Artists-on-Sea: An Evening with Simon Fowler & Rachel Lichtenstein at The Beecroft

Join photographer Simon Fowler and author Rachel Lichtenstein to discuss the Estuary in words & pictures – 6pm on Friday 7th July at The Beecroft Gallery. All welcome. £5 on the door includes a glass of wine (or two!) – but please RSVP by email to

Artists on Sea - Simon Fowler

Art History Mornings at The Beecroft: A Russian Summer

Russia might be “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, as Churchill put it, but the exhilarating creative power of Russian art from the 1870s through to the 1917 Revolution is one hell of a ride! 

Join our Art History Mornings at The Beecroft for a whirlwind tour this summer! 

Isaac Levitan - Lake - 1900

Image: Isaac Levitan: The Lake (1900)

Saturday 29th July, 10.30 – 12.30pm

From The Wanderers’ awe-inspiring landscapes to the realist genre paintings of Ilya Repin, we’ll explore the 19th-century art of a nation seeing itself for the first time. It’s a picture that Kandinsky will later turn into abstract art, and Diaghilev will translate into the Ballet Russes.

Malevich - Suprematist Composition 1916

Image: Kazimir Malevich: Suprematist Composition (1916)

Saturday 26th August, 10.30-12.30pm

In the first decade of the 20th century, Russian artists tear up all the rulebooks: Natalya Goncharova leads a Futurist avant-garde; Malevich paints Black Square and announces an entire new art, and come 1917, Tatlin is designing a rotating tower that reaches up into the clouds.

Meetings are held on Saturday mornings, 10.30am to 12.30pm in the Lecture Theatre on the ground floor of the Beecroft Gallery.
Each talk costs £10 and includes tea/coffee (biscuits!) and resource materials for independent research.
For further information and to enrol, please contact Mark Banting:

These monthly Saturday morning art history talks are educational yet informal and open to anyone with an interest in art. Each session combines an illustrated talk and discussion, drawing on collections and current exhibitions around the UK.

The Great War: Artists on the Frontline

[Notes from “Art and World War I” discussion at The Beecroft Gallery, @Southend Museums, May 2017]

The anniversary of the 1914-1918 war has been recognised with numerous books, exhibitions and artworks as we remember the millions of people killed, the millions more caught up in the first ‘modern’ war; the all-encompassing horror that reached across the world.

Whilst in 1914 young men were taking up the call to arms with patriotic vigour and adventurous enthusiasm, it wasn’t all over by Christmas and the year 1915 saw untold slaughter. Men with horrendous injuries – physical and mental – were coming into the hospitals with fearful stories: experiences that seemed incompatible with the “all to victory” slogans of the newspapers. In visual culture similarly, the war images were primarily “inspirational” portraits of the King and military leaders in uniform, or the call-to-arms posters pasted on every other lamp-post.

“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime” declared British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey – culture, even civilization itself, appeared to be at an end. The avant-garde artists of Europe, may of whom had been active in the brilliant cauldron of creativity that was Paris, were now forced to leave their easels and return to their home nations, many signing up of course to military service. “Rent or furled are all Art’s ensigns” wrote Wilfred Own in his poem “1914”.

It wasn’t until 1916 that a growing recognition of the importance of visual art inspired the formation of an official enterprise. Initially under the remit of the propaganda department at Wellington House, then incorporated into the Ministry of Information; the War Artists scheme would lead to exhibitions both across Britain and abroad; magazine publications such as “The Western Front” and “British Artists at the Front” and ultimately the creation of the Imperial War Museum.

One of the first to go out to Europe in the capacity of Official War Artist was Muirhead Bone who went to France in 1916 with a commission to make appropriate drawings for both propaganda and the historical record.

Two drawings from the Imperial War Museum collection stand out to me [click the links for larger size]

Bone 1

An Artillery Barrage on the Somme Battlefield : Mametz Wood, Contalmaison Château, Fricourt Wood and Delville Wood in the distance. Drawn from King’s Hill, Fricourt, September, 1916.

Bone 2

Fricourt Village : After the Capture by the British

The ‘before’ and ‘after’ are shocking contrasts – and they revealed a truth, a reality, previously unavailable to the British public.

