Saturday, March 16, 2019

Gertrude Leese (1870-1963) – British VAD, artist and illustrator

Clare Waters, writer, has researched Gertrude:

“During the First World War, Leese volunteered in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) at Etaples, in an Allied military camp that had many hospitals on site. The Imperial War Museum holds five sketches Leese made while there, which she donated to the museum in 1954. These delicate, dynamic ink-on-paper illustrations give us a glimpse into life on a busy wartime base.

During the first decade of the twentieth century she illustrated a number of books for George Bell and Sons, including George Sand’s La Mare au Diable and François le Champi in 1908, and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1909. Her name is credited in substantial type on the covers and title pages of these books, and each includes a generous mix of black-and-white line illustrations and coloured plates. She had studied with Max Bohm (1868-1923) at the international art colony in the fishing port of Etaples, and her work was shown at the ‘Salon des Artistes Français’ in Paris in 1902.

Leese was friends with many artists of the time, including Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), co-founder of the Vorticist movement, and Helen Saunders (1885-1963) and Jessica Dismorr (1885-1939). Along with Lewis and others, Saunders and Dismorr both signed the original Vorticist manifesto in 1914 and they are depicted in William Roberts’ 1961 painting, held in the Tate, The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring 1915 (the restaurant was in Percy Street, London). Leese was also close friends with her second cousin, Catherina Dawson Giles (1878-1955), known as Kathie, another painter who knew this group.

In 1924 Leese, then in her fifties, studied at the Académie de la Palette in Paris, where Dismorr had studied earlier in 1910-13. Subsequently she sketched and painted many other European scenes, including a number of the French Riviera and the Mediterranean. But it is the immediacy of these simple wartime sketches that are particularly poignant, as they are such a clear and vivid reminder of the people involved in that challenging and harrowing time of more than 100 years ago.”

Clare Waters

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Walter E. Spradbery, DCM (1889 – 1969) British Artist

With thanks to Historian Debbie Cameron for telling me about Walter and thanks to Walter’s cousin, Philip Spradbery, who has a lifelong passion for painting, who kindly supplied additional information and to Sergio Sbalchiero for finding paintings by Walter.

Walter Ermest Spradbery was born on 29th March 1889 in East Dulwich, London, UK. His parents were Joseph Spradbery and his wife Emily Spradbery, nee Feltham.  Walter had a brother, Charles V., b. 1879.

Walter studied at Walthamstow Art School, then worked as an art teacher. He regularly exhibited his work at the Royal Academy. His main artistic media were water colour, linocuts and poster design. Walter designed posters for London transport companies and for British Rail.

During the First World War, Walter, who was a pacifist, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served as a medical orderly and stretcher-bearer on the Western Front. He served with 36 Field Ambulance during the Somme Offensive in 1916 and was Mentioned in Despatches several times for bravery rescuing wounded men under fire.   He was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

On 11th November 1918, Walter wrote to his Mother:

"Hostilities ceased on all fronts at 11 o’clock today. Oh happy mothers, happy sweethearts, happy wives, whose loved ones will come safely back... and those lone souls who have lost their very own; today is too unkind to them - how can they face our joy? 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards men' - an unseen choir sings it in our breasts - prompting men to evolve a better world more worthy of our ideals and aspirations. Let us begin."

On 21st August 1929, Walter married opera singer Dorothy D’Orsay (maiden name Horsey) and the couple lived in Epping Forest.   They had two children.

Walter died in Epping, Essex in 1969. An exhibition of the work of WW1 artist Walter Spradbery was held in 2018 at The Epping Forest District Museum.

A biography of Walter Spradbery’s life and times, "My Dear Jim", has been compiled and published by his son, John Spradbery (Mail order from Elizabeth Spradbery:


A poem by Walter Spradbery written in 1915 and kindly supplied by his cousin, Philip Spradbery.


“Eyes Have They, But See Not”

The flowers that grow on Barnham’s plain
Are beautiful to see;
The bugloss and the speedwell’s blue
Fair as a summer’s sea,
Blue as a summer’s sky are they
As a child’s eyes may be:

And the tender little pansy’s
Uplifted cherub face,
With golden eye, and purple wings
And unpretentious grace,
Peeps shyly from amid the grass
In every shady place.

But wearily we drag our feet
Over the jeweled sods,
And discipline, it weighs us down
With the curse of an iron rod;
And ‘iron rods’ we carry
To kill the sons of God.

