ART IN THE SOUTH-WEST
LANDSCAPES OF THE MIND: THE ART OF TRISTRAM HILLIER
REFUGE AND RENEWAL: MIGRATION AND BRITISH ART
Royal West of
TOULOUSE-LAUTREC AND THE MASTERS OF
Reviewed by Jim Burns
Tristram Hillier is often associated with Surrealism, and it can’t
be denied that he was interested in ideas originating from
In the 1930s Hillier was invited to join Unit One, a forward-looking British group which included Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore and Edward Wadsworth. The latter appears to have had a significant effect on Hillier, especially in terms of the layout of his coastal scenes. During this period he, like several British artists, produced a number of commercial works for Shell, the Central Electricity Generating Board, and other organisations. Hillier’s sensitive handling of colour was put to good use in this context. The examples on display sit easily besides his “creative” works. For a later (1955) commission from Shell he created twelve still lifes which clearly showed the influence of the Dutch Masters.
and his family were living in
Hillier never abandoned his interest in surrealism (see “Ship
If Hillier went to
A number of Belgian artists arrived here when the First World War saw their country occupied by the Germans. I doubt that the name of Constant Permeke will ring many bells for the average British art enthusiast, but this is sadly true of a large number of the artists on display. Some of the better-known (if still not widely acknowledged) arrivals in the 1930s may be Josef Herman, Heinz Koppel, Jankel Adler(an influence on the Scottish artists, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde), Naum Gabo and Kurt Schwitters. Several brought ideas of German Expressionism with them, and Schwitters had links to the Dada movement. Gabo managed to arouse interest in his work among the St Ives community of artists, to the extent that Tate St Ives currently has an exhibition focusing on his presence in the town in the 1940s.
It would be encouraging to think that the
Refuge and Renewal
exhibition will re-ignite sufficient attention in some of the
lesser-known painters to encourage other public displays of their
work. But perhaps I’m too optimistic? Their paintings may now be
scattered, even lost, and in any case may not have been produced in
sufficient quantities to provide for a balanced assessment. Many of
the artists slid into obscurity in
And so to
The developments in lithography in the nineteenth-century had enabled printers to turn out quantities of brightly-coloured posters at reasonable prices. When artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Cherét, and Theodore Steinlen were hired to create the posters it guaranteed that their quality would be reliable in terms of design and realisation. From the start, the artistic values of posters were recognised, and astute people began to collect them. There were poster exhibitions (advertised by posters, of course), and dealers who specialised in them. They were, in other words, acknowledged as an art form. And from a practical point of view, they provided a useful income for struggling painters, just as promoting Shell on posters financially benefited Tristram Hillier in the 1930s.
It shouldn’t be assumed that Toulouse-Lautrec was the main producer of posters. I mentioned Jules Cherét, and he was a prolific presence in the field. He may well have been even more-prolific than Toulouse-Lautrec when it came to posters. And he ranged over an equally wide area when it involved the subject-matter of the posters: The Moulin-Rouge (an interesting contrast with Toulouse-Lautrec), books, the singer Yvette Guilbert, the Folies-Bergèr, l’Odéon Theatre, a variety of commercial products, and much more. He perhaps wasn’t as generally distinctive stylistically as Toulouse-Lautrec, and didn’t have the personal behavioural qualities that earmarked him for later fame, or notoriety, depending on how you look at it. Toulouse-Lautrec was cut out to be a celebrity as well as an artist.
One of my own favourites is Théophile Steinlen who, among other
things, designed a humorous poster advertising a brand of bicycle,
and had a liking for cats. His most-famous design advertised the
Chat Noir. Steinlen also knew about the seamy side of Parisian life,
away from the frolics of the fashionable and wealthy. His 1899 “La
Traite des Blanches” focused on the miseries of the white slave
trade. Two versions of this poster are on display. In Steinlen’s
original one of the women is bare-breasted, but it was censored and
the public saw her demurely covered.
The exhibition isn’t going anywhere else in