[There is a resume of Bone’s war career at and many more images can be seen at the Imperial War Museum website:

It had been recognised that art was not only valuable as propaganda and reportage, but also as document and most importantly as answering the public’s call for truth – people wanted to see, to understand, what the men on the frontlines were going through. The turning point may well have been an exhibition of CRW Nevinson’s paintings.

Nevinson had been at the forefront of the British avant-garde as a member of the Vorticist group []; flagrantly displaying a dynamic, aggressive futurist style in his paintings. With the start of war, and unable to enlist with the army for health reasons, he volunteered for the Red Cross, serving as ambulance driver, stretcher bearer and interpreter. The horror of the medical situation just behind the frontlines was shocking; Nevinson describes the hospital quarters “a shed full of dead, wounded and dying”. Invalided home in early 1915, he realised the huge disparity between what he had seen and what the general public imagined: “Back I went to London, to see life still unshaken, with bands playing, drums banging, the armies marching and the newspapers telling us nothing at all” [quoted in Richard Cork’s “A Biter Truth”]. Recovered from his own injuries and working at a London hospital, Nevinson started painting. The Daily News reporters had been calling for a new patriotic art that documented the campaigns, imagining masterpieces with the theme: victory. They did not expect the explicit, full-frontal nerve shattering art that Nevinson would show the world:

Bursting Shell 1915 by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson 1889-1946

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1989-1946) Bursting Shell [1915; Tate; @Tate @TateImages]

Whilst Bursting Shell combines fragmentation, abstraction and blinding colour to disorientate the viewer, Nevinson also represents the brutal reality of his experiences:

Nevinson, Christopher Richard Wynne, 1889-1946; La patrieChristopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1989-1946) La Patrie [1916; Birmingham Museums @BM_AG; image c/o @artukdotorg ]

There is nowhere to turn from the agony and torment of these men lying bandaged on makeshift wooden boards as yet more stretcher-bearers arrive with more wounded men. There is no sentiment here, no patriotism or idealist heroism – just the brutal reality that now has to be faced. And one aspect of this brutal reality was the industrial modernity of the weapons.

Nevinson, Christopher Richard Wynne, 1889-1946; La MitrailleuseChristopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1989-1946) La Mitrailleuse [1915; Tate; @Tate]

Nevinson’s representation of the machine gunners is intense; dug-in; claustrophobic as sharp jagged struts and barbed wire enclose them. The men are no longer fleshly human individuals but at one with the gun, cogs in the war-machine as they concentrate at their posts – whilst a dead comrade lies at their feet in the trench.

Whilst many critics had smarted at avant-garde art, it was becoming apparent that modern war had to be represented by modern means; moreover, it was these young men – trained as artists and knowledgeable of Post-Impressionsim, Cubism and Futurism – that were out there fighting, experiencing the trenches, the battles and the carnage.

For those who became Official War Artists, there was no advice given from above – both subject matter and style of painting were left entirely to the artists themselves. And it is perhaps the drawings and sketches made at the front that bring us closest to what these artists experienced, what they were seeing 100 years ago.

Paul Nash had been in the trenches with the Artists Rifles Brigade from February to May 1917; he returned in October as an Official War Artist; his sketches focus the shattered landscape which comes to symbolise the destruction and carnage of all-out-war.

The Field of Passchendaele, c.1917 (pen & ink with w/c on paper)

Paul Nash (1889-1946) The Field of Passchendaele [1917; Manchester Art Galleries; @mcrartgallery; image c/o @BridgemanImages]

Sunrise, Ruins of a Hospice, north west of Wytschaete, destroyed by bombardment in 1917, from British Artists at the Front, Continuation of The Western Front, Part Three, Paul Nash, 1918 (colour litho)

Paul Nash (1889-1946) Sunrise, Ruins of a Hospice, north west of Wytschaete, destroyed by bombardment [1917; private collection c/o @BridgemanImages]

A Farm, Wytschaete, 1917 (ink, chalk & w/c on brown paper)

Paul Nash (1889-1946) A Farm, Wytschaete, Belgium [1917; private collection c/o @BridgemanImages]

“I have seen the most frightful nightmare of a country… unspeakable, utterly undescribable… no glimmer of God’s hand is seen anywhere. Sunset and sunrise are blasphemous… The rain drives on, the stinking mud… the black trees ooze and sweat… I am no longer an artist interested and curious. I am a messenger who will bring back word from the men… inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth.”

