Is the tide turn­ing for Ju­lian Trevelyan?

Can a new show re­vive the rep­u­ta­tion of an artist who taught Hock­ney and min­gled with Miró, asks Lucy Davies

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - COVER STORY -

Un­til he was six, the first thing Philip Trevelyan would see when he awoke each morn­ing were wrig­gles of light on the ceil­ing: re­flec­tions from the sur­face of the Thames. His child­hood home was so close to the river that, when the tide was ex­cep­tion­ally high, wa­ter would creep in through the cracks be­tween the floor­boards and set the rugs afloat.

Philip’s be­d­room, wedged into the eaves in a sort of min­strels’ gallery, gave him a view of the room be­low, in which his par­ents, the artist Ju­lian Trevelyan (19101988) and the pot­ter Ur­sula Dar­win (1908-2010), slept, lived and worked. A mo­bile by Ju­lian’s good friend, Alexan­der Calder, spun in the draught.

At night, if his par­ents were hav­ing a party – and they of­ten were, Ju­lian be­ing, by his own ad­mis­sion, “a bit­ter-en­der” – Philip would look down on to the chat­ter­ing, smoke-wreathed head of Dy­lan Thomas, say, or Stan­ley Spencer. By the mid-Fifties, when he was older (his fa­ther had by then re­mar­ried, to the artist Mary Fed­den, but Philip vis­ited of­ten), he was al­lowed to join in and, like many a teenager be­fore and since, took to swig­ging dregs from half-empty glasses.

On a brisk au­tumn af­ter­noon, I meet Philip – now 75, and a farmer and film-maker – by his child­hood home, a col­lec­tion of small sheds on the Thames near Chiswick. It is a ghost of its for­mer self. Paint is peel­ing from the pea­cock-blue doors and win­dows. The Calder mo­bile fell down in 2012, spook­ily soon af­ter Mary died, hav­ing out­lived Ju­lian by 24 years.

Tall and softly spo­ken, Philip leads us in­side to the mot­ley col­lec­tion of so­fas and chairs that sur­round a wood-burn­ing stove. Though it has been re­lieved of its most pre­cious con­tents (in 2016, a sale was held at Sotheby’s of 90 of Ju­lian’s and Mary’s works, plus some by friends such as Pi­casso and Henry Moore), Durham Wharf is oth­er­wise un­touched since they died. The liv­ing room still houses the bed they slept in, their knick­knacks and books, a large din­ing ta­ble and Mary’s pi­ano. In the quiet, the room ex­hales a dusty, tur­pen­tine-scented breath, proof of the paint­ings that were once cre­ated here. Of these, more than 100, along­side etch­ings, let­ters and sketch­books, are be­ing ex­hib­ited at Pal­lant House Gallery in Chich­ester, the first time that Ju­lian’s work has been shown in 20 years.

“His life is a bit of a story,” Philip, says, mod­estly, of a man who, among other things, was a found­ing mem­ber of the Bri­tish sur­re­al­ists, helped to gather in­for­ma­tion for the Mass Ob­ser­va­tion so­cial an­thro­pol­ogy sur­veys of the late Thir­ties, ex­per­i­mented with the drug mesca­line, sup­ported the Pit­men pain­ters, and taught fledg­ling artists such as David Hock­ney and Nor­man Ack­royd at the Royal Col­lege of Art. In Mont­par­nasse, Ju­lian min­gled with Pi­casso, Miró, Calder and Kokoshka, in a scene that he de­scribed in his mem­oir as an “in­ter­na­tional riff-raff of writ­ers, pain­ters, tarts and scroungers, all speak­ing to­gether in bad French, [who] floated through the cafes”.

Through­out it all, Ju­lian worked fever­ishly on his own art, too: un­du­lat­ing land­scapes, both real and imag­ined, painted and etched. Though he spent months at a time in the Mid­dle East, Africa or the Mediter­ranean, Durham Wharf was the home to which he al­ways re­turned with joy.

When Ju­lian dis­cov­ered the prop­erty in 1935, it was half derelict, but “the tide was up and gulls flew scream­ing round us while tugs and sail­ing dinghies

He be­longed to ‘an in­ter­na­tional riff-raff of writ­ers, pain­ters, tarts and scroungers’

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