there had been casual talk about changing the name of FPG to accommodate the sculptors who had been joining its ranks. Some of the commanding works which began to appear in company with the large paintings in the Group’s exhibitions in the FBA Galleries were a persuasive inducement for recognition in the title. The members of the Group were balloted and in 1965 the name was changed to Free Painters and Sculptors. This was a first step. A year later a General Meeting was held at the ICA and the Secretary, Nina Hosali, was able to report that FPS had been registered as a non-profit making company, with the status of a charity. The members now had limited liability, and the Group would be able to reclaim tax on dividends, and on Covenanted Subscriptions, which were tangible advantages. As was the fact that various Foundations and Trusts would be legally able to make them grants from untaxed funds, which they would not otherwise be able to do. The changes had been the successful outcome of twelve months of unremitting and concentrated effort, in the course of which many intricacies had to be dealt with. She paid tribute to the Chairman, Krome Barratt, for having the imagination to envisage the course of action. It had not been easy and there was a time when only faith and determination had sustained them. She also said how fortunate FPS were in having Godfrey Hetch who not only had a profound experience of business affairs, including company law and procedure, but a combination of charm, modesty and loyalty which undoubtedly enabled him to succeed where others might falter and fail.
Krome Barratt was elected Chairman of the newly organised body. Other officers were Ben Sunlight, Vice-Chairman; Nina Hosali, Secretary; Godfrey Hetch, Executive Secretary; Marjorie Irvine, Treasurer; John Newson, Exhibition Treasurer; Marcus Arman, Social Secretary. The remaining members of the outgoing Executive completed the Committee. For a number of years Francyn, who was living in Victoria Road, W8 had provided a haven for the Group, making her studio available as a Central address and for the storage of works, and where meetings had occasionally been held. She was moving home and unable to continue the arrangement.
Nina Hosali, who had done so much for the Group in arranging its change of status — including endowing it with a generous gift of shares to give it a financial foundation, again helped by offering her address in Buckingham Gate as the new address of the Group. That year the annual exhibition was given a face-lift. The title was changed to ‘Trends in Modern Art’. This was devised by Doug Cipriani, who had argued that people did not associate progressive art with annual salons. A title needed to inform of artists contributing to form a structure — in their case, an account of work being done by modern artists of the mid 20th Century. And more precisely, of that particular year, 1966. The change was a success. There were over a thousand visitors to the Private View, followed by a very much improved daily attendance over previous years.
There was another major exhibition in September, at Brighton Art Gallery, in the Dome. That too was given a title denoting an event — ‘Today’s Art’. It was followed by provincial exhibitions under the same title before the end of the year, at Turnford, Hitchin and Stourbridge, and in January of the following year at Redditch. The interchange of foreign and British artists went on briskly during the Sixties, part of the great outburst of energy that produced the Beatles, Carnaby Street and British design. Many FPS artists exhibited in significant venues at that time. In the Spring of 1960 a dazzling exhibition of international talent was brought together for an exhibition called ‘Art Alive’ at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. Even today it could be regarded as difficult for a provincial art gallery to assemble such a comprehensive display of what was described in the catalogue as ‘paintings and sculpture of the last ten years’. The Group’s representation was a heartening reminder of the contribution they had been making. It included John Coplans, Maurice Jadot, Roy Rasmussen, John Ratcliff, Kenneth Coutts-Smith, Francis Souza, Frank Avray Wilson, Eddie Wolfram and Jeanette Jackson.
Leonard Wyatt was discovering a theme that was to continue to absorb his creative talents to present times. In 1964 an American agent took thirty-eight of his paintings — cosmic migrations’ to a gallery in Georgetown in the United States. The progeny of these early paintings have achieved a breathtaking stature, vast works replete with an assemblage of minutiae from the interiors of machines. Works which transpose and integrate the found objects, complementing paintings which are immaculate in design, and direct our interest away from our own affairs to the wonder of the heavens. Maurice Jadot found a way from painting to sculpture by a natural progression. To the conventional painter’s surface he began introducing elements to develop luxurious surfaces that were part way to relief. It was a short step to true relief when he used plywood, removing parts of the wood to varying depths, controlling the incursions to realise a dramatic imagery which he coloured with stains and varnish creating lustrous surfaces. Inevitably the wooden reliefs came to move away from the walls and become free standing sculpture, often like towers commanding their own space. Maurice Jadot exhibited widely, here and abroad. Brook Street Gallery, Grabrowski Gallery, Molton Gallery and the John Whibley Gallery among London galleries. He had a seventieth birthday exhibition at the Molton Gallery, and a seventy-fifth birthday exhibition at the John Whibley Gallery when it moved to Cork Street. Roy Rasmussen exhibited in the 21st Salon des Realites Nouvelles at the Salle Baizac, Paris in 1966. The following year he left the Woodstock Gallery. He was commissioned to make a sculptured table in aluminium with a glass top for the John Whiley Gallery when it opened in Cork Street, and was also invited to show there, remaining as a resident artist till the gallery closed its doors ten years later. The Group was particularly strong on the sculptural side, during that time being joined by Jack Waldron, Jesse Watkins, Marcus Arman, Robert de Quin, all producing work on a monumental scale in modern materials. Cecil Stephenson died in 1965, a loss of a friend to FPS members, and for British art the loss of a pioneer. The following year Kathleen Guthrie, his widow, held a retrospective exhibition of her own paintings at the Drian Gallery — a kindred free spirit, beginning with her earlier uncompromisingly simple figurative compositions on to the completely abstract works where she displayed great sensitivity and subtlety. Just as his paintings had begun uncompromisingly geometric and later became painterly and beautiful. Surely a marriage of minds, that didn’t steal from each other but enriched.
During this creative period, when FPS artists were avidly picking up exhibitions, one of their number was committed to a sojourn in the South Sea. Joan Knoblock was in Fiji. She wrote home. ‘The island is hot, wet and intensely green. The plant growth is prodigious, overwhelming; creepers smother bushes and trees, linking all together in vegetable masses. Everything is exaggerated; the rain, sunshine, clouds, rainbows, colours of the sea, people’s clothes. A Fijian in an orange shirt or an Indian woman in a pink sari, hit the eyes with shock. Little girls with socks like luminous paint. ‘There are several hundred islands in the Fiji Group but many are uninhabited. The seas are dangerous and full of coral reefs, so travelling is risky. Yet the harbour is always full of ships of many shapes and sizes, from the large ocean liners, full of weird tourists, to Japanese fishing boats, battered and businesslike, and small local boats with red sails, unloading copra. ‘Under this immense stretch of sea are fantastic fish of the most brilliant and luminous colours; revolting beche-de-mer like burnt sausages which move obscenely when they are hauled on deck; and of course, the sharks which are always waiting somewhere. ‘Soon, we shall be leaving Fiji for the last time and in many ways it will be with regret, but when I think of the delights of London, I know where I really want to be.’ The subject of much of Joan Knoblock’s paintings had been plants and flowers, in which she spurned the conventional notion of their being a vehicle for beauty instead imbuing them with the drama of growth and threat and survival. Overseas she was feeding her vision with a proliferation of natural forms that was to enrich her art for a lifetime. Among the painters Francis Souza kept busy with galleries eager to show his work. A number of London galleries put on one-man exhibitions of his work, including Gallery One and the Grosvenor Gallery. There was extensive coverage of his work around Britain, and abroad — San Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, New Delhi, Bombay and Johannesburg. Cliff Holden had one-man shows in Stockholm and Gothenburg. Francyn in Sydney. Frank Fidler at Lunsbjerg, Denmark. Denis Bowen at Bergen, Norway; Rome, Florence, Milan, Como, Italy, Vienna, Berlin; and in London the Drian Gallery, Molton Gallery and John Whibley Gallery.
During the Sixties a number of artists were attracted to FPS who were to make a considerable contribution. Rosemary Brabant, Alan Burgess, Roy Broadbent, Maida Crowe, Robin Davis, Lucette de Ia Fougere, Albert Garrett, Mary Gorrara, Aldridge Haddock, Helen Hale, June Hainault, Brian Hargreaves, Althea Heron (Gee), Joan Kinder, Joyce Hargreaves, Leslie Marr, Sheila Oliner, Clarisse Loxton Peacock, John Pelling, Sir George Pollock, Robert de Quin, Dorothy Richard, Muriel Rose, Harry Sales, Home Shepherd, Molly Squirrell, Leslie Summers, Guta Vardy and Guy Worsdell. In 1966, after ten years, Denis Bowen closed the New Vision Centre Gallery in Seymour Place W1. In the later years Kenneth Coutts Smith, painter, critic and writer became co-director. The gallery had reflected the art movements of its time, continuing to disseminate the cause of non-figurative art to the point where young artists of the ‘New Generation’ entered the scene and the movement away from an international art had begun. The four artists who had directed the gallery had played a considerable role in the emergence of London as a creative centre alongside Paris and New York. They were all members of FPS, and remained loyal friends of the Group. In 1967, after several years without exhibiting together the Fellows had an opportunity to stage a show in the large auditorium on the fourth floor of the John Lewis Partnership Building in Oxford Street, London. The Partnership was generous, and gave a grant and help with publicity. The Fellows produced a large illustrated catalogue for the exhibition, which was also used for publicity by FPS. Twenty-six Fellows took part. Frank Avray Wilson, Ben Sunlight, Otway McConnell, Cliff Holden, Maurice Jadot, Dunbar Marshall, Francyn, Frank Fiddler, Albert Berbank, John Ratcliff, John Palling, Lyall Watson, Violet Fuller, Rosalie de Meric, Chrome Barratt, Cecil Stephenson (deceased), Kathleen Guthrie, Denis Bowen, Francis Souza, Roy Turner Durrant, Jeanette Jackson, Halima Nalecz, E. L. T. Mesons, Roy Rasmussen, Jack Waldron and Jesse Watkins.
The following year the Group put on an exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery in connection with the Bath Festival, and one at Bristol City Art Gallery. There were also exhibitions at the Old Bake house Gallery, Sevenoaks, Kent, and at the High Wycombe Festival. The numerous provincial exhibitions during the Sixties and Seventies are an extraordinary record of the energy and determination of members to take their art around the country. The reward was certainly not sales, for their uncompromising work challenged accepted taste. It was only the belief that they were helping to effect change that sustained their efforts. April 1969 there was another Fellows Exhibition at the Qantas Gallery.
There were new names to add to the others. Marcus Armani, Roderick Barrett, Robert de Quinn, Mary Gerard, Merrick Hansel, Marjorie Irvine, John Palling and Leslie Summers. Ben Sunlight, Roy Rasmussen, Denis Bowen and Gut Vardy all had one-man exhibitions at the John Whitley Gallery, Cork Street that year.
The sculptors put on a large outdoor exhibition at the Northern Polytechnic, London, N7 which gave them an opportunity to display works of a monumental scale. Smaller works were shown inside the building, the larger pieces in the court outside. It was a spectacular event and a pleasing occasion for the sculptors. Outdoor venues were not easy to come by, and needed to be protected from thief and vandal. As though to underline the threat a sculpture by Robert de Quinn was stolen two days before the exhibition opened.
Despite problems of site, handling, transport and security that beset sculptors1 concerted action by FPS sculptors was to lead to an outstanding period of sculpture exhibitions which lasted till the mid Seventies. The Executive Committee agreed that their special problems would be better handled if they set up their own committee within the Group. Roy Broadbent and Robert de Quinn were the architects of this approach and became, successively, chairmen of the committee. During that year Otway McConnell died. Apart from being a very good painter and teacher, McConnell effused belief in a better world with such genuine good will and charm that his didacticism never offended. A modernist as an artist he was nevertheless very much an idealist of a past generation. His passing was a loss, as a person and as a painter. That year Alice Berger-Hammerschlag and Roman Black also died.
A selection from the ‘Trends’ of 1970 went onto the Usher Gallery in Lincoln. Roy Broadbent welcomed Dame Sybil Thorndike who opened the exhibition. The celebrated veteran actress enchanted the audience of over two hundred people with an extempore speech of almost fifteen minutes in which she extolled the virtues of another form of art than her own, and also of the young people of the day who were part of it. The Mayor of Lincoln in expressing thanks pointed out that the gallery had a reputation for being one of the liveliest outside London, and had seen many occasions but few that would live in the memory as of that night. The paintings and sculpture could not have failed to have been a considerable offering towards the ambience that inspired those remarks. There were also two FPS exhibitions in the South of France that year, at Nimes and Avignon. They were made possible with the help of Olga Karczeski who had a home in the area.