The cranebill’s starry floweret
Is scattered o’er the plain;
Its pale magenta blossoms
We trample in our pain,
And dully long for peace, and love
And our dear homes again.

With iron heels we tread them down,
We tread them in the sand;
We crush their beauty ’neath our feet
Too tired to understand
The ugly ruthless thing we do.
Now war is on the land.

The golden gorse, across the heath
Is a mass of yellow flame;
Its unconsuming fires praise
The Sun God’s glorious name.
But war it burns things black and dead,
And fills men’s hearts with shame.

And scarlet is the pimpernel
And bright the poppy’s red
But brighter still is the blood we’ll spill
Ere we ourselves are dead:
No flower so rich, in the deep dug ditch,
As the blood our guns may shed.

The grass is worn with the ceaseless tread
Of our marching to and fro,
And where we drill on the mossy hill
Great bare patches show;
For ’neath the heel of the War God’s foot
No fair thing may grow. 

But time revenges the patient weak
Whom the Ruthless crush and kill,
And delicate things that droop and die,
Like the flowers on the grassy hill,
Will bloom again on another plain
Fairer and sweeter still.

The barren stretch of Flander’s plains
Is desolate and bare,
And the shriek of shell, and stench and smell
Float on the morning air
And splintered stumps are all that speak
Of what once blossomed there.

Yet the flowers our feet have trodden down
Will be born again,
And rich and fine, on Flander’s fields,
Will dance in the gentle rain
Will dance on the dead that feed their roots
The countless, ghastly slain.

The little flowers we’ve trodden down
Will scent each ugly grave,
Will hide the ghastly torn limbs
O the coward and the brave
And gaily smile at the morning sun,
O’er the foolish and the knave.

Oh, the river runs o’er Barnham’s plains
This where our horses drink –
And a thousand fair and charming things
Blossom on its brink.
But we have trod them in the mud
Nor paused to praise or think.

The pinkish purple loose-strife
Bows on the river’s edge,
Forget-me-not and orchids,
The flowering rush and sedge
While briar rose and bryony
Entangle in the hedge.

And crowsfoot gleams on the river,
Like snowflakes in the sun
And sways in the moving waters
That over the pebbles run.
But we cannot pause for such a thing,
Who’re crossing the stream with a gun.

But the rivers which flow in Flanders
Are rivers of blood methinks
And will, one day, colour the roses
Whose roots from that soil drink,
And a thousand flowers will blossom
Where a corpse now rots and stinks.

And we who train at Thetford
Parade on Barnham Hill
And prod coarse sack with bayonets
To gain the skill to kill
To disembowel and mutilate
Men who are brothers still.

While all around is beauty
And overhead the sky,
Where fleecy clouds in freedom float
Over the men that die;
And nature laughs at our folly
As we pass her treasures by.

With a garland of peaceful beauty
She tempts us to lay down our arms;
With a myriad of fearless blossoms
She mocks at our childish alarms,
With a tangle of wonderful flowerets
She seeks to ensnare us with charms.

Oh, he who sees God in a daisy,
Can see more clearly in man,
The light of the Glorious Eternal
That through all Living Things ran,
When the wheels of time first started,
And the Song of Life began.

Walter E. Spradbery (1915)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Arthur Royce Bradbury (1892 - 1977) – British artist

Born on the 17th September 1892 in Preston, Lancashire, UK, Arthur specialised in painting portraits, landscapes and seascapes in oil, watercolour and pastel. He was an accomplished etcher and taught art at the Pembroke Lodge School and Wimborne Grammar School. He studied at the St. John’s Wood School of Art before being accepted at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1913 he lived in Bournemouth, then Parkstone, Dorset in 1915, before moving to Poole.

Arthur trained as a cadet with the Merchant Navy, serving on the West African trade route, before taking up art. It was then that he made several voyages on the barquentine ‘Waterwitch’ carrying coal and china clay from Cornish ports. The ‘Waterwitch’ was the last trading square rigger in British service at that time.

He became an Associate of the Royal West of England Academy and exhibited there and elsewhere, mainly portraits. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1913 - a work entitled ‘Iris’ - and went on to exhibit fourteen works there. Examples of his work may be seen at the Liverpool and Brighton Public Art Galleries.

