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British Murals and Decorative Painting 1910–1970, Fine Art Society, London. 13 February – 9 March 2013

ivon hitchens Lucy ellis The artist’s mural as a site-specific work in schools and other public buildings was one of the most important 20th century mediums where artists could contribute to the public sphere. While often used globally as a form of communication for social emancipation or political criticism, in the United Kingdom the mural is considered to be a form of ‘Decorative Painting’ appropriate for state patronage and community engagement.  But as an extensive category of painting from the Victorian period onwards murals indicate the way that buildings were used or understood, and about how artists and patrons wanted to communicate with the public. They cover all styles, from heroic history paintings to everyday scenes, religious subjects, abstract decorations, trompe l’oeil pastiches and frivolous high society décor. Murals, however, engaged many of the best artists of the time and formed a largely forgotten strand in art education. A major exhibition and historical survey of the subject at The Fine Art Society, in association with Paul Liss of Liss Fine Art, is showing mural panels by John Piper and Alan Sorrell and studies for murals by John Armstrong, Frank Brangwyn, Charles Mahoney and Thomas Monnington supported by a conference and publication.

Bridget Riley. the morley college mural 5_Bawden_at_Morley_College 1_Barbara_Jones 4_Ravilious_at_Morley_CollegeApart from a few famous examples such as Stanley Spencer’s Chapel at Burghclere, murals in Britain remain a largely unknown subject, and the work has often been at risk and lost, even when a building remains. Some can be recovered, such as the two murals by Fred Millett in a 1950s school at Wokingham that were painted over and had almost been forgotten. Others, like a jungle scene by Barbara Jones in a Sheffield school were in the wrong place when the building was demolished and the mural wall found itself in the new car park site. Sometimes the listing of a building protects a mural, and some buildings have even been listed because of the presence of one, such as the Ivon Hitchens mural at the English Folk Dance and Song Society at Cecil Sharp House, Regents Park. The 6 x 21-metres mural was the largest in the country at the time of its unveiling in 1954 and depicts key English folk-dances and traditions, with figures in a woodland setting, “to act as a foil to the urban surroundings of Cecil Sharp House”.

Exhibition: British Murals and Decorative Painting 1910–1970. 13th February to 9th March 2013, Fine Art Society, 148 New Bond Street, London W1S 2JT. T. 0207 629 5116. www.faslondon.com

Publication:  British Murals and Decorative Painting 1920–1960, Sansom & Co., £40. The role of mural and decorative painting has been largely neglected in accounts of twentieth-century British art.  In this collection of specially commissioned studies, leading experts spotlight some of the most important and enduring, along with neglected, images of the period. These include previously unpublished Festival of Britain designs as well as little-known masterpieces from the first generation of Rome Scholars – Colin Gill, Edward Halliday, Glyn Jones, Winifred Knights and Tom Monnington. Many of these works are reproduced in colour for the first time. More than 30 mural projects are discussed and illustrated include Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere; Rex Whistler’s Tate Restaurant; Edward Wadsworth’s study for a mural at De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill;  Frank Brangwyn’s ‘Rockefeller Plaza, New York’; ‘The English Pub’, by Edward Bawden; ‘Telecinema Designs’ by John Armstrong;  John Piper’s ‘The Englishman’s Home’; Thomas Monnington’s ceiling for the New Council House, Bristol on the theme of molecular and atomic fusion, and the ‘Porthmeor Mural’ by Peter Lanyon, 1962/63.

Conference: Murals in Britain 1920-1970: Revisions, revelations and risks. Friday 8th March. Cost: £30 (Students £20). Morley College, 61 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7HT. t. 020 7928 8501. Morley College once displayed murals by Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious in the 1930 that were destroyed by bombing, but where later murals by Bawden, John Piper, Bridget Riley and others can still be seen. One of the aims of the conference is to draw attention to the need for more protection from English Heritage and more knowledge about where the existing murals can be found. Session 1: Murals and art history. 10.15 Professor Clare Willsdon, University of Glasgow, author Mural Painting in Britain, 1840-1940 ‘Mural traditions: Britain and Abroad. 10.45 Dr Alan Powers, Twentieth Century Society. ‘Why are murals so neglected by art history?’ Session 2: Murals and two world wars. 11.45 Dr Jonathan Black, Senior Research Fellow, Kingston University. ‘Gentle Lessons for the Nation: Mural Painting in Britain and the Two World Wars. 12.15 Dr Margaret Garlake, author New Art/New World: British Art in Postwar Society (1998). ‘Medium, image, place in postwar murals’. Session 3: Bridging gaps in knowledge and interpretation. 14.00 Dr Lynn Pearson, independent historian, author of Public Art since 1950 and A Field Guide to Postwar Murals. ‘In search of modern murals’. 14.30 Dr Jeremy Howard, University of St Andrews and The Decorated School Project. ‘Extra?: Murals in Schools’. 14.50 Henrietta Billings, Conservation Advisor, Twentieth Century Society. Tile panels by Dorothy Annan in Farringdon Street and other case studies. Session 4: Angels and agencies. 15.30 Dr Roger Bowdler, Head of Designation, English Heritage. ‘Wall-to-wall protection: Designating the 20th century mural. 16.00 Andy Ellis, Public Catalogue Foundation.

Full details of the programme and booking are available from The Twentieth Century Society. www.c20society.org.uk

Conference Booking: http://c20.datawareonline.co.uk/Default.aspx?tabid=62&EventId=236


The Ivon Hitchens mural, Cecil Sharp House, London. photo©Lucy Ellis

Bridget Riley, (b.1931), The Morley College Mural, c.1973, acrylic & pencil on canvas. Morley College. © the artist

Eric Ravilious, (1903–1942), Doll’s House from Morley College, Lambeth, 1928-30, (destroyed), taken from from the publication The Graphic, March 15, 1930. courtesy of Morley College College

Barbara Jones. Adam Naming the Animals (detail) at Yew Lane School, Sheffield, 1959, photographed during demolition. © Roger Bowdler at English Heritage

Edward Bawden, (1903–1989), The Tempest  from Morley College, Lambeth, 1928-30, (destroyed). Taken from the publication Derek Patmore, Modern Furnishing and Decoration, The Studio Ltd, 1934



About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


One thought on “British Murals and Decorative Painting 1910–1970, Fine Art Society, London. 13 February – 9 March 2013

  1. Long overdue! …..This is the tip of the iceberg for mural painting : from Roman times through the late middle ages and into the18th century, often modest private homes had decorative painting. Today ‘amateur’ artists in my experience are as keen as ever to decorate their own homes, and this includes murals. Its very widespread indeed : last summer I was on a field trip in Wales (I’m a painter myself) and in the next cottage was a young Romanian farm hand. When he found I was an artist he went indoors to get some photos of a friend’s work back home – a young garage man who had filled half the homes in his village with murals….

    Posted by Stephen Taylor | January 31, 2013, 11:18 am

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