[This was written by Paul Nash on 16th November 1917 to his wife Margaret, quoted in David Boyd Haycock’s book “A Crisis of Brilliance”]

As Paul Nash focused on a terrible landscape of mud, water, blasted trees in the dun colours of gloom or in acidic crayon, Eric Kennington turned to portrait sketches. Far from the authority figures photographed for the press at the start of the war, the ‘ordinary’ Tommy was increasingly important not as the abstract ‘machine cog’ (as in Nevinson’s paintings) but as an individual.

Eric Kennington IWM 1

Eric Kennington (1888-1960) Back to Billets [1917; Imperial War Museum @I_W_M]

Like Kennington, William Orpen was out in France for most of 1917 completing an enormous portfolio of works, now in the Imperial War Museum [], showing scenes from soldier’s activities to shattered buildings. Perhaps most harrowing are his depictions of the physical and psychological damage of war.

William Orpen - Howitzer in Action 1917

William Orpen (1878-1931) A Howitzer in Action [1917; Imperial War Museum @I_W_M]

William Orpen - Combles 1917

William Orpen (1878-1931) The Main Street, Combles [1917; Imperial War Museum]

William Orpen - Receiving Room 1917

William Orpen (1878-1931) The Receiving Room – The 42nd Stationary Hospital [1917; Imperial War Museum @I_W_M]

Whilst women artists were not permitted to go to the front, many were working just behind the front lines having volunteered for the medical corps. such as Olive Mudie-Cooke whose watercoloured drawings reveal not only everyday activities but the care taken by nurses over the wounded soldiers.

Olive Mudie-Cooke - VAD convoy 1917

Olive Mudie-Cooke (1890-1925) Etaples Hospital Siding : a VAD convoy unloading an ambulance train at night [1917; Imperial War Museum]

Olive Mudie-Cooke - Nurse Soldier 1918

Olive Mudie-Cooke (1890-1925) In an Ambulance : a VAD lighting a cigarette for a patient [c.1918; IWM]

These artists were bringing their scenes of experience to viewers at home hungry for knowledge. Mind, the Home Front, as crucial to the war effort as the frontline in many ways, also saw dramatic changes and new experiences. These again were recognised by the official war commission – and I’ll return to these in a separate posting – as they are key to the recognition of women as factory workers, farm-works and, indeed, artists.

One other aspect of art from World War I also worth recognising is that of aerial perspectives. The use of aircraft in war was again new and, as artists were increasingly commissioned from across the forces, so brothers Sydney and Richard Carline – pilots in the Royal Flying Corps – became Official War Artists in 1918. Their sketches (and eventual paintings) would show unique views of the landscape in Europe and beyond, as they take us – the viewer – aloft with them.

Richard Carline - Ypres

Richard Carline (1896–1980) Ypres Seen from an Aeroplane [1918; IWM]

Sydney Carline 1

Sydney William Carline (1888–1929) A British Pilot in a BE2c Approaching Hit along the Course of the River Euphrates, July 1919 [1919; IWM]

Again, there’s much more at

Recommended books:

The Imperial War Museum’s “Art From the First World War” is of course a brilliant introductory overview of key works.

David Boyd Haycock’s excellent “A Crisis of Brilliance” tells the story of the Slade generation caught up in the war, and for a more fictional account try Pat Barker’s brilliant trilogy “Regeneration”.

















Art History Mornings at The Beecroft: Saturday 24th June – Modernism in St Ives

St Ives c.1928 by Alfred Wallis 1855-1942

Alfred Wallis (1855-1942) St Ives [1928; Tate]

Throughout the 1920s and 30s, St Ives became a hub for modern artists exploring new ways of painting in the aftermath of WWI. Hugely influenced by French artists, the “discovery” of local painter Alfred Wallis in 1928 led to a new wave of experiment as formal traditions were further abandoned. A “naïve” romanticism emerged, as did a more abstract British constructivism.

Meetings will be held on Saturday mornings, 10.30am to 12.30pm in the Lecture Theatre on the ground floor of the Beecroft Gallery.

Each talk costs £10 and includes tea/coffee (biscuits!) and resource materials for independent research.