The following year, 1971, the sculptors held an exhibition at Essex University. The Polish sculptor Witold Kawalec, who had made his home in this country, joined their ranks. A great carver of stone and wood with a distinguished career behind him, he was a creator of subtle abstractions that attracted attention from both secular and ecclesiastical quarters. The main event for the sculptors that year was an exhibition at Lincoln Cathedral, which was organised by Roy Broadbent. The exhibition was sponsored by the Lincolnshire Association and thanks were due to the Dean and Chapter for allowing and encouraging the use of the Cathedral for that purpose. The exhibition was opened by the then Minister for Arts, Sir David Eccles. There were fifty-four exhibits from the sixteen Sculptors who were invited to take part. Shortly afterwards Roy Broadbent suffered a breakdown of health and sadly after a lengthy illness died. Robert de Quin, who had stood in for him when it had been believed his incapacity was temporary became the Organiser of Sculpture. In midsummer 1972 there was an outdoor exhibition of FF5 sculpture in the heart of London. It was sponsored by the Reed Employment Agency in connection with the Westminster Festival and was held in Berkeley Square, a truly exciting site.
Later that year there was another outdoor exhibition of sculpture, this time at the Extramural Department of Birmingham University, Winterbourne. In beautiful surroundings on the crest of a hill the sculpture was set out in a well kept terraced garden and floodlit at night. The exhibition was related to a series of lectures and discussions about sculpture and architecture. In the early part of 1972 there had been an exhibition at the Rotunda Gallery, Finchley Road, NW3 which exemplified the spirit behind the work of FF5 artists. The exhibition was called The Magic of Black and White.’ It was a theme exhibition and was described in the art press as offering a boundless capacity for invention.
Around that period events involving FPS were moving in two directions, although it wasn’t easy to define them at the time. As with all things chance was as much a player as deliberate choice. One direction on its own would certainly have led to the degeneration of FPS had it not been for a number of periphery things that took place. A press review of the ‘Trends’ exhibition at the Mall Galleries in 1971 had spoken of FPS being one of the more aware groups in the country, although it was consolidating occupied territory rather than breaking new ground, and with over 500 items on display impact became blunted.
And the following ‘Trends’ in 1972 caused the discerning critic Oswell Blakeston to comment that the members appeared to be working for a standard acceptable to a hanging committee rather than from their own individuality. In the early days of FPS Sir Hugh Casson had praised the lively quality of their work and expressed the hope that it would not set into an academic jelly. It seemed the wheel had gone full circle.
Fortunately the essential spirit of invention had not been expunged, as FPS demonstrated in their theme exhibition ‘The Magic of Black and White’. It stayed alive among many members, certainly among the leading ones, and FPS continued to describe itself in the art press as a group devoted to modern and progressive artists. And for many years it still laid claim to being an international organisation, for the Group continued to have members living abroad, although the drive for international art associations diminished with the emergence of Op Art and Pop Art. The next decade would not see the emergence of creative movements which made the Sixties so exciting.
During the early Seventies events were unfolding that were to save FPS from becoming unduly centred around its annual showpiece ‘Trends’. Recovery was due to the remarkable woman who had become Secretary of FPS and had already played a great part in the reorganisation of the Group. Nina Hosali lived in a property in idyllic surroundings on the slopes of Biggin Hill in Kent, although much of her time was spent at her London address at 15 Buckingham Gate, the headquarters of the Society for Protection of Animals in North Africa (SPANA), founded by her mother in 1923. By a stroke of good fortune the freehold of the Queen Anne house was acquired by the Society in 1952. Nina Hosali had worked for SPANA from its foundation till her retirement as Organising Secretary in 1963. She continued to maintain a considerable involvement with the Society, and in 1968 had been able to persuade them to allow FPS to use a basement room for meetings and storage of works. A ‘reserve’ of works was established, making possible an ambitious programme of provincial and short notice exhibitions to be organised from there. The Group now had a home and was virtually self-contained, only requiring to hire outside premises for the annual send-in for ‘Trends’. The address was prestigious. Four doors away the corner building housed the offices of the Duchy of Cornwall, with Buckingham Palace opposite. Over the other side of the road was Wellington Barracks, and around the corner Birdcage Walk and St. James’ Park. The house itself, first mentioned in 1757, was scheduled as a building of historical interest. Wilfred Scawen Blunt, poet and traveller, who founded the Crabbet Park Stud of Arab horses, lived there 1877 to 1890.
Despite the time she gave to furthering her many interests, Nina Hosali was always watchful for opportunities to help FPS. She had sometimes heard members casually remark that it was a pity the Group did not have its own gallery. Such remarks had not been intended seriously, but did light a torch in Nina Hosali’s mind and she set about making the wish a reality. She lived in the fiat on the top floor, and looked down on the attractive garden with its Victorian loggia. It was only used once a year, when SPANA held its Annual General Meeting. She began to see the possibility of it being adapted for use as a gallery for FPS and approached the owners with the idea. Negotiations led to agreement that there could be a gallery, but that it should not impede the normal daily business of SPANA. The opening times should be restricted to weekday evenings and weekends. The agreement also stipulated that the gallery and garden should be vacated for one week each year during July so that SPANA could hold its Annual General Meeting in the manner it had been used. Nina Hosali contacted John Ratcliff, who aside from being a painter was a distinguished architect. He had been Deputy Director of Architecture to Sir Hugh Casson for the Festival of Britain, 1951. Later he became Deputy Director of Construction for the same project. In 1958 he designed the British Pavilion in the Brussels International Exhibition, for which he was awarded a bronze medal. John Ratcliff was able to bring Nina Hosali’s dream to fruition, and the Loggia Gallery and Sculpture Garden opened on 11th July, 1972.
The atmosphere of the gallery was both informal and welcoming. Mary Brooks who had been a director of the Woodstock Gallery was appointed to organise and run the gallery. The Lord Mayor of Westminster was invited to the Private view of the Opening Exhibition — ‘Founder Members’, which included Lyall Watson, Maurice Jadot, Denis Bowen, Francyn, Violet Fuller and Joan Knoblock. The Gallery was intended for Full Members shows and in the first year thirty-seven artists had one-person or shared exhibitions. There were also two theme exhibitions open to all members of the Group.
That year also marked the end of the decade spent at the FBA Galleries. In January 1973 ‘Trends’ was held at the Mall Galleries, beginning a period with another large venue. The selectors chose 516 works and Kathleen Guthrie was in charge of the hanging.
It was a year of especial note for Maurice Jadot who had become the first President of The Free Painters and Sculptors. He held a retrospective exhibition of his paintings, reliefs and sculptures at the John Whibley Gallery in Cork Street. It celebrated his 80th birthday, and was held under the patronage of the Belgian Ambassador. Jadot had studied architecture under Victor Florta, the celebrated exponent of Art Nouveau at the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts. He served in the Belgian Army in World War One before coming to London, where he settled in 1919. His approach to his work was a model to the wayward. To find a way forward he consistently explored the possibilities within his own work, discovering all its variations and possibilities, giving it a unity that is the mark of true professionalism. Change is usually associated with the young, and we attribute to the old a conservatism which has a hard unwelcoming face towards diversity. The magic of Maurice Jadot was that he embodied the principle of experimentation which was at the heart of FPS. Later that year a double exhibition ‘Eighty plus Twenty-One’ was held at the Mall Galleries to mark the twenty-first anniversary of the Free Painters and Sculptors, and the eightieth birthday of its President and Founder Member Maurice Jadot. The Group was represented by its Fellows.
The list of Fellows had considerably expanded. Maurice Jadot was the Chairman. The others were Denis Bowen, Lyall Watson, Cliff Holden, Francis Souza, Halima Nalecz, Frank Avray Wilson, Marcus Arman, Roderic Barrett, Dorothy Bordass, Doug Cipriani, Nina Hosali, Marjorie Irvine, Rosalie de Meric, Roy Turner Durrant, Frank Fidler, Francyn, Violet Fuller, Mary Gorrara, Kathleen Guthrie, Merrick Hansel, Witold Kawalec, Dunbar Marshall, Ben Mathews, Helen Moggridge, John Felling, Robert de Quin, Roy Rasmussen, John Ratcliffe, Dorothy Richard, Muriel Rose, Leslie Summers, Ben Sunlight, Lucienne Verag, Jesse Watkins, Charles White, Guy Worsdell, Len Wyatt. The deceased members were Albert Berbank, E. L. T. Mesens, Roy Broadbent, Otway McCannell and Cecil Stephenson.
Despite her many interests Nina Hosali regularly painted and exhibited. In 1974 she had an exhibition at the Loggia Gallery. A reviewer noted her passionate feeling for colour, and her dynamic form. She was a great friend of Margaret Morris who founded the physical therapy dance movement which became an international organisation under her name, and who was married to the great Scottish colourist J. D. Fergusson. They sometimes stayed with Nina Hosali at her flat at Buckingham Gate. Nina Hosali’s paintings owed much to the help and inspiration of Fergusson, just as the point of departure for many were the dance rhythms owed to Margaret Morris. Nina Hosali was a person greatly concerned with friends, and much given to offering hospitality, the high point being the dejeuner sur l’herbe in midsummer, when many members would make the journey to her home in Biggin Hill to enjoy the particular fraternity artists find together. The host prepared a stage of Nature’s colour and form, having personally cropped trees and bushes, and over the years devised a hillside garden of many secret parts, where guests could roam and find seclusion for intimate talk, climb to the top of the garden, crowned with a woody retreat, and look out at the view through the valley of the North Downs, or they could join a group on one of the lawns and enjoy the food and wine and discussion. They could wander in and out the house, with its unusual layout, as though having grown with the surroundings, the rooms filled with contemporary paintings — sometimes their own work, for the host enjoyed and supported her friends. It was a summer idyll, to be taken away in the minds of visitors to dispel less felicitous occasions in life.
Over fifty artists took part in shared exhibitions at the Loggia Gallery that year. In March of the following year the membership had risen to approximately five hundred. ‘Trends’ had been organised for several years by Brian Hargreaves. In 1976 there was a change and John Kaye, sculptor and designer, took on the job. Not an easy one in view of the growing number of members, together with outside submissions and the immense amount of detail involved over a period of months. The record of ‘Trends’ is also a catalogue of arduous service given by the people who over the years accepted this worrisome office. In 1977 Marjorie Wadsworth’s name appeared on the list of sitters-in for ‘Trends’, It marked a significant addition to the Group, for together with her sister Freda they were to play a major role in FPS affairs. Apart from the contribution of their painting — they both were to become Fellows, their services on the administrative side were immense, and their reliability provided a sheet anchor for FPS. An engraved slate plaque made by the sculptor member Bernard Ball was installed in the garden commemorating the foundation of the Loggia Gallery by Nina Hosali.
After almost five years organising exhibitions at the Loggia Gallery, Mary Brooks felt it time to give up and Marcia Andrews took over in January 1977. The work was continuous and claimed so much of Mary Brooks’ time she had been finding none for her own work as a painter. Early in 1978 Marcus Arman died. It had been sudden and unexpected, and was a sad loss to FPS for his work typified the aims of the group. He was always seeking new aspects of expression in his sculpture. He communicated his own sense of wonder to others as he strove to achieve results with untried methods and materials. And he was not simply a man for new fields. He had an immense collection of ‘Wooden Bygones’ and museum pieces from all over the world, and every summer he would open up his large Victorian house and garden in Bromley, and together with his wife Kit would entertain FPS visitors to a superb tea. He had also been entrusted with the work of designing and bringing to fruition the ‘Post Office Museum’. Guy Worsdell also died that year. Highly esteemed for his painting, he was also missed for the service he gave on the Executive Committee and with the selection and hanging of shows.
New names on the list of Fellows were Ann Casimir, Brian Hargreaves and Home Shepherd. And the following year other names were added. Bernard Ball, Maida Crowe, Albert Garrett, Helen Hale and Raymond Spurner. Marcia Andrews had a breakdown in health and had to give up the post of Director of the Loggia Gallery. Mary Brooks, who had continued serving on the Executive, agreed to have another spell in office. Professor Geoffrey Matthews became the Exhibitions Secretary. He was to play a considerable role in the organisation of provincial exhibitions. As an educationalist who travelled extensively he was able to make contacts which otherwise might not have come about. His wife Julia was the Social Secretary, and accompanied him on his travels and together they were always on the lookout for opportunities for FPS.
