LANGFORD GROVE SCHOOL. Landford Grove Paintings. Invitation, Saturday 8 January 1938. Zwemmer Gallery, London.

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LANGFORD GROVE SCHOOL. Landford Grove Paintings. Invitation, Saturday 8 January 1938. Zwemmer Gallery, London. London: Zwemmer Gallery., 1938. First edition. Single sheet invitation card. 140x190mm. Printed in ochre and olive.

 

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The exhibition of paintings and drawings by over thirty girls of Langford Grove School, Essex, at the Zwemmer Gallery, caused a minor sensation in the art world of London early this year. The exhibitors were all between nine and sixteen years of age, and one could not but be impressed by the quality of their work. There was a general high level of accomplishment and taste, the pictures had the charm of youthful vivacity, they were unusually colourful, delicately colourful not coarsely; they revealed an element of spontaneity and adequate technical mastery to realise it. There are not so many adult painters exhibiting in London of whom as much might be said.

It is here one comes up against the very important question raised by this delightful exhibition. A painter is not necessarily an artist. There are thousands of painters, but how many artists in the full, mature sense of the word are there? It is evident that Mrs. Curtis, the Principal, and Mrs. Durrell, the Art Mistress, at Langford Grove, have solved the problem of teaching children to handle paint with as much ease and naturalness as they write the letters of the alphabet, to mix colours with as much ease as they spell, and to match them with as much care as they make sure that every sentence has its nominative and its verb. When one thinks of the indifference to the problems of art which prevails in most schools, that is a very fine achievement.

Nevertheless, it would be absurd to suggest that they have made artists of all these talented girls. I am sure they would not themselves make any such claim. In the long run every artist must be and is judged by the quality of his mind as revealed in his work. And it is a fair generalisation that no artist worthy of the name has ever known his own mind before he was at least thirty. An artist in the full sense of the word has to be a mature man. He may master the tricks of his trade early in life, but what the genuine artist has to do is scrap the tricks of his trade, in the sense that he has to recreate them from the beginning, to give them life, so that they cease to be tricks. To the extent that he fails to do this, he remains a mannerist, an eclectic.

From the seventeenth century onwards the mannerists and eclectics filled the world with pleasant visual conventions much as the courts of Urbino and Versailles filled it with pleasant conventions of personal behaviour and address. But the pleasant visual conventions of the Verrios, the Zuccarellis and the innumerable other painters of their kind who flourished in every country in Europe had about as much to do with art as polite formulae like “I have the honour to be” at the end of a letter had to do with Christian charity. The most that even the best conventions can do in life or in art is mark time prettily.

The essence of all genuine, mature, art is that it has something urgent to say. A Velazquez, like a Gainsborough and like a Matisse, will have his off days when he cannot articulate clearly or days when he is too voluble. But it is not for the work they produce on such days that the world cherishes artists. To take only one phase of each of these artists’ work, we may say that it cherishes Velazquez for the days (in a century of inquisition) when he could represent a neurotic king, princess or dwarf with grave but uncensorious comprehension. Gainsborough for the days on which he brought the qualities of the seventeenth century English lyric into painting, Matisse for the days on which he has achieved the restatement in terms of modern life of the centuries-old French sense of the high comedy of the feminine.

It is hardly to be expected that the Langford Grove girls would be even aware of the existence of elements in pictures, and it would be absurd to look for such elements in their pictures. The writer of the preface to the catalogue says that for them painting “is a gay and spontaneous activity, like hide-and-seek or charades—it is, in fact, fun.” And it is as fun that their pictures please.

There is, however, an aspect of this exhibition that is more important in its implications. It is evident that, though there is no sign of conscious imitation, the girls have, consciously or unconsciously, absorbed something of the technical approach of the Impressionist and neo-Impressionist painters of modern France. There are hundreds and thousands of individual painters in the great cities of the world who spend their time producing laborious imitations of French Impressionist and neo-Impressionist pictures. The exhibition of the Zwemmer Gallery shows as nothing else has shown that these pseudo-artists are wasting their own time and the public’s. For the children have added something of their own youthful exuberance to the palettes and patterns they had, unconsciously no doubt, taken over. That youthful exuberance is inevitably missing from the works of the grown-up imitator, and he has nothing to offer in its place. The girls do their borrowing lightheartedly in good faith and add something else to it. The result is an adaptation not an imitation and one is disarmed. The grown-up imitator fumbles and one is saddened—or maddened. He used to seem to be a necessary evil. [p.222] But by doing what he does as well as he does it, and adding something of their own youthful quality to it the girls have shown that he is entirely unnecessary. It may well turn out that they have helped to purge London of a great deal of bad academic painting that was not the less bad or academic for having adopted the mannerisms of individual, unacademic, French painters.

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Book ID: 036639

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