For further information and to enrol, please contact Mark Banting:



These monthly Saturday morning art history talks are educational yet informal and open to anyone with an interest in art. Each session combines an illustrated talk and discussion, drawing on collections and current exhibitions around the UK.

Paintings-on-Sea (3): To the Sunny Shores of Cornwall with Harold & Laura Knight…

[From a discussion at The Beecroft Gallery @SouthendMuseums March 2017]

As we have seen in previous posts, Newlyn had become an artists’ colony back in the 1880s. Something of a slump of activity in the 1890s was then revived when Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes opened the Newlyn Art School in 1899 attracting a second generation of artists to the area. The key to the Forbes’ teaching was a focus on realism and the depiction of the everyday lives of the people around them.

The Old Pier Steps, 1911

Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947) The Old Pier Steps [1911; Bradford Art Galleries; image c/o @BridgemanImages]

Two of those ‘new’ artists were Harold and Laura Knight whose work, whilst clearly continuing the tradition of realism, would undergo a dramatic change on the sunny shores of Cornwall.

The Knights had been working within the Staithes Group up on the east coast where the subjects of their art were scenes of the harsh realities of life in the fishing port, and the style of their paintings was influenced by close links and visits to artists’ colonies in Belgium and Holland, where a tonal approach to quiet muted colour and an emphasis on interior scenes with cool light coming through the window, derived from the old masters, dominated.


Harold Knight (1874-1961) The Young Seamstress (1907; Touchstones Rochdale @Touchstones image c/o @BridgemanImages)


Laura Knight (1877-1970) Cottage Interior, Staithes (c.1905; private collection; image c/o @BridgemanImages).

It was in 1907 that the Knights decided to move south to Cornwall, and the shift in their work towards colour and light is brilliantly dramatic. In one of his first Newlyn paintings, Harold – always perhaps the more conservative of the two – creates the most beautiful dappled Impressionist light:


In the Spring Time, 1908-9 (oil on canvas)

Harold Knight (1874-1961) In the Spring Time [1908; @LaingArtGallery; image c/o @BridgemanImages]

Immediately we feel the influence of Impressionism – the outside air, the light and leisure, the soft brushstrokes. In the Spring Time has a delicious restraint. The brightness and heat of the sun is held back from the shaded couple taking tea under the cool shade of the tree, creating a sense of their intimacy in contrast to the beating sunlight around them. And there’s such perfect simplicity in the balancing of the man’s darker suit and the shadowed tree trunk as contrast to the woman’s dress which, dappled with light, connects beyond the tree to the group sitting out in the field just beyond.

Harold’s preference was still to paint interiors; this enabled his focus on detail and high finish. What the Cornish light inspires however is colour.

The Reader, c.1910 (oil on canvas)

Harold Knight (1874-1961) The Reader [1910; @BrightonMuseums; image c/o @BridgemanImages]

Set against the neutral wall, the visual impact of that stunning green dress is counterbalanced by the red books that dominate the bookcase, where we also pick up a gem-like blue. Such strong colours brought into harmony.

For Laura Knight as well, Newlyn brought out a whole new palette and approach to painting. In her autobiography “The Magic of a Line” (published 1965), Laura says she found herself liberated by Cornwall, full of strength both in body and purpose, free to ride “in harmony with the mood of the wild” and to “sling” paint onto the canvas without restraint.

(See also Barbara C Morden’s biography “Laura Knight: A Life” published 2013, and the official Laura Knight website ).

The utter thrill Laura must have felt comes through especially in:

Boys (Newlyn, Cornwall), 1909-10

Laura Knight (1877-1970) Boys – Newlyn, Cornwall [1909-10; Johannesburg Art Gallery; image c/o @BridgemanImages]

Here we see the boys drying off after a swim in the brilliant afternoon sunshine; there’s a sense of summer holiday and freedom.

As Barbara Morden writes: “[A] pale golden light bleaches the sea, boats and limbs of the children. It dazzles – a sensation echoed by… the girl [in pink] shielding her eyes from the glare.”