Towards the end of 1978 Louise Berhendo died. At the AGM the following summer the report contained the following notes from Maurice and Margaret Jadot: ‘We met Louise Berhendo in the late 1940’s at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Dover Street. It was she who drew our attention to a special meeting which was to be held following a suggestion made by Lyall Watson at the Annual General Meeting, that people of similar interests in art should meet informally within the Institute. Thus several small groups were formed, painters, writers, musicians. architects, and so in 1952 the Painters Group of the ICA was born and it is now the FPS.
‘Louise was one of those pioneers who struggled to keep us going. She was not a practising artist, but was one of those rare and essential people who do as much as possible to give encouragement and help to many artists by buying painting and sculpture. ‘Since the very beginning Louise has given the Group constant support, sometimes financial, when we were in difficulty. When we mounted an exhibition in the early days she always sent us a note enclosing hat we jokingly referred to as her ‘Hanging Fee’. It is thanks to her that the Fellows could have their exhibition at the Mall Galleries in 1973 to celebrate the 21st Anniversary of FPS and the 80th birthday of Maurice Jadot.
‘When she moved out of London her Visits to the Gallery, and meetings and exhibitions, were less frequent and we have missed her, and it is sad that, because of a certain shyness and wishing not to be mentioned, so many of our new members seem not to have known her. But those of us who have had that privilege will always think of Louise as a modest and generous person, and will remember with affection and regret the passing of a very dear friend.’ In 1979 a legacy of2000 was received from the late Louise Berhendo. It was placed in a long term deposit.
The Dutch sculptor, Nenne Van Dijk, joined FPS in 1980. Her sculptures were intensely humanist in content, her figures simple and graceful inline, in the tradition of Dutch sculpture of this century. Her work has been acquired widely here and abroad. Stripping away all that was extraneous to achieving the most direct statement, she excelled in her portrayals of children, evoking all that is tender and poignant, without allowing sentimentality to replace humanity. Her style achieved its greatest fulfilment in ‘Girl with Umbrella’, which often stood in the Loggia garden. A masterpiece by any standard.
That year Albert Garrett’s ‘British Wood Engravings of the 20th Century’ was published. An exhaustive study of the subject, the work was widely acclaimed, and it was a matter of pride to FPS that it had been produced by one of its artists. In 1981 there was an exhibition of sculpture by Maida Crowe in Southwark Cathedral. Her wood carvings were at home in any modern collection, and graced many FPS exhibitions. But the deeper implication of her sculptures was religious, and for her it was appropriate that they should be shown in the place where she worshipped. She worked mainly on a scale of two to six feet. Her sculptures were not overtly religious, she did not use obvious religious symbols. A woman who was comfortable and tolerant in the company of diverse opinions, she could reveal a sparkling humour. She was passionately involved in the endless debate over forms of modern expression. She described her own work as an inward search.
Nina Hosali resigned as Secretary of FPS. She was eighty three and still had other things to achieve. Another of her dreams was awaiting fulfilment. She was President of the Margaret Morris Movement and was having a full-scale dance studio built in the grounds of her home in Biggin Hill. With her leaving office FPS had come to the close of the Middle Years.
Art movements emerge in order to-make a particular statement, and having done so sometimes fatten on an increased following which has been attracted by former achievement. They can still summon great activity, but become concerned mainly with display. The vision has left them. The history of the next decade for FPS was one of discovering fresh motivation, which was not simple, for an admission that all was not well was difficult to see when the organisation was still functioning. And sometimes to very pleasing effect. The times also played a part. It was a period of consolidation rather than innovation, when minds can grow torpid and defensive. For FPS it involved denying its existence was spent, and looking to find a second occasion for making a meaningful contribution to the art of the day. Need for change is never easy to discern; it does not reveal itself to everyone at the same time, and often emerges through a number of events, and there is a gradual putting together of a course of action. 1981-83 were difficult years for FPS. Members of the Executive Committee were heavily committed. Marjorie Wadsworth was asked if she would take over the duties of Secretary and found when she collected records of the office from Nina Hosali that it also included the work of treasurer, which over the years had become embraced with the secretary’s duties. She was encouraged to accept the office by an offer of help from her sister Freda. It was an instance of the need for people to collaborate, for the interlocking of the administrative parts made it possible to easily inherit extra work.
In 1982 John Ratcliff resigned as Secretary of the Fellows and Marjorie Wadsworth was asked to take on the job, as well as Secretary of FPS. Mary Brooks was producing the monthly Newsletter, and organising the’ Gallery. And Freda Wadsworth was taking the minutes at Executive Meetings as well as assisting the Secretary, and had begun to shift some of the workload from Mary Brooks by typing the Newsletter. Aithea Gee was Membership Secretary, and organised the minders of the Gallery, and produced the catalogues for the exhibitions. In view of the work being voluntary it was something of a miracle that individual loyalty and commitment were sustained. Another problem was that the Gallery and the outside exhibitions were not proceeding in step. Mary Brooks had returned to the arduous post of Gallery Director more from loyalty following Marcia Andrews’ breakdown of health. John Newson retired and was living in Saffron Waldron but helpfully came to London to assist her hang the exhibitions whenever there was a changeover. It was not a situation that wanted prolonging. And the difficulties involved in the Gallery tended to separate it from other problems with which officers of the Group were involved. The fees at the Mall Galleries had become prohibitive and they were obliged to look elsewhere for a venue for ‘Trends’ after 1981. Harry Sales moved up to Chairman of FPS. His tenure of office began at what was probably one of the lowest points of the Group’s existence.
There were successive exhibitions of ‘Trends’ at the Alpine Club Gallery and the Weighhouse Gallery, but the shows were disappointing after the experience of the larger venue. However the mood of members was not all gloom. Doug Cipriani was a skilful organiser for ‘Trends’ at the Weighhouse, and also arranged a dinner in the gallery which was certainly a success. The guests included Graham Hughes and his wife, and a letter of goodwill was received from Sir Hugh Casson. A presentation was made to John Ratcliff, the retiring Secretary of the Fellows. He had been continuously involved in an official capacity with running FPS since the mid-fifties. His quiet and courteous manner, consistent advocacy of high standards of work, and carefully considered statements on policy had been a steadying influence over the years. His administrative contribution to FPS tended to overshadow his excellence as an artist. His paintings were always an elegant solution to innovative ideas, and their presence added strength to many important FPS exhibitions.
There was at that time a continuous programme of provincial shows, due to Geoffrey Matthews ability to discover venues all over the country. Good painting and sculpture was still being produced but there was a feeling among some of the members that inferior work was being let into the exhibitions. Quality is often at risk when there is a large membership, especially when financial targets become the regulator. And there were some who felt that the mutual toleration that was at the heart of the Free Painters and Sculptors was being misapplied. Originally it had been meant to embrace those artists who were opposed to conventional art. The term ‘Free’ was being used to justify the inclusion of work more properly belonging to other art organisations closer to the Establishment. And this was happening both in the Gallery and the outside exhibitions. The Gallery was subject to both financial and aesthetic problems. It was often difficult to fill the exhibition periods, and some of the resorts to combinations of artists sharing were uncomfortable and undesirable. The disquiet in some quarters sometimes surfaced in a falling away of support for some of the outside shows, as though they were of secondary importance, which was unfortunate for it compounded the fault, making selectors responsibilities even more difficult. Some members of the Executive went to the home of the President, Maurice Jadot, to discuss the Group’s financial situation, and found themselves solemnly lectured about the necessity of always selecting work of the highest quality. They must never entertain variations of judgement in order to make up numbers or find money. They must find other ways. Good work is not enhanced by showing alongside poor, it is more likely to suffer by association. Good artists would not be attracted to the Group.
All this was only part of the problems troubling the Group. Private views at the Gallery had always been held in SPANA’s rooms on the ground floor which opened onto the patio. A convivial atmosphere pervaded those occasions, much enjoyed in summertime, with people being able to spread out and not crowd the paintings. In March 1983 SPANA informed Mary Brooks that the rooms would no longer be available. It meant they would have to adapt to smaller quarters. The rooms had also been used for lectures and meetings. Other quarters would certainly need to be found for the AGM. Within six months Nina Hosali phoned to say that SPANA might build on the patio, and the future of the lease to FPS was uncertain. These problems eventually passed but created great uncertainty at the time.
On 30th November 1983 Maurice Jadot died, aged ninety, involved with his work to the end. He had lived in England for over sixty years, but had not gone unnoticed in his own country. A year previously he had been made an ‘Officier de l’Orde de Leopold II’. The award was made in London by the Belgian Ambassador. Maurice Jadot was a Founder Member and a Fellow, and had been President of the Free Painters and Sculptors since the inception of the office in 1971.
One of the last of the provincial exhibitions that Geoffrey Matthews organised took place at the Usher Gallery in Lincoln in April-May 1984. It was well supported and brought credit to FPS. A lavish exhibition of 103 works went on show.
It marked the corner of the road where renewal was beginning. Althea Gee, the Membership Secretary, had obtained a booking for the large Concourse Gallery involving line and form in paintings on a smaller scale, often witty and with masterly judgement as to how much to put in, or leave out.
Graham Fry was another early member of FPS. He exhibited in the first FPG exhibition. A very shy man, of the kind who does his speaking with his painting. A prodigious worker who began as a figurative artist after the manner of Bomberg and the Borough Group, with which he appeared to have an affinity through one of his teachers. In the Sixties he turned to abstract painting through the contraction of landscape, working every inch of the paint surface to produce carpets of myriad organic form, depth upon depth. He was content to paint a world that only he knew; and was admired by other artists for the uncompromising way he trod a lonely path. It became apparent to the Executive that with fresh life being breathed into the Gallery, Rasmussen might like to tackle another matter.
Since John Ratcliff’s retirement in 1982 the activities of the Fellows had been minimal, It was assumed that as many of them were growing older, possibly some were no longer working. Harry Sales asked Rasmussen to be the chairman of a sub-committee of Fellows that would examine the situation, and reform the body if necessary. Rasmussen was of the opinion that the Fellows would become defunct unless they had a definite role within the Group. It would be better to separate those willing to be active from those who for personal reasons wished to remain quiescent. In January 1985 Marjorie Wadsworth’s letter to extant Fellows brought a disappointing response. Some were abroad, some only occasionally produced work, others were still exhibiting with FPS but were not willing to serve on the administrative side. It was fortunate however that there were four Fellows still actively involved in FPS affairs, who were willing to be on the sub-committee. They were Doug Cipriani, Maida Crowe, Marilyn Swann and Leonard Wyatt. The last election of Fellows had been in 1981, and from examination of the votes cast at that time it was clear that the incompleteness of many Fellows’ knowledge of some nominees told against their chance of being elected. It was essential to have a system based on adjudicators having regular contact with the work of candidates, and that could be best done by active Fellows forming the selection panels. Later Rasmussen asked that there should also be one non-Fellow from the Executive on each selection panel. A sub-committee comprising five members was under strength for the job it had to do, and it was necessary to hold an election. It produced seven new Fellows — Eric Green, John Kaye, Joan Knoblock, Edward Taylor, Peter Taylor, Nenne Van Dijk and Freda Wadsworth, all of whom agreed to be actively involved. FPS now had a working body of Fellows.
Later that year Kit Falla was also elected, although in her case it was understood that she lived too far away to be actively involved, but it was essential not to overlook people who deserved to become Fellows. Rasmussen informed the Executive Committee that he was confident that the Gallery organisation was working well and he was now prepared to take the responsibility of Director. Early in 1985 ‘The Early Years of FPS’ was put on at the Loggia Gallery. The Gallery Director wanted to show the work of the period so that members who had no experience of that time could be made aware of the Group’s antecedents. It was easier to put a finger against a name than produce work artists had been doing in the past. The process of improving one’s work, often involving changes of style and content, can sow disfavour of early works, and artists sometimes destroy. However work was obtained and the exhibition showed the contrast between then and now. There had not been the sense of polish or refinement which characterises much of today’s art, but there was a vigorousness and inventiveness that defied time and excited comment.
There were works by Jolan Williams, Charles White, Rosemary Brabant, Althea Gee, Cyril Hamersma, Harry Sales, Gerald Meares, Doug Cipriani, Don Tibbenham, Francyn, Mary Brooks, Leonard Wyatt, Graham Fry, John Ratcliff, Roy Rasmussen, Frank Fidler, Denis Bowen, Halima Nalecz, Maurice Jadot, E N. Souza, Violet Fuller, Nina Hosali and Maida Crowe.
