Sunday, May 1, 2011

Say something, Edith - Little-known linocuts of Claude Flight and Edith Lawrence

"Say something, Edith." This catchphrase in my wife's family, spoken whenever anyone is feeling too tired or bored to amuse themselves, took my fancy long before I knew anything about the man who coined it, Claude Flight, or the wonderful group of linocut artists he inspired, the Grosvenor School. The Grosvenor School artists include Cyril Power, Sybil Andrews, Eileen Mayo, Lill Tschudi, Ethel Spowers, Dorrit Black, and Eveline Symes, as well as Claude Flight himself, and his life-partner Edith Lawrence. Flight founded the Grosvenor School of Modern Art with Iain MacNab, Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews, and taught there from 1926-1930. After that, he taught informally at summer schools in his neolithic chalk cave at Chantemesle on the banks of the Seine, which he had bought while serving in France in WWI. The Grosvenor School of Modern Art was located in London, at 33, Warwick Square.

William Kermode, At 33, Warwick Square
Woodcut, 1930

Born in 1881, Walter Claude Flight was the most influential figure in the development of the colour linocut as a key element of the Modernist aesthetic. Influenced by the Futurists, Flight embraced the linocut as a truly democratic art form, and one that was capable of expressing the power, energy, and expressive movement of the Machine Age. Flight was a cousin of the writer Rudyard Kipling. He had tried various careers - including engineering and beekeeping - before he entered Heatherley's School of Fine Art in 1913. Although his time at Heatherley's was cut short by the outbreak of WWI, the relationships he forged there were crucial to the development of Flight's art. One notable fellow-student was C. R. W. Nevinson, who introducted Flight to the work of the Futurists. Flight married a fellow-student, Clare James, in 1915. This marriage produced two daughters, but did not last. From 1922 until his death, his companion was a fellow linocut artist, and textile designer, Edith Lawrence (1890-1973). Flight and Lawrence shared an exhbiition of textiles and linocuts at the Redfern Gallery in 1928. All of my linocuts by Claude Flight come from the book Christmas and other Feasts and Festivals: A Picture Commentary for Grown-Ups, published by George Routledge in 1936. The book is credited to Claude Flight (who is the author of the brief introduction), but the 45 two-colour linocuts that follow are "Printed from Linoleum Blocks cut by Claude Flight and Edith Lawrence". The printer was Headley Brothers; the cuts are printed on both sides of the paper, back-to-back.

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, The First Feast
Linocut, 1936


Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Trooping the Colour
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Nursery Tea
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, English Picnic
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, French Picnic
Linocut, 1936

There is no way of knowing which hand cut which line, and the linocuts must be credited as joint productions of Flight and Lawrence; this method of joint creation was also employed by two other notable linocut artists of the Grosvenor School, Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power, working as Andrew-Power. I love the sly, quirky humour of these vibrant linocuts, which show both Claude Flight's sureness of line, and the ready wit with which Edith Lawrence was able to respond in a moment to the challenge, "Say something, Edith."


Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Knocken Moddens
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, The Christening
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Bump Supper
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Winkle Barrow
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Cocktail Party
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight is now seen as a pioneering Modernist, and it is ironic to note that he was expelled from the Seven and Five Society because of Ben Nicholson's rigorous doctrinaire insistence on abstraction as the only way forward for art.


Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, A School Treat
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Maypole Dance
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Café Chantant
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Summer Holidays
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight & Edith Lawrence, Chelsea Arts Ball
Linocut, 1936

Claude Flight and Edith Lawrence moved from their London home and studio at 5, Rodmarton Mews, off Baker Street, to a cottage in Wiltshire to escape the Blitz in WWII. While they survived, their London studio and their linoleum blocks did not, being destroyed by bombing in 1941. After suffering a stroke in 1947, Claude Flight had to stop creating art. He died in 1955.

Emma Bradford, Window at Wood Cottage
Etching, c.1979

Their Wiltshire home was Wood Cottage, Pigtrough Lane, Donhead St Andrew. I can give you a glimpse of it as it was in 1979, in an etching by my wife, Emma Bradford. There is also a very evocative description of what I take to be Wood Cottage (or if, not, one uncannily like it) in Jane Gardam's novel The Man in the Wooden Hat.

7 comments:

David Herbert said...

great post.. thank very much

Jane Librizzi said...

Claude Flight sounds like a name that a Victorian novelist would choose. Thank you for pointing out that Edith Lawrence contibuted, too. Shades of Jane Welsh Carlyle's poignant "I, too, am here." That said, the iamges are just what you might imagine from a person named Flight - full of color and movement. Very enjoyable.

veryberryhandmade said...

That's very interesting, and the linocuts are wonderful. And I appreciated the Jane Gardam connection. I always enjoy your posts.

Neil said...

Thanks, David - Sorry for the delay in replying, I've been away. I do think these are great - I particularly like the English take on the French picnic, via Manet.

Neil said...

Jane - I think this was a true collaboration of kindred minds. I suspect Flight made the drawings, and then the two of them cut the lino blocks together. The thing that particularly stands out for me in these works is the sense of an artist (or pair of artists) trying to create a truly democratic and accessible form of fine art. Although these are original prints, they are not treated as "fine art" - they are printed back-to-back, and the paper is not especially interesting. Yet, oddly enough, they are just as rare as the signed-and-numbered-out-of-50 exhibition prints. And I don't think any of these were editioned or exhibited; so far as I know this was the only printing (apart from a few artist proofs, no doubt).

Neil said...

Hi verryberry - thanks for your comment. I don't know if it's truly this cottage described by Jane Gardam, but it certainly feels exactly like it. And she's a fantastic writer, so it won't hurt anybody to read her book in any case. Actually I like her early work the best - A Few Fair Days, A Long Way from Verona, Bilgewater.

the vessel said...

great post thanks!