Laura painted out en plein air (see painting by Alfred Munnings below], in the tradition of Newlyn art master Stanhope Forbes, and as viewers we can feel that dazzle of the sunlight, the energy of the scene and a dynamic ‘real life’ quality. This comes through especially in this gorgeous watercolour

Bathing off the Boats, 1912 (w/c & bodycolour on paper)

Laura Knight (1877-1970) Bathing off the Boats [1912; private collection; @BridgemanImages]

These paintings of ‘seaside life’  convey the pleasures of swimming in the sea, sitting on the beach – times of leisure. But for Laura, as an artist, this is the effect of the subject matter only. Her work is a vigorous, hard activity as she pursues the depiction of light and colour to portray the atmosphere of a Cornish summer. Laura’s work – as well as Harold’s – sold well, and was regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy; it means they had money and for Laura this meant the opportunity to invite models down from London – including Dolly Snell, one of the famous Tiller Girls, portrayed in The Green Feather (1911).

Laura Knight - The Green Feather 1911

Laura Knight (1877-1970) The Green Feather [1911; Ottawa Museum Canada, image c/o]

As if in proof of Laura’s energy and determination, The Green Feather is 7ft. tall and 5ft. wide, and was painted in a single day out in the open air – Dolly sustained by coffee, cheese and biscuits! Laura Knight would also come to be fascinated by the depiction of young women – whether dressed a la mode or nude – on the beaches and the cliffs of Cornwall; they became central to her artistic vision as she sought to portray sunlight on the human form – and Laura felt she had found a subject of her own, as an independent, professional artist (Morden, p.107).

The Bather (oil on canvas)

Laura Knight (1877-1970) The Bather [private collection; @BridgemanImages]

A further preoccupation for Laura was to capture the living energy of the sea, whether it’s the deepest of blues or dappled and dyed in reflection and sunlight as:

Lamorna Cove,  (oil on canvas)

Laura Knight (1877-1970) Lamorna Cove [private collection; @BridgemanImages]

Cornwall gave Laura the confidence to explore themes and experiment with colour, rhythm and texture in her art – it was a period that would set her up for the rest of her long and extraordinary career.

Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) Painting (oil on canvas)

Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) Laura Knight Painting [@Castle_Art Norwich; @BridgemanImages]

One of the artists closest to Laura Knight was another force of nature, Alfred Munnings – an extraordinary young man who had been apprenticed to a printer in Norwich at the age of fourteen and studied at the Norwich School of Art in the evenings. As an artist he travelled across the country painting rural scenes, with an especial focus on horses, and his travels with the Gypsy communities.

Laura and Alfred were very much at the heart of the artists’ community, painting every day and enjoying picnics, parties and the pub by night.

Munnings, Alfred James, 1878-1959; Lamorna Inn

Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) Lamorna Inn [1915; @AlfredMunnings Museum; image c/o @artukdotorg]

Jonathan Smith’s novel “Summer in February” (published by Abacus in 1995 and made into a film of the same name in 2013) captures the atmosphere of the community; and, indeed, the tragedy of Florence Carter-Wood’s suicide, after her marriage with Munnings, that would undermine the colony’s atmosphere of freedom and joy even before the declaration of war in September 1914.

But it was no doubt the ‘wildness’ of Munnings’ life that attracted Laura’s attention; and his energy reverberates through the paintings.

Munnings, Alfred James, 1878-1959; The Shady Grove

Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) The Shady Grove [1910; @BrightonMuseums; @BridgemanImages]

Here the vigour of the brushstroke captures the breeze of a hot summer afternoon; the scattering of strong sunlight through the leaves and branches; and the horses’ movements contrasting to the groom dozing in the grass.

Munnings, Alfred James, 1878-1959; A Gipsy Campfire

Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) A Gypsy Campfire [1910; @AlfredMunnings; image c/o @artukdotorg]

Munnings, Alfred James, 1878-1959; Start of St Buryan Races, Cornwall

Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) The Start of St Buryan Races, Cornwall [1914; @walkergallery; @artukdotorg]

Munnings passion for horses and racing is key to his entire oeuvre, as is clearly visible in the Munnings Museum collection of his works

The Great War would separate this ‘second generation’ of Newlyn artists; still Alfred Munnings and Laura Knight would be friends for the rest of their lives, often influencing each other.


Munnings no doubt introduced Laura to horse racing, a subject that would become a focus in the 1930s and, since I am writing this on the day of the Epsom Derby, I should round off with one of her watercolour sketches:

Derby Day, No. 1 (w/c & bodycolour on paper)

Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) Derby Day No.1 [late 1930s; private collection; @BridgemanImages]