Arthur served during The First World War as a Second Lieutenant with the 3rd Bn. Dorsetshire Regiment (London Gazette, 26 July 1915) and was then attached to the Dorset Regiment and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

On 27th July 1924, Arthur married Evelyn Ethel Mate 27th July 1924 and the couple lived in Poole, Dorset.  Arthur died in 1977.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Victoria Monkhouse (1885 – 1970) - British Artist and illustrator, possibly best remembered for her illustrations of women working on the Home Front in Britain during the First World War.

Louisa Victoria Monkhouse was born on 24th May 1885 in Barton, Chesterton, Cambridgeshire
Her parents were Alfred William Monkhouse, an Anglican Church Minister, and his wife, Mary Eliza Monkhouse, nee Stuart, who was from Canada.   Louisa had the following siblings:  Mary Violet, b. 1877, Alf Cyril Delopope, b. 1878, Mabel Agnes, b., 1879, Ellen Janet, b. 1882.

Victoria was educated at Cambridge University where, alongside her studies, she created a series of caricatures of university academics, which the “Cambridge University Magazine” published during 1907.

During the First World War the sisters all helped the war effort - Mary Violet worked as a Red Cross Nurse, Mabel Agnes, worked in Ordnance in Coventry, Ellen Janet was a VAD  nurse and Victoria worked as a canteen worker.

Following the establishment of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London during the First World War, a decision was made to record the contribution women were making to the war effort.  Writer and explorer Agnes Conway, daughter of the first honorary Director-General of the IWM, was appointed to organise and lead the Museum's newly created Women's Work Sub-Committee.  Agnes contacted Victoria Monkhouse and commissioned her to produce a series of sketches and watercolours showing women working in the jobs left vacant by men who were serving in the forces. Victoria produced a series of paintings, showing women working as bus conductresses, drivers, window cleaners and in a wide variety of other exclusively male roles.

After the War, Victoria exhibited her work in various exhibitions during the 1920s.
In 1939 Victoria lived with her sisters – Mary Violet, who was also an artist, Mabel Agnes and Ellen Janet - in Eton, Buckinghamshire.  Victoria died in 1970.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Major Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen, KBE, RA, RHA (1878 – 1931) – artist

I appreciate that Orpen is one of the most famous War Artists of the First World War, but his career as a war artist on the Western Front is not that well documented.

Born in Stillorgan, County Dublin, on 27th November 1878, William Orpen was the fourth and youngest son of Arthur Herbert Orpen (1830–1926), a solicitor, and his wife, Anne, nee Caulfield.  Both his parents were amateur artists, and his eldest brother, Richard Caulfield Orpen, became a notable architect. William was a naturally talented painter and shortly before his thirteenth birthday his parents enrolled him in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. During his six years at the college, William won every major prize.

In 1901, William held a solo exhibition at the Carfax Gallery in London.  That year, he married Grace Knewstub, the sister-in-law of the artist Sir William Rothenstein. They had three daughters but the marriage was not a happy one and, by 1908, William had begun a long running affair with Mrs Evelyn Saint-George, a well-connected American millionairess based in London

During the First World War, William was the most prolific of the official war artists sent by Britain to the Western Front. Although he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1918 King's birthday honours list, and also elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts, his determination to serve as a war artist cost him both his health and his social standing in Britain.

In December 1915, William was commissioned into the Army Service Corps and reported for clerical duty at London's Kensington Barracks in March 1916. Throughout 1916, he continued painting portraits, most notably one of a despondent Winston Churchill. In January 1917, the “Daily Mirror” reported that Field Marshal Douglas Haig himself had "conferred" on William the title of Official Artist with the British Army in France. The other artists on the Department of Information War Artist scheme had the honorary rank of second lieutenant and were restricted to three weeks visiting the Western Front, whereas, William was promoted to the rank of Major and given indefinite permission to remain at the Front. An officer from Kensington Barracks was appointed as his military aide, a car and driver were made available in France and Orpen paid for a batman and assistant to accompany him.

When the war ended the Imperial War Museum commissioned William to remain in France and paint three large group portraits of the delegates to Paris Peace Conference. He moved to Paris in January 1919 to begin work on his next commission and during 1919 painted individual portraits of the delegates to the Conference which formed the basis of his two large paintings, “A Peace Conference at the Quai d'Orsay” and “The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors”.