A theme exhibition ‘Children as We See Them’ — not intended for sentimentalists, produced a large response in many styles. The gem was a painting by Marilyn Swann, a wry comment on children, with an untidy urchin in the foreground with two upturned fingers in a gesture of defiance. Adults of stern disposition might well have pondered on their own attitudes when arriving at the painting. They were unable to berate this child, it was a monument to the frustrations of parents.
Among the artists showing that year was Cyril Hamersma, who searched the ground for ideas. Sketching, photographing, making notes and collecting rubbish and throw-aways of all kinds from which he created his ‘Streetscapes’. His starting point was the observation that as the seasons change and public events take place the streets become silent reminders of contemporary social habits and customs. His exhibition was filmed in the Gallery for television.
Shelley Fausset had a large exhibition of sculpture and drawings. He had begun his career as an apprentice to Henry Moore. That he had absorbed something from such a powerful source was superficially apparent in both abstract and near figurative imagery. But he had developed his own voice, and knew how to imbue his works with a timeless stillness. There were no visible flights of passion. Passion was the inner resource, harnessed to producing a monumental and permanent statement. A modern classicist. Eve Lewis had shown two large stunning paintings in the ‘Trends’ at the Barbican and the Gallery Director had booked her for an exhibition in the Autumn. He had been going to visit her home in the Cotswolds in the spring to see her work. Prior to that she was to go into hospital to have an operation. It led to another operation and then, tragically, she died. The family asked if they might goon with the exhibition, and the Director went to the Cotswolds in summer to meet Eve Lewis’s daughter Molley Mulley to choose the works for what was now to be a memorial exhibition. Eve Lewis’s home was in a village outside Stow-on-the-Wold. On arrival the Director was confronted, halfway up a hill, by a house of local stone of the timeless bearing one encounters in the West of England. The garden fronting it was of great charm and bore testimony to the loving devotion endowed by its creator. She had said, ‘Come in the spring, and see the gentians, they’re so lovely.’ It had been an invitation to share in her vision. She had gone and the gentians were no longer in bloom, but the vision was still there. Inside the house, on the ground floor, were freely painted landscapes and flower studies, an appreciation of what Eve Lewis had seen about her in the home, garden and countryside. Early in life she had favoured embroidery, attending Goldsmith’s under Constance Howard. She then went to Wimbledon School of Art for painting, and also had some private tuition from Denis Bowen. Later in life she studied under Marian Bohusz-Szyszko. A deep inner need to develop her painting in a personal way had led to the work she had been doing before her death. When the Director followed Molley Mulley up the stairs he was amazed at the wealth of colour that met him. Large works, edging against one another, along the wide landing and in every room. A parade ground of homage to colour, cunningly involving fabrics. For the past three years Eve Lewis had poured out herself, unbelievably. The clue to it was in the painting and the embroidery. She had put it all together in a great celebration.
There was an exhibition of the work of two painters and two sculptors who together exemplified what FPS was good at doing — giving a window to artists who made their own individual statement, and yet achieved harmony together.
Freda Wadsworth’s paintings were superficially abstract, but conveyed other meanings, the references being sometimes in the titles. Using a painstaking technique they had luminosity and evoked medieval times and a world of secret symbols, and yet were undeniably modern paintings. There was a mystery in them, which was part of the artist’s intention. They were flights of the imagination, with a challenge to interpret them.
Different to the paintings of Edward Taylor, which looked forward in time and were in step with modern abstract art. And yet he too was involved with disguise. Under a minimalist’s cloak he was involved in gigantic struggle with aspects of landscape, and needed to give them another existence on canvas. John Kaye’s sculpture started with a tree form at least 150 years old and then leapt towards the next century echoing the curves in a group of coloured ‘plants from outer space’. Joe Leonard’s finely worked sculptures, combining wood carvings with steel welded structures contained connotations of his other role of scientist. The cerebral content and meticulous craftsmanship of the four artists held together mutually for exhibition purposes. It was the sort of unity that involves risk — should one fail, all would be injured. One of the Group shows at the Gallery was given the title ‘Mini-Trends’ as there was no opportunity of having a major exhibition that year. Gallery and Executive were beginning to work in tandem. Attempts to get another exhibition at the Barbican had been frustrated by internal changes going on there. There was a new organiser for ‘Trends,’ Maureen Ridley, a painter of strong colour and sound draughtsmanship capable of handling a large picture, who also produced batiks, which were often large. She was from the same mould as others who have worked hard on behalf of FPS.
Certainly a necessary qualification in order to tackle organising the major exhibition of the Free Painters and Sculptors. Sylvia Molloy completed a large painting 27 feet by 6 feet on which she has been working for many years. It depicted the horrors of war during her lifetime. A film was made of it by the BBC and shown on television. At the AGM in November, Professor Sir Ernst Gombrich, author of the popular standard ‘The Story of Art’, and many scholarly works on the history of art, gave an illustrated lecture, ‘Seeing and Painting’. In 1986 the Gallery put on a large Spring Exhibition of New Work in two parts. Maureen Ridley was finding negotiating at the Barbican progressively unproductive. They were reluctant to make long term bookings, preferring to keep all their options open. They would like FPS to be available to exhibit at short notice. But the Group was not able to assemble a large exhibition and store it for an indefinite period, awaiting a call to bring it out. And then, the Barbican were requiring fees that were quite beyond that which FPS could sensibly afford. The Executive thought it wiser to accept there would not be a ‘Trends’ for the second year running, but that they should concentrate their efforts on finding a different venue for 1987.
The large exhibition of new work at the Gallery was intended to ensure that members were not denied an opportunity to exhibit that year. The Executive began the year with a strengthened team. For a long while Marjorie Wadsworth had wanted to divest herself of the extra office of Treasurer which she had inherited. She had failed to find a replacement and needed to look in another direction, to David Broadribb, well-known to the members as the husband of Nenne Van Dijk, and a good friend of FPS. He was not an artist, but there was a precedent for people helping the Group who were non-artists. At that particular time there was one such person, Edward Andrews, who was serving on the Executive Committee in his capacity as House Manager. It was felt that David Broadribb’s business experience would be particularly helpful in the office of Treasurer. Early in the year came sad news that Richard Maple had collapsed suddenly and died. Although a comparatively new member, his unusual and imaginative work was going to be missed by the Group. The Gallery Director had booked him for a one-person exhibition that year. There had been every hope that Richard Maple would have emerged as an artist to the forefront of FPS.
The Gallery programme began with a Fellows’ exhibition. Newly elected Fellows joined existing ones in a show of work by twenty artists. John Ratcliff gave a report of it in the Newsletter. As the previous secretary he had probably more experience of the Fellows’ organisation than anyone else, having steered it through some particularly difficult waters over the long period of his office. He had recently been invited by the Executive Committee to become the new President of FPS, and was a welcome visitor to the AGM and other important occasions. He had moved to Swanage in Dorset and despite a difficult journey still managed to send paintings for some of the exhibitions. The move resulted in another development of his work. His obvious liking for the area was evident in drawings and paintings where he departed from his previous strictly abstract manner to incorporate local features. Later in the year the sculptor Joe Leonard was elected a Fellow.
During May there was a large memorial exhibition in the Gallery for Merrick Hansel who had died the previous year. He had exhibited at the Drian Gallery in 1965 and 1967, and been elected a Fellow of FPS in 1969. His earlier work fitted his painting and low relief in mixed media firmly into the experimental period of the post-war years. In the mid-Seventies Merrick Hansel extended his repertoire to enamels and it is a matter of conjecture as to the work that might have come from him had he not been struck down with an incurable form of Sclerosis, which destroyed his capacity to handle work of the scale to which he had been used. He was told by his doctors that he might have only ten years in front of him. He tailored his work to a small surface — 16 x 12 inches was typical. Returned from abstract imagery to figuration, extracting the shape of things which he organised into gems of pictures, with colour that had the unerring touch of his more active years. The enamels were the jewels of his artistic output. They were also the harvest of his infirmity. Geoffrey Matthews approached the Gallery Director with an unexpected and generous offer. He was of the opinion that the most vital element in art was ideas, and felt that sometimes the Group might be in danger of pursuing excellence of execution to the exclusion of original content. He would like to give a sum of five hundred pounds as prize money for an exhibition concerned primarily with ideas. The Director could use the sum of money in whatever way he thought, as one or a number of prizes, in one exhibition or spread over several. The idea was put to the Executive Committee. They liked it, and the Director told Geoffrey Matthews he proposed using two hundred pounds as prize money for an exhibition in the autumn. Temporarily it was referred to as ‘Imagination and Ideas’, and it was hoped it might prove to be a catalyst and set some artists on a new trail. Later Geoffrey Matthews asked if the exhibition could be called after his friend Richard Maple who had died. It seemed appropriate. The Executive Committee was invited by Harry Sales to hold the mid-summer committee meeting at his home near Woking. A pleasant diversion from the crammed committee room. The Chairman and his wife, Pat Sales, entertained them in the spacious garden, where a large sloping lawn became enveloped in woody surrounds, and high mature trees created an ambience of enjoyable privacy. After the business of the committee the members partook of a splendid buffet meal in the house and finally drifted away home in the fading light of evening. It was to be a pleasant diversion three summers running, and only ended when some members found themselves overcome by the difficulties of the journey by car.
Harry and Pat Sales made a considerable and generous contribution to the social side of FPS. At the AGM in 1984 Pat Sales gave a lecture on their travels in the Himalayas. The slides she showed gave an insight into the place of carvings surrounding windows of the houses of the Nepalese in remote regions. And at the AGM in 1986 Harry Sales, who was also a mountaineer, showed breathtaking slides of mountains in Britain, France, Canada, Morocco, India, Nepal and Greenland where he had climbed. ‘The Richard Maple Award for Works of Imagination and Ideas’ was put on in August. Nenne Van Dijk and Edward Taylor were the judges, and the prize was divided equally between Marjorie Wadsworth and Eric Green. It was a popular decision, both artists had created large works, fresh and new in ideas, different in content to their normal work, and complying closely to the requirements of the title theme. The Richard Maple Award was repeated the next year, when the judges were Eric Green and Doug Cipriani. The prize-winners were John Kaye, Helen Hale and Hilda Durkin. Both exhibitions were well attended, and held at a time of the year when visitors were able to gather in the garden for the prize giving. It had been a splendid gesture on the part of Geoffrey Matthews, and gave much pleasure to both contributors and visitors.
As though to underline the intention of the exhibition he had devised Geoffrey Matthews followed the first ‘Richard Maple Award’ exhibition with his own one-person exhibition. It began inside the front entrance to the Loggia Gallery and continued in a long sequence to the other end. It was called ‘Adam and Eve and Others: A Comic Strip History of the World’. A variety of media and method, concerning human emergence and the struggle to survive; only to find after all the progress it achieved humanity can destroy itself — and then what? Start all over again?
Marilyn Swann had an exhibition of largish paintings, including one very large picture, all of which were a joy to those who like to see the brush used directly to create and give expression. There was an exhibition by Sylvia Molloy of realist paintings of strong colour and harmonies, and a personal vision that was the artist’s own signature. A master of crowd scenes, where people are not simply stage props, but are individually involved in activity. Philip Worth, an artist with a remarkable repertoire of bold design elements, infusing life into mythological and musical imagery. He also showed an ambitious suite of paintings based on Hoist’s ‘The Planets.’ Geoffrey Matthews had for some while been Vice-Chairman of FPS, having long given up organising the provincial exhibitions. The remainder of his bookings had been worked through by Peter Taylor who had moved to Wales and was no longer able to carry out the task. With the Vice-Chairman as model it would appear the best person to take on the job would be someone who travelled about the country and would have a sharp eye for opportunities. Althea Gee had asked to be relieved of her job as Membership Secretary which she had held for many years. She wished to be relieved of some of the pressure of the ongoing tasks she did for the Group. Each year she spent November travelling about the country, and suggested she could help by at the same time arranging a programme for FPS. The Gallery Director stressed the need for the outside bookings to be related to ‘Trends’ and the gallery programme. Outside exhibitions sometimes clashed with what was going on in the Gallery. They had tended to be on a timetable of their own, and to be more effective needed to be integrated with the Gallery programme. Althea Gee was made Organiser of Provincial Exhibitions. Pam Mara took over the duties of Membership Secretary.
