The London Group (TLG) is teaming up again with Waterloo Festival over two exhibitions at this year's edition, later in June. We both have a shared past: the Festival of Britain 1951, for which St John's served as the 'Festival Church' and several artists from the TLG contributed. David Redfern, Archivist at TLG, explores artists featured in the 1951 celebrations in a series of articles. Last article, below.
I have to confess a personal link with Claude Rogers, in the first instance because he was my professor at Reading University Fine Art Department when I studied there between 1965 and 1969. His education pedigree dated back to just before the Second World War, when, with Victor Pasmore and William Coldstream, he set up the Euston Road School. After the war he taught at Camberwell School of Art followed by a spell at the Slade and in 1963 came his professorship at Reading. He was also a stalwart supporter of The London Group, elected in 1939 and serving as its president from 1952 to 1965, the third longest serving president in the Group’s history. The previous incumbent, John Dodgson, served only two years but was president during the Festival of Britain, a remarkably busy time for many artists.
“Miss Lynn”, 1951, 108 x 177.3, oil on canvas, Collection Southampton City Art Gallery. © Crispin Rogers
In 1950, as part of the Festival of Britain, Rogers was invited to exhibit in “60 Paintings for ‘51”, open to the public from 1st January 1951 to 1st December in the Suffolk Galleries, Suffolk Street, W1. The Arts Council selected 60 artists to show in this exhibition and even in some cases provided canvases for them to paint on, as, after the war, art materials were in short supply. Paintings were to be not less than 45 x 60 inches (114 x 152 cms). Fifty-four painters were eventually shown and of those fifty-four, thirty-six were at some period in their careers members of The London Group. The Arts Council purchased five paintings from the exhibition as prizes of £500 each, a considerable sum in the 1950s. The five prize winners were Lucien Freud, William Gear (see previous article), Ivon Hitchens, Robert Medley and Claude Rogers. Of the five prize winners, only Lucien Freud was never elected to The London Group. Claude Rogers’ prize-winning painting was “Miss Lyn”, an oil painting on canvas and now in the Southampton City Art Gallery collection. This humorous anecdote about the day the prizes were awarded is from “The Affectionate Eye, the life of Claude Rogers”, by Jenny Pery: “The girl at the desk said: ‘Well, at four o’clock I have to stick the labels on the pictures chosen by the Arts Council’. ‘Good God!’ I said ‘You don’t mean to say you know now, do you?’ ‘Yes I do’ she giggled. ‘Well,’ said I. ‘For heaven’s sake, whatever the result, ring me at the Slade at 4 and let me know’…So at four I was in the office and Willy (Townsend) said ‘Let’s go to tea’. ‘I’ll just wait for that call,’ I told him and at that moment it came through – Golly! Just like a Boys Own Paper School Story, last instalment – my picture had been bought together with Freud, Hitchens, Medley and William Gear… I rushed out to Charlotte Street and got some drink and back to the Slade where we drank out of thimbles and tumblers.”
As perhaps you may remember from two previous articles on William Gear and Vanessa Bell, 1951 was a busy year for many London Group artists. The London Group organised two massive open submission exhibitions at the New Burlington Galleries in February and November and Rogers was on the organising committee for both exhibitions working alongside, amongst others, Victor Pasmore, Ceri Richards and Julian Trevelyan. Just as Rogers’ work was selected by an Arts Council jury, so Rogers and his colleagues would have to select works submitted by contemporary artists in the London Group’s open submission process, a process still supporting contemporary artists to this day. A total of 355 works, that is paintings, drawings, sculpture etc., were shown in the February exhibition and 373 in November, a massive undertaking. The New Burlington Galleries comprised of four large galleries and a ‘vestibule’, the sort of hireable, affordable London gallery space one can only dream about these days. The first exhibition made a small profit from submission fees, entrance fees, catalogue sales and sales commission, but unfortunately the November show showed a loss of £30.5s.2d, a loss exacerbated by “the party” which cost £10.16s.6d! Rogers knew that London Group members enjoyed a convivial experience. As president one of his master strokes was to hold Annual General Meetings at Bertorelli’s Restaurant in Charlotte Street to encourage reticent attendees. A bar was available from 5.45pm, the meeting began at 6:15 and dinner was served at 8. Tickets cost 8s 6d, excluding drinks!
We can see a picture of the country, the economy and the community emerging from a second World War in all of these events. A parallel can be found as we come out of a third lockdown and we are able to hold exhibitions and to greet people face-to face again.
The London Group Archivist
The London Group was set up in 1913 by thirty two artists creating a powerful artist-run group to act as a counter-balance to institutions such as the Royal Academy. The founding group created a unique structure for an organisation, that has gone on to successfully nurture the careers of many of Britain's best-known artists.