William considered that the whole conference was being conducted with a lack of respect or regard to the suffering of the soldiers who fought in the war and he attempted to address this in the third painting of the commission. This picture was to show the delegates and military leaders as they entered the Hall of Mirrors to sign the Treaty of Versailles.

After the war William returned to painting society portraits and enjoyed great commercial success. In May 1931, he became seriously ill and, after suffering periods of memory loss, died aged 52 in London, on 29th September 1931. William was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery. A stone tablet in the Island of Ireland Peace Park Memorial, Messines, Belgium, commemorates him.

Sir Alfred James Munnings, KCVO, PRA (8 October 1878 – 17 July 1959)

Although Sir Alfred Munnings is very famous - perhaps best known for his paintings of horses - I did not know he was a WW1 artist.

Alfred Munnings was born on 8th October 1878 at Mendham Mill, Mendham, Suffolk, across the River Waveney from Harleston in Norfolk. His father, John Munnings, was the mill owner, and his mother was Ellen Emily, nee Ringer. Alfred had the following siblings:  William G., b. 1877, Frederick, b. 1881 and Charled E., b. 1885.

Educated at Framlingham College, at the age of fourteen, Alfred was apprenticed to a Norwich printer where he designed and drew posters.  He lost the sight of his right eye in an accident but continued painting. In1899 two of his pictures were shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.  He was associated with the Newlyn School of painters, and in Cornwall met Florence Carter-Wood, a young horsewoman and fellow artist. They were married on 19th January 1912 but Florence attempted suicide while they were on honeymoon and died in 1914.

Alfred volunteered to join the Army when war broke out but was unfit for active service.  He was put in charge of processing Canadian horses destined for France.  Alfred was then posted to one of the Remount Depots on the Western Front, where he was employed as a war artist to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, under the patronage of Max Aitken. During the war Alfred painted many scenes, including a portrait of General Jack Seely mounted on his horse Warrior in 1918 (now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa). He also painted the Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron in 1918, in what became known as "the last great cavalry charge" at the Battle of Moreuil Wood.

The Canadian Forestry Corps invited Munnings to tour their work camps, and he produced drawings, watercolors and paintings, including Draft Horses, Lumber Mill in the Forest of Dreux in France in 1918. The extent to which horses were used during WW1 is under-reported but horse fodder was the single largest commodity shipped to the front by some countries during the conflict.

In 1920, Alfred married Violet McBride. After the war, he began to establish himself as a sculptor. He was taken on by Lord Beaverbrook's Canadian War Memorials Fund and was given several prestigious commissions after the Great War.

His first public work was the equestrian statue of Edward Horner in Mells, Somerset, a collaboration with his friend Sir Edwin Lutyens, who designed a plinth for the statue.

Alfred was elected president of the Royal Academy of Arts and was made a Knight Bachelor in 1944. In the 1947 New Year Honours List, he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

Alfred died at Castle House, Dedham, Essex, on 17 July 1959. After Alfred's death, his wife turned their home in Dedham into a museum of his work. The village pub in Mendham is named after him, as is a street in the town.

Note: The Army Remount Service was the body responsible for the purchase and training of horses and mules as remounts for the British Army between 1887 and 1942.

“Alfred Munnings War Artist, 1918” - an exhibition of WW1 paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings at the National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3 4HT - from 30 November 2018 - 3 March 2019.

£6.00;  Concessions (incl. veterans): £5.00 | Students: £4.00 | Groups: £4.00 | Under 16s: FREE | Serving Army personnel (plus one additional adult): FREE

Subjects covered by the exhibition:  First World War, Art and Literature, Animals, Cavalry, Horses

Portrait of Alred in 1911 by Harold Knight.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Anthony (Tony) Frederick Sarg (1880 - 1942) - American artist and pupeteer.

Another very interesting interesting piece of research from Historian Debbie Cameron:

“For Christmas 1913, Sarg produced a poster called ‘In Toyland’ representing a scene of gift-buying frenzy. Children clamber on the floor with toys in hand, and rotund gentlemen struggle to carry their spoils. Despite Sarg’s gentle mockery of London’s materialism, there is a festive, joyful exuberance to the poster.

12 months later, the country was at war. In 1914 Sarg duly produced a topical version of his ‘In Toyland’ poster of the previous Christmas. The image in the top half was identical to the original, but the text and characters in the lower half were altered. "

Featured - both posters for comparison.  With thanks to Debbie Cameron.