Nina Hosali died in January 1987. It was not unexpected, she had lost her sight and been going downhill for some while. It was the end of a long life spent creatively in a number of pursuits on which she had left her mark. A lot of people benefited by the way she had chosen to spend her life. Maureen Ridley had been negotiating details for a ‘Trends’ in May at the Bloomsbury Galleries where a booking had been obtained. The collection of work for selection and holding till despatch to the venue had always been done by hiring a hall of some kind. Such places were now in much greater demand and it looked unlikely one could be obtained. The problem was solved by arranging the Gallery programme so there could be a closure period of eight weeks, cutting across ‘Trends’ and enabling the reception and selection of work, its despatch and return, and the clerical work to be done at the Loggia Gallery. There was a loss factor by curtailing the Gallery programme, but there were compensating factors which made the procedure worth trying. All the stacking and manoeuvring of work for the various operations to be carried out along narrow premises, which had been thought could be a stumbling block, were in practice resolved and the exhibition took place as planned. ‘Trends’ was held in a large two-tier area of the Bloomsbury Galleries inside the building (Institute of Education, London University). There was an excellent long gallery bounded on one side by large windows looking out to the street, providing the exhibition with a public aspect, and a gallery of similar length behind, beneath the upper level. There was also the high line of boundary walls of the upper tier, surrounding the wide reception area where large paintings enjoyed spectacular positions. The hanging was once more in the charge of the Gallery Director, with Eric Green and Len Wyatt who often assisted putting up exhibitions in the Loggia Gallery as the main assistants, and Maureen Ridley overseeing a large group of helpers and attending to the many details of the occasion in order that work could proceed with the minimum of interruption, It took three days to hang the exhibition, manifesting the enthusiasm and cooperation that FPS commanded on such occasions and was its strength.
The event attracted many large works of sculpture and painting, together with smaller works which with a wealth of colour and design were ingredients for an eye-catching exhibition that had the unmistakable style familiar to the Free Painters and Sculptors. As with many of the major FPS shows the large canvases of Leonard Wyatt and Doug Cipriani were seen to most effect, and were markers for the manner of hanging. It was another occasion for a celebration, and a dinner was held in the Cambridge Suite of the Royal National Hotel on the other side of the street to the Bloomsbury Galleries. Shortly before the opening of ‘Trends’ a Memorial Service to Nina Hosali was held at St.James’s Church, Piccadilly. The four movements she had been associated with were all represented. SPANA, which her mother had founded, and with whom she had worked for a lifetime; The Nature Clinic, which she herself had founded; the Margaret Morris Movement, which she had generously supported, and of which she had been President after the death of Margaret Morris; and the Free Painters and Sculptors, which she sustained at a difficult period and gave a future. John Newson gave an address on behalf of FPS. He had worked closely with Nina Hosali as Chairman of FPS during that vital period.
The programme at the Gallery during 1987 started with another Fellows’ exhibition, larger than the one of the previous year, twenty-six Fellows having sent work.
Richard Seddon wrote a review of the show for the Newsletter, which combined with a brief history of the Group, appeared in the Yorkshire Post. A German exhibition followed. Carola Splettstoesser an abstract painter used largish square canvases to great effect. The colour was strong and yet subtle, creating a mysterious translucent imagery. Bernd Zimmermann a sculptor working in clay — glazed or painted, used a method he called ‘cavism’. There were also some works in bronze. In his powerful figurative sculptures he portrayed the feeling of anxiety and aggression — the twins that have pervaded so much German art over the centuries. Mary Ferguson, a regular exhibitor with the Group had an exhibition comprising twenty-eight works. Her method was direct and confident, with crisply-edged shapes defining the observable world in a manner that truly says, ‘Through the artist’s eyes’. Helen Pincus showed textile panels in a highly individual style. Abstract works of great colour and freshness that conveyed mood by a highly disciplined method of construction. Aldridge Haddock, long a member of FPS, a highly introspective and powerful artist. Painter of large oils from early abstracts to an imagery suggestive of marine and emergent life. There was a joint exhibition, Eric Green and Richard O’Reilly, where the artists showed their own separate work and work they had done together. Eric Green exhibited wood sculptures. No purist, he carved and machined, seeking imagery both abstract and figurative and using whatever tools and methods were necessary to produce it. He reaped the reward of his great skill, an imagery that was different, and unobtainable by orthodox methods. Richard O’Reilly, painter and draughtsman. A superb graphic artist whose creations abounded with invention. Never having to repeat himself, as though his art was an onward journey. The two artists were friends, and while looking at each other’s work had noticed an affinity in some of their forms. It germinated a series of work they produced together — carved by Eric Green, painted by Richard O’Reilly. Joe Leonard died in April after an illness. A newly made Fellow of FPS he had shown work in the Fellows Exhibition which opened the gallery programme that year, but unhappily was not to enjoy the distinction for long.
The following month Rosemary Brabant died. Both artists were well-liked by members, and gave much of their time to assisting FPS. During her lifetime Nina Hosali had handsomely endowed FPS, but still had something to offer among the many bequests she made in her will. There was another legacy of money, together with all her paintings, her collection of other artists work and her books. These had to be removed from the house at Biggin Hill. There were difficulties. Halfway up the hill was a lateral road which had never been made up, and served the properties in the area. And the house was on the upper side of the hill, some two hundred feet up the incline, which could only be approached on foot, callers’ vehicles had to remain in the vicinity of the road. And at the time the situation was chaotic. After years of acceptance of the dirt road at last it was being done up. Normally bumpy, the road was full of deep potholes from the JCB's operating along it, service pipes were being laid in trenches, and part of the bottom area of Nina Hosali’s property was being used to store building materials. And men were working all along the road. It would have been difficult to get a removal firm to undertake the job FPS required. It took four days for the Gallery Director and his wife, Doris, with their car — a hatchback with a roof rack, assisted by Eric Green and his wife, Pat, with their estate car, to remove all the paintings and other items from the house. Everything had to be carried down the hill and the vehicles filled to capacity for the long journey back. It was an occasion that requires recording because it demonstrates clearly that the success of an art group cannot be defined by its works alone.
Paintings cannot get on to walls and sculptures on to plinths unless a vast amount of work is done on the organisational side. The success that FPS has had, has been due to the readiness of its artists and friends to shoulder the responsibilities of running their own affairs. At the end of 1987 Marjorie Wadsworth resigned and Philip Worth took over as Secretary. She had held the post for seven years and felt it time to ease some of the pressures of a complex office and instead concentrate her efforts on building up the publicity side of the Gallery. The Gallery opened in 1988 with two memorial exhibitions. The two artists had both given tremendous service to FPS. They had always been available when there was a problem or crisis. And their work had been widely admired. When Joe Leonard died his friends rescued his sculpture from his flat and garage. The Director agreed to store it in the gallery till after probate. It was this work that went on exhibition. The artist was primarily a carver of wood, but also worked in metal and stone and would often combine this with the carvings, in a way that suggested he was searching to give his wood-carving another dimension. His work was always meticulously produced — the work of a thinker. Rosemary Brabant’s daughter provided her mother’s paintings for the exhibition. The artist had come to this country from Australia in the Fifties and the works spanned the years since. Her paintings were abstract and near abstract; colour and form concerned her mainly. She had been a great champion of abstract art, and saw it as a vehicle of beauty. The Gallery had a problem storing all the work in its charge. Beside the racks in the committee room there was a cellar which was used for storing sculpture stands and paintings, but more room was required. There was another cellar, belonging to SPANA, which was not usefully employed. The Director suggested FPS would be prepared to clear it if half of it could be used to store the stands. The sculptor, Don Wells, renewed the roof between the cellar and the house and got all the useless stuff lodged in the cellar taken away. Eric Green put in new lighting and the Gallery was then in a position to enable FPS to enlarge its activities. Don Wells abstract sculpture was often exhibited in the garden as well as Group exhibitions. He had a long record of exhibiting at the Drian Gallery. Later his work took an interesting turn when he resurrected some early plaster heads which he reworked, and were also a source of further ideas. Some fifty paintings comprised the large memorial exhibition for Nina Hosali. The body of work that had been left to FPS was too large to show in its entirety, and the Director mainly selected work that Nina Hosali regarded as her abstract expressionist painting. There were also examples of other periods of her work. Notwithstanding having to reduce the collection it had the appearance of a large important exhibition for the artist was never shy to work on a large scale when the idea demanded, and produced some strong and confident works.
The lure of the Barbican was still resident in the minds of the members of the Executive. Maureen Ridley had kept contact and in view of changes at the Barbican there did appear to be a firm booking for 1991, which would be opportune in view of FPS having booked another ‘Trends’ at the Bloomsbury Galleries for 1989. Some months afterwards Maureen Ridley was having to report that the Barbican had changed its mind again and concessions on costs from which FPS had hoped to benefit had been withdrawn. It was the end of the matter.
The Gallery Director was of the opinion that one of the primary tasks an increase in membership also involved an increase in quality. There was a movement of population out of London. People’s habits were changing. Previously art and artists had always moved Londonwards.
With businesses moving out of the metropolis it was no longer a case of waiting for others to come to them, it now should be a case of FPS showing its face more outside of London. The provincial exhibitions that FPS ran spread the net widely. The Director considered it would be more practical if there could be a circuit of FPS exhibitions in counties on the outer edge of London. It would be a practical distance from the Gallery and might well attract artists from those areas. He thought the exhibitions need not interfere with the assembly of provincial exhibitions, they could be chosen from previously selected work and could be made available at short notice, avoiding overloading the Gallery with work. The Director had built up a good relationship with the firm of art movers FPS used and there was every opportunity for the scheme to work. He was also of the opinion that the Group should discontinue calling the outside exhibitions ‘Provincial’. It was often used in a disparaging sense, and could be viewed in some quarters as an exhibition of secondary importance. And it was condescending to people outside London. All FPS shows should be of equal merit, wherever they went. The policy was accepted and the Director asked Maureen Ridley if she would make inquiries for exhibitions in the Kent area.
In May there was a spectacular exhibition by MargeryMalins at the Loggia Gallery. Large oils ablaze with brilliant colour, with circles interlocking and fragmenting and spilling outwards. The structure of the paintings enhanced and vibrated colour, which was what they were about. Her previous work with FPS had been of elegant stylish landscapes, stressing the abstract forms within them; the lure of colour had caused her to rethink her art and she had the skill to do it successfully.
The Nina Hosali Collection continued to involve the Gallery Director. He was on a visit to Leicester Museum and in the Gallery of Fine Art noticed a work by the Scottish colourist. D. Fergusson. He wrote to Robin Paisey, Keeper of Fine Art at the Gallery, and informed her that Fergusson and his wife Margaret Morris had been close friends of Nina Hosali, and shared ideas and interests. In ‘The Art of J. D. Fergusson’ Margaret Morris mentions the friendship. Fergusson’s work abounded with a sense of Nature continually renewing itself, the power of fertility, and the richness and abundance of its growth. Nina Hosali was a kindred spirit, and it showed clearly in the work that was most personal to her. The Director invited Robin Paisey to visit the Loggia Gallery and view Nina Hosali’s work, which she did and was delighted to accept FPS’s offer of one of her paintings for the Leicester Gallery of Fine Art. She chose ‘Movement 3, Dance at Sunrise.’ The Director also gave a copy of Nina Hosali’s biography of her mother, ‘Kate’, and a copy of her collection of poems ‘The Garden of Allah’ for the Archives. The Treasurer received the bequest of money from the Estate of Nina Hosali and the Executive Committee decided it should be invested, and the interest used to fund an annual prize exhibition on the lines of the Richard Maple Exhibition. Marjorie Wadsworth had an exhibtion in midsummer. She regularly exhibited in group exhibitions, but having been in office almost as long as she had been associated with FPS, the business of getting enough work together for a one-person exhibition was difficult. And her style of painting involved a painstaking method, there was no way she could hurry an exhibition. She was a painter of the antique. Of old buildings and monuments and parks. Masonry, its history graven into its surface. Architecture, the dreams and accomplishments of men long passed away. People rarely appeared. Statuary and ornamental trees stand in for them, evoking a faintly surrealistic atmosphere. The artist was a master of men’s presence in their material works. Paintings by Arlie, an American-born artist, were shown as a tribute to her shortly before she died. She exhibited for many years in Cork Street and her neo-romantic, almost surrealist paintings were widely admired and attracted the attention of many critics. The Nina Hosali Award Exhibition was put on in August and attracted a good crowd for the presentation of the prizes. The President, John Ratcliff, judged the work and. prizes were awarded to Hilda Durkin for her painting ‘Walk in a Dark Lane’, and Maurice Roscini for his sculpture ‘The Kiss’. During the exhibition there was an opportunity to distribute many of Nina Hosali’s paintings, together with some from the collection she had made of other artists work. The legacy was too large for the Gallery to hold indefinitely. A selection was made for inclusion in the Permanent Collection, and then a sale of works in aid of FPS funds was held among the members. When artists die their work often disappears with them. The art world cannot cope with the amount of paintings and sculpture that is produced. It cannot judge everything, and much is lost. Sometimes families hang on to work for sentimental reasons, and then someone else without the same sentiment puts the work in a loft, and thence often it goes to a scrapheap. FPS was concerned to help where it could in the retention and distribution of a deceased artist’s work. It was a prime reason behind the FPS Permanent Collection. A late summer idyll.
