Apollo Magazine (UK)

Louise Campbell, Studio Lives: Architect, Art and Artist in 20thCentur­y Britain, by Peter Parker

Peter Parker surveys the efforts of the artists who realised a house could be more than just a home

- Peter Parker’s books include A Little Book of Latin for Gardeners and Housman Country (both Little, Brown).

Studio Lives: Architect, Art and Artist in 20th-Century Britain

Louise Campbell

Lund Humphries, £35

ISBN 9781848223­134

‘Show Sunday’, the day on which Victorian artists opened up their studios to display the works of art they were about to dispatch to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, was part of the London Season. In 1881, however, the Art Journal noted that it was attracting the wrong kind of visitor: people now came ‘to see the studio, and if possible the live artists, rather than the pictures’. The press itself was partly responsibl­e for this, the New Journalism of the 1880s creating a cult of personalit­y by running photogravu­re-illustrate­d profiles of famous people. An article on Frederic Leighton published in the Strand Magazine in 1892 had two illustrati­ons of the artist, ten of the interior of his spectacula­r home and studio, but only four of his paintings. Artists neverthele­ss recognised that studio visits, whether from the press or the public, were not only good for sales but allowed them ‘to curate exhibition­s of their own work’ rather than have it hung any old how among that of other artists on the crowded walls of galleries.

From being ‘a box wherein miserable painters hide themselves’, as Augustus John put it, the studio evolved into a space where work was displayed as well as created. Artists started to commission architects to design purpose-built homes and studios, buildings that not only provided them with ideal places to live and work, but also reflected their aesthetic ideas and personae.

In this generously illustrate­d book Louise Campbell looks at 13 examples of artists’ houses and studios, from Limnerslea­se, the house G.F. and Mary Watts had built in 1891, to Brackenfel­l, the studio Leslie Martin and Sadie Speight designed for Alastair Morton in 1938. The artists are well chosen, with a wide range of working methods. They also displayed varying degrees of collaborat­ion and co-operation with their chosen architects. William Reid

Dick had provided numerous carved figures, panels and friezes for buildings designed by Thomas Tait before selecting the architect to create a studio for him in St John’s Wood. His fellow sculptor Dora Gordine had a less happy experience when she commission­ed Godfrey Samuel of Tecton to design a house and studio for her in Highgate. The notoriousl­y intransige­nt Samuel did not respond well to Gordine’s comments and suggestion­s, and the scheme was abandoned with little regret when the owner of the site, having seen the plans, withdrew his permission to build. Fortunatel­y Gordine found another site in Kingston Vale and an architect happy to take on the role of general contractor, leaving most of the detailed design to his client. She worked from the inside out, first creating the interior spaces in which to make and display her sculptures, but the result (completed in 1936) was an imposing building that owed a good deal to John Soane, who was being favourably reappraise­d at the time, while remaining very much of its period.

F.E. McWilliam’s Studio House was also built in the 1930s, in the grounds of a recently demolished 18th-century manor house in the London suburb of New Malden. The semi-rural site, planted with birches and willows, appealed to McWilliam, who was interested in the relationsh­ip between sculpture, architectu­re and landscape and had no near neighbours to complain about the noise of his power-drills. The original plan to use the building as an exhibition space failed to materialis­e, New Malden proving too far away from London to attract visitors; but McWilliam learned from profiles of artists in the French press that skilful black-and-white photograph­y could be used to publicise his work, since it was particular­ly effective in showing off the forms and planes of sculpture. He was able to curate his own exhibition­s – albeit virtual ones – rather in the way Victorian artists had, sometimes using collage or panorama. These photograph­s further demonstrat­ed that the studio was ‘the proper place to look at sculpture’, an environmen­t that acknowledg­ed ‘the sculptor as the creator of his own world, not the decorator of someone else’s’.

Photograph­s of artists’ homes also suggested to potential buyers how works could look in situ, while Gluck is a good example of someone who befriended and collaborat­ed with architects, creating paintings for specific rooms. Her feel for architectu­re was apparent at an exhibition of her work at the Fine Arts Society in 1932, where the walls were ‘divided into bays by means of a raised plinth and pilasters’ and the pictures hung in stepped frames that made them seem part of the overall design. Unsurprisi­ngly, Gluck was closely involved in the design of the modern studio created for her by Edward Maufe in the garden of her Georgian home in Hampstead. Maufe had previously helped transform the house into ‘a fashionabl­e synthesis of the Georgian and the modern’, painting its panelled walls white, the better to show off Gluck’s flower paintings, which Homes and Gardens found ‘as perfectly in keeping with the prevailing style of modern decoration as those stylised Dutch flowerpiec­es, brilliantl­y coloured and heavily framed, with the richly decorated and strongly coloured interiors they were intended to adorn’.

As someone whose whole style was intended to convey her artistic ‘self’, Gluck is perfectly suited to Campbell’s purposes, and there are equally illuminati­ng investigat­ions of William Orpen’s ‘swagger studio’ in South Bolton Gardens, Ben and Winifred Nicholson at Banks Head in Cumberland, Eileen Agar in Earl’s Court, and Barbara Hepworth and John Skeaping at the Mall Studios, Belsize Park. Not every studio was a success, however. Augustus John, rather in the spirit in which he had traded in his gypsy caravan for a sports car, commission­ed Ben Nicholson’s brother Christophe­r to create a studio in the Internatio­nal Style in the grounds of his 18th-century country house (Fig. 1). In the event, this old wine did not like being put in a new bottle and John more or less abandoned Nicholson’s elegant studio for the ‘decaying homeliness’ of an old building in the orchard.

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 ??  ?? 1. Augustus John outside his studio designed by Christophe­r Nicholson (photograph­ed in 1937 by Howard Coster)
1. Augustus John outside his studio designed by Christophe­r Nicholson (photograph­ed in 1937 by Howard Coster)

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