The Gallery Director was thinking about an exhibition of the First Two Decades of FPS to be held the following year. He had shown two paintings of Frank Fidler’s in the previous exhibition of early work of FPS and would like more.
He drove to the artist’s home in Barkway in Hertforshire, a quiet village along a minor road to Cambridge. Frank Fidler was living in a Sixteenth Century thatched cottage with an acre of garden behind. Twenty-five years previously he had purchased three cottages and converted them into one. He took out the first floor of the centre cottage, making a large living area, and removed walls to reveal deep old fireplaces with ingle-nooks. After taking out the daub from an interior wall to open out the living area he left the old timber frame as a room divider, where along the middle cross timber was a collection of stones and ancient artefacts the artist had found while walking about the East Anglian Flat. The comforts of modern living, electric light and central heating, had been discreetly put in supplementing the wood fire in the deep fireplace which warmed and gave a precious atmosphere during less kindly weather. On entering from the garden side, the Director saw a large abstract painting, one of the artist’s finest, overlooking the — living area, small glazed paintings, mainly landscapes. He had only known Frank Fidler as an abstract painter, and knew that his public work for the County was in the same vein. They had not met for some twenty years and he was surprised to learn that the landscapes were also the work of the artist. They were of the surrounding countryside, in all seasons and moods. The artist had imbibed the place and the atmosphere in a lifetime of walking the area . . . wonderful colourful accounts of his reverence for the land that he loved. Surprisingly, the medium was soft pastel. The artist had his own method of getting the best from the colour without the tell-tale marks of pastel. They spoke about the large abstract painting. It commanded and yet did not dominate. And although it was a modern painting it did not look out of place in its centuries old setting. It belonged there. When the Director said he didn’t realise the artist felt drawn to working outside the abstract manner that his reputation was based on, Frank Fidler replied that he had always been a painter of Nature, it was at the centre of everything he did. His face lit up as he described how he was always telling people that the beauty they saw looking into the sky, with its many variations and the way it painted the land with light, was what his paintings had always been about. It was then apparent why the large abstract painting was so at home in its surroundings. The ochres and yellows and greens and their divisions and harmonies were the countryside outside. The painting was all part of the great English tradition of landscape painting by a true exponent of the day. Hours later the Director drove away with six canvasses by an artist he had always admired, an old acquaintance whom he had known well on committees and at exhibitions, but now knew more as a man.
The exhibiting foursome, Freda Wadsworth, Edward Taylor, John Kaye and Joe Leonard suffered serious depletion with the death of one, and the intention of another, John Kaye, to go to France to live. The remaining two asked the Dutch sculptor Rudi Leenders to join them. His clean-lined, meticulous work fitted well with theirs. During the week before the exhibition opened, tragedy struck. Rudi Leenders died suddenly. His place was filled at short notice. Eric Green was working on a series of welded steel sculptures and agreed to show some of them. They were of interlocking box sections of varying sizes, springing upwards into space. Good, strong sculptural statements. One, a large work, was placed outside in the garden and was to remain there for the enjoyment of visitors for almost a year. The trio had a very distinguished exhibition, but it was to be the only one. The following year Eric Green emigrated to Australia to make a new life for himself and his family. He had made a considerable contribution, not only with the ingeniousness of his work which was always admired, but behind the scenes he gave generous support to the Gallery Director with the material problems of the gallery. A new artist whose work went to the heart of FPS ideals had an exhibition. Jacqueline Real, a Swiss, domiciled in Britain, working with simple materials — sandpaper, newsprint, Japanese papers, produced collages in vibrant blues and greens. The works were glazed and had a sure touch in their execution, and evoked an imagery that seemed to humanise the slick tokens of consumer culture, making something admirable. The exhibition of paintings by Khalil Norland, ‘Images of Heaven and Hell’, defied interpretation by visual assessment alone. By that definition they were rich and colourful abstract paintings, highly individual in the imagery posed by their form. Some were large, and there was no doubting their power. But for their creator, Khalil Norland, they had to satisfy an intellectual as well as a visual concept. He asked more than others of his paintings. The Impressionists had been able to produce paintings of a world outside the privations of their early lives — perhaps it was their vision of heaven?
Khalil Norland carried so much of his past with him that no one could judge whether he was burying its ghost in his paintings. Or that one was not looking into them and seeing their own lack of understanding. At the ACM in November the painter Alfred Daniels gave a lecture called ‘Portrait of Jerusalem’. He had been given a commission that involved visiting Israel. Afterwards the paintings were to be exhibited at the Belgrave Gallery. He showed slides of the paintings, and spoke about his method of working. He had a deliberate policy of not doing research, so that his view of the scene could not be coloured by any preconceptions. Alfred Daniels enjoyed the surroundings and company of the Free Painters and Sculptors and later became a member.
During the year there had been an addition to the strength of the Executive Committee. It had been joined by Max Birne who had been a member of the Group for some years. It was felt that with his experience of outside galleries and involvement in the sale of art work he would be a useful member of the Executive Committee. ‘FPS: The First Two Decades 1952-72’ was put on in February 1989, continuing the Gallery’s policy of keeping members aware of the Group’s history. It also provided an opportunity to show some of the work of artists who came on the scene during the Sixties. The Gallery also was able to ask the Chairman, Harry Sales, to show some of his work of that period. Of late years pressure of work and other responsibilities had claimed much of his time and painting for him was becoming a promise for the future. His ‘Sienna,’ and ‘Variation No 4’ fitted the period strongly. And Robert de Quin had been urged to return after a long period of absence. His steel sculptures were a welcome addition to the sculpture side which otherwise was represented by Jesse Watkins (deceased) and Roy Rasmussen. Other artists were Yoland Williams, Graham Fry, Nina Hosali, F. N. Souza, Mary Brooks, Roy Turner Durrant, Violet Fuller, Joan Knoblock, Doug Cipriani, Denis Bowen, Halima Nalecz, Maurice Jadot, Frank Fidler, LyaIl Watson, Leonard Wyatt and John Ratcliff. Some of the work came from the FPS Permanent Collection.
The work of organising exhibitions falls mainly into two categories. In one the exhibitions follow well defined lines. In the other there needs to be a lot of research, without which an exhibition would not get off the ground. One such exhibition had been in the making for many months. Khalil Norland was the son of Ernest Neuschul the German realist painter of the Twenties and Thirties who had fled to Britain shortly before the war. He had told the Gallery Director the family were anxious to restore his father’s reputation. There was a large retrospective exhibition of Ernest Neuschul’s pre-war work being put on at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, October-January 1988-89. Khalil Norland was looking for a gallery to show his father’s work that he did in this country, when he changed to a simplified figuration and then to fully abstract painting. The Director went to Leicester to see the exhibition and was impressed by what undoubtedly was a major exhibition. Great credit was due to the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery for having staged it. It was not the custom for the Gallery to show the work of artists who were not members of FPS, although there had been some exceptions in the case of the City of Westminster Arts Council and the Norwich Group. The Director was of the opinion that in view of the importance of Ernest Neuschul it would be in accord with the known attitude of FPS to make a contribution to the re-establishment of the artist’s place in art. His son Khalil was a member of FPS, and the artist’s widow, Christl Norland, who was a painter in her own right, was also a member. The Executive were in full agreement with the Director and following a considerable amount of preparation the exhibition was put on at the Loggia Gallery during March 1989.
Ernest Neuschul was born in Aussig in Bohemia, to a prosperous middle class Jewish family. He studied art in Prague, and later in Vienna where Kokoschka, Schiele, Freud, Berg and many others were questioning the values of society. Unwilling to fight in a war for the survival of the social order of the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire he fled across Europe to Poland, where in 1916 he joined the art academy in Krakow and shared the company of revolutionary socialists. After the war he moved to Berlin, where he met Taka-Taka, a Dutch-Javanese dancer. He took to the stage with her, and during their tours he painted and exhibited world-wide. In 1926 they setup a studio in Berlin and Neuschul began a highly productive period of painting. The mood of Berlin had changed since he went there after the war. An introspective concern with the inner man had given over to the need for involvement with the realities of the day. Ernest Neuschul was soon recognised as one of the leading exponents of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity,) the manner of painting prepared to look facts in the face. He was put under contract by the Gallery Neumann-Neirendorf, one of Berlin’s most important galleries, in company with Schmidt-Rottluff, Otto Dix, Feininger and George Grosz. He became a member of the Novembergruppe, a movement of writers and artists in common cause against Fascism. In the summer of 931 he was a guest of an emancipated and aristocratic German woman who used her large country house as a salon for artists, musicians and writers, often left-wing, and Jewish. It was there that he met Christi, her eldest daughter, also an artist, who was to become his future wife. In 1932 he became chairman of the Novembergruppe and inevitably there were clashes with the Nazis. The Weimar Republic was unable and unwilling to control mounting unemployment, and the masses were easily persuaded by the propaganda of hate and unreason of the Nazis. On the 27th of February, 1933 the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag and Hitler’s power became absolute. Some days later the Nazis closed the current Neuschul exhibition in Berlin, confiscating the paintings and declaring his art degenerate. Neuschul crossed the border into the land of his birth, and Christl joined him there. The young democracy of Czechoslovakia welcomed him as a celebrated artist and for a time he enjoyed a sense of security. In 1934 he was invited to paint a portrait of Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia. And the following year he received an invitation to exhibit and work in the Soviet Union. He painted a double portrait of Stalin and Dimitroff, only to be summoned later to the Kremlin. The painting was cut in two and the artist was ordered to remove Dimitroff’s hand from Stalin’s shoulder. The party line had changed. Neuschul was warned through Bubnov, the Commissar for Culture, with whom he had become friendly, and was himself to be removed, of the danger of the situation and he and Christi hastily returned to Czechoslovakia before the second wave of Stalin’s purges. But there was no peace for Neuschul. In an exhibition of his work in Aussig in 1937 some of his paintings were slashed and disfigured with swastikas, and the following year Hitler annexed the Sudetan and Neuschul took flight to Prague. In 1939 he emigrated to England with his immediate family. They were on the last train the Nazis allowed out of Czechoslovakia, his mother and others who were to follow the next day were all murdered in the camps. Ernest Neuschul escaped from the Continental hell but was caught up in a kind of limbo. Events that had shaped his beliefs now also provided his doubts. He was thrown inward, to the personal relationships he could trust for the source of his paintings. The later works of Neuschul are the painful triumph of an artist who spent a lifetime creating art in the face of adversity, and then had to begin another without the sustaining pillars of his convictions, or public response to his work. He changed his name to Norland and began to look at things without ideological spectacles. The exhibition of Ernest Neuschul’s later work revealed a masterly transition from realism to a simplified poetic figuration. Women were still an enduring subject for Neuschul, and he could back-pedal to produce a tender portrait of his wife, in a soft light, with soft shadows sustaining the gentle colour harmonies. But whereas light had defined an object, it was now defined by line. He saw light as a reality in itself. And with the sure touch of a master draughtsman he put everything where it should go, in any situation. A painting that drew admiration from many artists visiting the gallery was ‘Lovers on the Beach’. A superb simplification. The male nude figure, arm outstretched for support, leaning across the woman lying on her back, his other hand loosely resting on the knee of his opened leg, nose and brows on both countenances a pattern of short straight lines, almost thrown in as only a master can, the beach beyond a sweep of line across the flat ochres and pale grey. By 1964 the paintings had become compellingly abstract, some evoking a sense of Oriental screens that tell of his stage partnership with Taka-Taka, when he had a hand in the costumes and decor. In one painting, ‘Form in Black’, near the end, he achieves a completely abstract statement, and yet it was a strangely anonymous painting for Neuschul. A painting done around the same time, which could be viewed as a fiat plane, and yet also was the elevation of a building was aptly called ‘The Prison’. It was as though Neuschul in his final achievement could not shake off old ghosts. And why should he? It was not he who destroyed the Dream. Ernest Neuschul died in Hampstead, London, 11th September 1968.
The Free Painters and Sculptors regard with pride having been able to play some small part in the recognition of the artist’s part in the art of his time. The Gallery Director on instructions from the solicitors for the late Joe Leonard was able to arrange for the artist’s friends to acquire most of his work. The artist had expressed a wish to that end. The Gallery acquired several of the sculptures for the Permanent Collection. The Fellows Exhibition 1989 attracted twenty-one artists with forty-nine works, and was reviewed by Mary Rose Beaumont for the Newsletter. The exhibition included the work of three new Fellows, Sylvia Molloy, Marjorie Wadsworth and Shelley Fausset. Graham Fry had also been elected the previous year, but had been unable to exhibit. He had been delighted to learn he had been made a Fellow, having been with the group since it was formed, but sadly he died following a long illness.
‘Trends’ was held during May at the Bloomsbury Galleries. There were a hundred and seventy exhibits. It was an attractive showcase for the Group, as had been the previous exhibition at that venue. The Private View attracted over two hundred members and guests, on a pleasantly warm evening. The dinner was held at the Bonnington Hotel. A provincial exhibition was arranged by Althea Gee at Brighton Polytechnic Gallery, in the centre of Brighton overlooking Old Steine. The Gallery Director, Max Birne, Len Wyatt and Doug Cipriani went to Brighton to do the hanging. A number of members together with local luminaries attended a lively Private View. The exhibition was well received in the press.
In the Loggia Gallery there was an exhibition by Graham Peter Metson, who was deeply interested in mixed media techniques. An artist of great energy, examining various themes, searching for a powerful statement. Prue Rowe Evans, painter of Labyrinths and Mazes expressing the belief that life is an endless series of choices and decisions. Geoffrey Matthews declarations called ‘Clusters.’ Series which could be viewed individually or collectively. The ideas sparkled as the artist challenged solemnity. The Nina Hosali Award Exhibition was judged by Alfred Daniels, who also made the awards. The two prize-winners were Pam Mara for her painting, ‘Home from the Sea’, and Shelley Fausset for his stone carving ‘Cubecat’.
Alfred Daniels speaking of the two works found they both had in common a combination of abstraction and figuration. The painting of men on the shore had a subtle internal structure, the cleverness of which was hidden in the overall simplicity. The sculpture was an uncanny piece of imagination, combining simple sculptural form with saying something about cats. The year was a heavy one for the officers of FPS. Ideas which had been forming during the preceding months began to converge, enabling the organisation to enlarge the Group’s activities and give it greater impact. There were losses that had to be got over, but there were gains as well. After years of service for the Group, which had taken many forms, and generosity which had been a spur to initiative in others, Geoffrey Matthews had to resign in view of ill health. Robert de Quin’s welcome return to the Executive meant he was able to take over the office of Vice Chairman. David Broadribb, a quiet mentor to FPS in their financial matters gave notice of his resignation at the end of the year. He had property in France which required attention; he and Nenne Van Dijk were going to spend a part of each year there. His five year stint as Treasurer had been invaluable to the Group over the time it had been gradually expanding and building.
At the AGM in November Marjorie Wadworth approached Neil Rennie with a view to taking over the office. He was agreeable and had several sessions together with David Broadribb and formally took over as Treasurer in January, 1990. The Gallery Director who loaded himself with work as he pushed the Gallery forward, obtained a welcome assistant. Max Birne became Assistant Gallery Director.
Their combined efforts were required immediately when FPS were offered the work of Graham Fry. The Director had told his brother, Dr. Alan Fry, that some of the work could be circulated among the members. Dr. Fry was in a predicament, he had a pressing need to clear the contents of the house in Alperton where Graham Fry had lived. He would like FPS to take all the work. It took four car loads to clear all the paintings, drawings and prints. Some came to the Loggia Gallery, where the storage place was already becoming overfull. The rest of the work was temporarily divided between the homes of the Director and Max Birne while it was examined. Gradually, much of it was given away, and a selection made for the FPS Permanent Collection. Work on this went on for months. Two artists, Philip Hale and Philip Worth, the Secretary, had exhibitions. Apart from the same first names and that they were friends there were no other affinities. Philip Hale’s work had the look about it of a practitioner in full command of his techniques, which in themselves were a matter of wonder. There was a large line drawing in ink printed on silver paper of the mural he had designed for the stage of the Barbican Hall. The artist was born in Sri Lanka of English parents. Trained as a painter and an architect his work combined both disciplines. Many of his beautiful large watercolours mirrored symbols of the Middle East and its architecture. The details in the paintings were rich and fabulous, and although complex were all contained within the simple structures to be expected of his other profession. Philip Worth displayed the talent for extraordinary inventiveness that enabled him to go on recreating his paintings so they always looked fresh, rather than more of the same. The world of gods and demi-gods, of music, of geometry, of colours living distinctly as entities and harmonies were all part of his alchemy.
Brian Yale, artist and designer, gave the lecture at the AGM in November. He showed slides of work he had done for the architect’s department of the GLC. He had designed murals for subways, a school playground, a number of play areas, and sculpture for South Bank and many other locations. Public design and landscape became one, while in his own work it was landscape that profoundly concerned him. He had been to France to paint the scenes of battles in World War One as they now appear. He showed slides of the paintings, tranquil bearers of terrible place names, which made their own comment.
A Policy Committee was setup. It had been suggested by Max Birne. The idea was to produce fully examined schemes which could be returned to the Executive Committee for discussion and approval. The Policy Committee was a working body to facilitate the business of the Executive. Max Birne was the Chairman, and its members were the Gallery Director, Philip Worth, Maureen Ridley, Robert de Quin and Doug Cipriani, although it was envisaged that the membership could vary according to the business under discussion. Its opening undertaking was to examine the problem of. finding a suitable gallery where FPS could hold the important ‘Trends’ style exhibition which was required in 1992 for the celebration of its fortieth year anniversary. It was also concerned to examine an area of publicity that was not already covered. It was felt that other galleries should be personally informed of some of the exhibitions that were being held at the Loggia Gallery. It was necessary to stress the importance of what was going on at the Loggia Gallery. The Policy Committee worked on the design of an invitation card that could be used to publicise certain exhibitions.
The last exhibition of the year had been planned over a long period. Four artists. hung in order from the front entrance — Maria Moreschi, Max Birne, Maureen Ridley and Richard O’Reilly. The Free Painters and Sculptors being a group of disparate talents, and having the skills of presentation necessary to make a reputable concoction, it was not surprising that sometimes artists themselves wanted to exhibit in combinations. There had been Freda Wadsworth, Edward Taylor, John Kaye and Joe Leonard. And Joan Knoblock and Violet Fuller had been together in many exhibitions for more than a quarter of a century. All these highly individual artists had found happy complementary advantages when together. The Gallery Director had no wish to discourage another combination, especially when it had been so enthusiastically pursued. Maria Moreschi produced tranquil works of still life, landscape and wildlife, and figure drawings. Her technique was orthodox and confident; the appeal of her work lay with the excellence of the technique. She was followed by Max Birne with near and fully abstract paintings of brilliant colour-controlled watercolour over which forms in gouache subtely occupied space. A world that the Fauvists endeavoured to annex, and Hitchens also made a bid for. Max Birne was an artist playing for high stakes and looked capable of a winning hand. Maureen Ridley’s portraits lowered the temperature with the excellence of her drawing and composition, and a gem, ‘The Red Dress,’ where a woman with spectacles on the end of her nose, completely engrossed in what she was doing, was caught in a moment in time. A rare achievement. Maureen Ridley then raised the temperature with a group of batiks, where she made her own bid in the world of striking colour. In the last part of the gallery Richard O’Reilly worked his own wizardry. His work was an unending display of what he described as graphic writing. He was always searching, discovering form through a series of graphic marks that seemed to grow before the eyes, and he was not adverse to using paint to give expression. Richard O’Reilly was another artist aiming for the consummate experience. An exhibition with brilliant work, by a working party whose first outing had within it indicators of future direction. At the end of the year the Fellows met and elected four new Fellows. Philip Worth, Max Birne, Philip Hale and Alfred Daniels. Much of FPS policy emanated from the Gallery. Inevitably as it reorganised so it made possible more opportunities for the Executive to carry the Group forward. The plan to develop a circuit of outside exhibitions along the outer perimeter of London was proceeding. The Director had consulted Philip Worth who sent letters to artists living in the vicinity of Bucks, Hertford and Essex, asking them to identify places where FPS might suitably exhibit, and also enlisting their help. There was a good response and Philip Worth took on much of the field work for picking up the venues. The first exhibition was at Hemel Hempstead in the Art Centre where there was also a theatre and restaurant. The location had the merit of having a captive audience of the kind that could be well disposed towards painting. A smallish exhibition was arranged from invited work which had previously been in FPS exhibitions. The Director, Max Birne and Philip Worth did the hanging.
In February of 1990 there was another of the smaller invited exhibitions at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Not on the outer London circuit, but too good to miss in view of the large number of people attracted by the place. The exhibition was again hung by the Gallery team with a few other enthusiasts. Some galleries stipulated that hanging was their prerogative. FPS didn’t rule out having to accept that, but where possible preferred to do its own, believing others could never know the work sufficiently to produce the best confection. In the second half of 1989 the Gallery Director proposed re-structuring the Gallery programme. The membership was probably not always aware of the degree of cooperation that went on between officers on the Executive and the Gallery. Even when she had been Secretary, Marjorie Wadsworth had been closely involved with the Gallery. Her development of the exhibitions publicity, and Freda Wadsworth’s handling of the Newsletter assisted in the correlation of information essential to both the smooth running of the Gallery and all other FFS exhibitions. Another officer’s work, Aithea Gee’s, was integral to gallery business. Aside from managing the invigilators for the Gallery she produced the catalogues for the exhibitions. She had to type the stencils from information left her by the Director at the completion of every hanging, and then had to produce the catalogues on the Gestetner machine. This was a task she had been doing for years. The inevitable occurred. One of the vital links broke. Althea Gee injured her hand and was unable to carry on for a period. Producing catalogues for exhibitions had to be taken over by Marjorie and Freda Wadsworth. The Director had always been acutely aware that there was only a thin line of highly experienced assistants. He had welcomed someone to cover his own position. Complete reliance on individual people overlooks the chance factors which obtrude on human affairs.
The accident to Althea Gee meant overloading work on to people who were already fully committed. He therefore proposed a reorganisation of the Gallery annual programme. The Gallery had always run exhibitions continuously. Take down on a Friday, hang on a Saturday (eleven to sixteen hour day), catalogues on Sunday, private view on Monday. This relentless routine had gone on since the Gallery opened. The Director proposed that instead of fourteen to sixteen exhibitions each year there should be eleven. In future the Gallery would close after an exhibition ended. The new exhibition would be put up in the normal way — the next day (Saturday), and the catalogue could be produced during the following week, allowing time for unforeseen difficulties which sometimes occur. Outside exhibitions could be planned so as to move during closure times. Some of the selections could be held. And the Saturday could be used for the discussion meetings the Director had occasionally been holding, previously squeezing them into Saturday mornings before the gallery opening hours. The Gallery would open with a private view on a Monday, after ten days of closure. It would lead to a more smooth-running turn round of work in the premises, which would facilitate the increasing number of outside exhibitions. It was calculated that the loss of Gallery income would in many ways be offset by savings of house expenses. The plan was agreed and commenced with the programme for 1990.
An early exhibition in the Gallery involved Lyall Watson, Founder Member and First Chairman of the Group, who was still active as a painter. An expressionist, very much involved in life, who had travelled widely, India, America, Spitzbergen, Europe and the Soviet Union, and always with pen and pad beside him. His work abounded in references to things with which he came into contact. His visual library could provide him with many paintings and many exhibitions. In this exhibition Lyall Watson was showing some of the bedfellows from his artistic portmanteau. Some of themes which sprang from events during his lifetime, some that related to eternal verities that dog every generation, places he had visited more recently, and political comment. An artist who had gone through his life with its events and frictions bouncing off his pen and brush. With a strong and direct hand distilling what he regarded as most important and producing paintings full of drama, where distortion and colour were tools to press home the meaning. Originally trained as a mural painter, he could paint from the shoulder, the brush drawing while mind and emotion guided. The exhibition contained a portrait of Vaclav Havel who at that time was a hero figure, with another head standing behind putting the subject into perspective. There was a large oil painting ‘Yesterday was our Dawn’ in which the figure of Hope is leaving the grim and dark ruins of war. In the sequence of paintings ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ the artist referred to present times, the titles referring to the new evils — ‘The Fundamentalists’, ‘Secrecy’, ‘Lust’, ‘The Leadership Principle’, ‘Consumerism’, ‘Media Love’, ‘Incentives’. There was a group of small paintings of a recent trip to the Soviet Union, and drama from the Theatre, all of them collectable, and yet surely they were worthy notes for the larger paintings he could always do of them if there was time. And there was a triptych where the social statement was contemporary — ‘1986, Guinness’, ‘The Day the Bomb fell’, and ‘The Hard Sell’. At the end of the Gallery a group of large paper mache sculptures, ‘The Property Developers’, finalised the artist’s statement. Lyall Watson was never afraid of social reference. That it had been fashionable during Victorian times and was no longer so did not matter. He was a modern painter and there was no reason why such references should not be made when necessary, they were still part of Modern Literature and the Theatre. Pam Mara had to give up as Membership Secretary due to ill health, and Joan Jago took over in the autumn of 1990.
Aithea Gee had arranged an outside exhibition at Gloucester Museum for March. The catalogue referred to it as an FPS Group Exhibition in accordance with the new policy of dropping the reference to ‘provincial’ exhibitions. A number of West of England members gave assistance when she arrived in Gloucester to hang the exhibition. A Group exhibition that involved planning over quite a period was put on at the Loggia Gallery immediately after the Gloucester exhibition. It was a theme show, ‘Black, White and Grey’ and attracted a lot of work. The members apparently enjoyed the challenge. Alfred Daniels writing about it in the Newsletter said, ‘It also brought home to me that painters who normally rely on bright, expressive colour have benefited enormously, enhancing their range by being limited to the basics of tone and pattern. There are many whose work I have come to know who have also delighted me with the way in which they have succeeded in communicating their varying modes of seeing and expressing their individual points of view.’ The ‘Black, White and Grey’ went onto the art gallery of Watford Central Library as part of the outer London circuit exhibitions. The Gallery Director, Max Birne, Philip Worth and Robert de Quin went to Watford to do the hanging. A strong painter who had recently joined FPS, and made an immediate impact in group exhibitions, had an exhibition in the Gallery in midsummer. Roy Rodgers showed mainly large oil paintings, using red as a dominant colour. Appropriate for a vision of the countryside inhabited by the fox. Powerful evocations of the animal as a predator, fiercely involved with its own kind as well as with its prey. And the sheep, an animal depicted as statuesque and alert in a dangerous outdoors. Paintings splendidly bereft of any hint of sentimentalism. Neil Rennie, an expressionist employing a number of mediums, showed mainly collages on the occasion of his exhibition also in midsummer. A beguiling practitioner, revealing a subtle wit and skill to the close observer.
An exhibition planned for late summer provided the nightmare every gallery director dreads. The artist and his work was coming from abroad and hints of difficulties were preceding him. On a number of occasions the Gallery had faced situations where an artist had been unable to go through with the arrangements, usually on account of illness or bereavement, or even death of the artist. But there had always been time for another exhibition to be put on, and sometimes the replacement had been quite effective. But on this occasion the work had still not arrived on the day to hang the exhibition. Had it not been for the new programme arrangement the Gallery would have been without an exhibition. The break between shows enabled the Director to extend the time for the artist to arrive, and to have an alternative exhibition in reserve in case he failed to. The artist eventually arrived (with only part of his work) the day following the private view of the replacement exhibition, which had been made possible through the loyalty of members who made work available. It had been decided that the Nina Hosali Awards that year should carry three prizes, in order of merit. Brian Yale, who had given the lecture at the previous year’s AGM, and since had joined FPS, had agreed to judge the exhibition. The first prize went to Neil Rennie for a small collage; layers of hand coloured paper creating an image Brian Yale described as of great charm and wit — a fine piece.
The second prize went to Joan Jago for a boxed relief, in which she had created textural and organic equivalents of natural forms with magical effect. The third prize went to Marjorie Wadsworth for a realist painting, which Brian Yale considered a difficult kind of painting to do, to keep a balance between the breadth of the image and attention to detail. Efforts to find a suitable gallery for the Forty Years celebrations had not gone well. Suitable places, and there were few of them, were well above what FPS was prepared to pay.
Max Birne found a large venue which appeared promising, and the Gallery Director went with him to open discussions, only to find that FPS would not have control over what went into the exhibition. The Group had never once during its existence been asked to surrender its own discretion over the composition of it exhibitions. The Director was of the opinion that in a changing situation the Group would find itself in the position of going round with a begging bowl. The Free Painters and Sculptors had never allowed themselves to be demeaned in this manner and there was no need of it while they had the Loggia Gallery. FPS could hold its celebrations there, over the whole year of 1992. An attractive programme could be arranged showing various aspects of the Group’s history and the work being done today. There could be Group exhibitions bringing in the whole of the membership, highlights of artists who had come to the fore in recent years, and selections from past periods. In some ways it would be possible to do at the Loggia Gallery what could not be done elsewhere. And the standard of the presentation of its own exhibitions was high and would stand comparison with the best in the business. The Executive Committee welcomed the plan and it was adopted. Among other artists having exhibitions that year was the painter/sculptor Kay Rossie. Six large identically sized paintings — colour fields alternating with vertical colour stripes hung together across some twenty foot of wall. Sculptures in metal and wood unmistakably by the same hand expressed the same feeling for colour and geometry. The last exhibition of the year was another Group exhibition on a theme, ‘Heads’. The Gallery asked for free interpretations; Brancusi’s ovum head to Andrew Wyeth’s realism defining the boundaries. It resulted in a much admired large exhibition, demonstrating the inventiveness of FF5 artists. It was reviewed by Richard Seddon for the Newsletter. As part of the new policy on outside exhibitions ‘Heads’ went on to show at Letchworth Museum in the New Year, where it attracted great interest. An FPS artist worked in the gallery and conversed with visitors on three Saturdays during the period of the exhibition. Robert de Quin made a maquette, Philip Worth worked on a painting, and Sylvia Molloy painted a portrait. During 1991 work went ahead with the integration of group exhibitions within the new timetable. The outer London circuit bookings featured St. Albans and Stevenage as well as the Letchworth show. And an ambitious programme for the FPS: Fortieth Year Celebrations to be held at the Loggia Gallery in 1992 was in the making, together with arrangements for outside exhibitions at Fairfield Halls, Croydon and Lauderdale House, Highgate. In view of the normal programme having to be put aside during the celebration year, which could disappoint members hoping for one-person exhibitions, the Director arranged for the maximum number of exhibitions at the Gallery during 1991. A programme featuring two separate exhibitions, at a time was arranged for the whole year. Despite the pressure of forward arrangements, a great deal of care was taken with these gallery exhibitions, some of which were exceptionally good and interesting.
Kenneth Loynes, a powerful painter, whose eventful life was etched into his work. He was haunted by the contradictions of intentions and ends, which he conveyed in the countenances of people involved in violent events. His style was fluid and free, and surprisingly soft despite his great sense of tragedy, as though compassion had to be the answer humanity was seeking. Gerald Shepherd, an idiosyncratic artist concerned with a fusion of art and science which he called ‘Process Art’. His compositions contained a mass of ideograms which were contained within waves and stripes related to some referential image. His paintings were outside the scope of what is normally understood as painting. In an aesthetic sense they were beautiful, and most people could only see them in that way, for they required reading, and yet remained mysteries. Claire Baker, an American painter, whose subtle paintings were called ‘Fractals’. A bravura display of fragmented, irregular, tangled and pitted shapes, they suggested an aesthetic vocabulary in response to a new scientific view of nature.
Violet Fuller, who had been one of the founder members of FPS, in her exhibition revealed how she had distilled her vision of landscape over the years. She had not lost the essential emotion of her early landscapes, which had held their own alongside the effusions of passionate abstract artists in the fifties. Over the years her paintings had become elegant statements without losing touch with the indefinable presence that is discernible in all good landscape painting. Two other founder members, Joan Knoblock and Lyall Watson were booked for the end of the year. It seemed appropriate that three such artists should bring the programme to the threshold of the forty-year celebrations. During March-April 1991 there was a group exhibition of ‘New Work’ at the Loggia Gallery. The work was fresh and colourful throughout, and certainly one of the best group exhibitions seen in the Loggia Gallery. It prompted a generous review from the critic Emma Burn writing in the Newsletter: ‘The outstanding feature of the show is its richness and variety. All those participating have very definite and differing ideas about expression. It is rare, and most exciting to see so many powerful characters grouped together in one space.’ Emma Burn’s vignette is also a tribute to the underlying aims and personalities of those who have shaped the Free Painters and Sculptors. Any group of artists who survive the accomplishment of initial objectives, and continue for forty years without losing the will and passion for reshaping themselves must have made a considerable contribution to the art of their time. The espousal to ‘friendship and toleration’ voiced by the Group’s first chairman, Lyall Watson, generated a procedure which has served it well.
The chairmen who followed Lyall Watson — John Ratcliff, Krome Barratt, Albert Berbank, John Newson and Harry Sales, all brought their own personal stamp to the office and enriched the organisation. And whatever the differences of personality one and all had in common their devotion to the principle of ‘friendship and toleration’. This is not to say that relations and attitudes among members have always proceeded with perfect harmony. There have been differences and argument and dispute the same as there always is in life, but the cement has always been there to hold FPS together. And the wonder is that it happened not among the like-minded, but among highly individual people.
Any account of the Free Painters and Sculptors would be incomplete without mentioning the service given by people who were its friends, and without whom the artists would have found their situation more daunting. People who took friendship as their reward, for there was no other. Louise Berhendo who would often send a note enclosing her ‘Hanging Fee’ has already been mentioned. Edward Andrews, husband of the painter Marcia Andrews, transported paintings in his car, helped hang exhibitions, did electrical work, decorated, helped with the bar at private views, served on the Executive as House Manager, and was on the spot to help in all manner of ways. Bob Cowan, a veteran, who rebuilt the wall and pillar in the garden when it was in bad condition, and had his work damaged when a great hurricane felled the larger of the two trees which used to stand out there, then patiently reapplied himself and built a brick feature with three pillars and enclosed flower beds. People who sat outside on warm evenings till after dark, drinking wine and conversing, were enjoying a beguiling ambience that was much owed to Bob Cowan.
David Broadribb, who took on the office of Treasurer and had to deal with artists who were motivated by strong feelings that were often at variance with a commercial interpretation of a situation. He greatly improved the finances of FPS and supported a vigorous expansion of the Group’s activities. Quiet and modest of manner he was a great friend of the members, some of whom were of a flamboyant disposition which at times he might have found disconcerting. Doris Rasmussen, wife of the Gallery Director, who when he first took office used to come late in the day and wait for him when there was a changeover of exhibitions. She began helping and soon was giving full-time assistance. Eventually she gained the experience to become a picture-hanger in her own right, even devising a system which is in general use in one part of the gallery. She also helped hang in many outside exhibitions. She managed the bar at private views, and in countless ways helped in the Gallery and with outside business. Had she not given the support she did Roy Rasmussen’s stewardship of the Loggia Gallery would not have been as effective. The Free Painters and Sculptors has a unique place in British Art. During the fifties and sixties it played a significant part in the establishment of Abstract Art, the first of a number of post-war movements that freed artists from the orthodoxy of rigid and purely technical judgements. Art requires excellence, but if it is exclusively about that it has no voice, it cannot comment truly about life, nor can it express the thoughts and feelings of the individual.
During the forty years of its existence FPS has attracted artists who rejected the narrow aims of orthodoxy and required something more exciting — their own part in a creative art. They didn’t form an artistic movement, there were no manifestos. It was simply their determination to survive on their own terms, resisting the tempting blandishments of a consumer culture that leads to uniformity and poverty of thought. When the malady has run its course and human spirit reasserts itself, FPS will be seen to have helped nurture free expression in art through a dark period.