A Tale of three artists

From our London Group archivist, David Redfern

From time to time our secretary Amy passes on to me requests from people requiring information about past members of the Group. It can be a simple enquiry, was so-and-so a member of The London Group, or it can be more complex, for example a blurred photograph of a painting with a faded, yellowing London Group label on the back and the punter wanting to know the artist, title of the painting, date, date of exhibition and value. Here are three examples from March, 2023.

“I am part of a French research team at the Bibliothèque Kandinsky in Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. I am working on the British artist Paule Vézelay (birth name Marjorie Watson-Williams) and trying to update the list of her exhibitions (solo and collective). In 1922, she became a member of the London Group until 1933. The Group exhibited every year and Paule Vézelay probably participated to all seasons. I was wondering if you had any further informations for instance catalogue exhibitions on those years or more informations on her. I cannot find anything on the web site.” (All phrasing as in the original email). I was able to furnish her with a full list of Vézalay’s London Group history due to the thoroughness and diligence of Denys J. Wilcox’s “The London Group 1913-1939: The Artists and their Works” which is my bible when dealing with enquiries prior to the Second World War. She lived for a while in Paris where she changed her name. Vézelay was an important artist of her generation, painting in a Post-Impressionist style until 1927 when she moved into abstraction joining the Abstraction-Creation Group in 1934. The Tate Gallery held a retrospective exhibition of her work in 1983.

Graham Davidson emailed enquiries@thelondongroup to discover more about his sister Lindsay Davidson. “My sister was a member of the London Group from about 1983, I think, until her death in 1986. She lived for a while with Dennis Creffield and was influenced by his work and that of Bomberg. I have produced a catalogue of her paintings, or as many as I can find, and copies are now printed. I wonder whether you would like one – if you have archives or a library.” Graham and I exchanged a number of emails and he sent me a pdf of the catalogue he had been designing which I was very enthusiastic about; she was a quality artist as well as founder member of a theatre arts group. He then asked me to take on the delightful task of choosing from a selection of Lindsay’s excellent charcoal drawings for a slimmed down version of his catalogue. As you will have gleaned from the dates this project has been a labour of love over forty years; it was a pleasure to help out in Graham’s project. If you remember Lindsay or would like to contact Graham do get in touch with me and I will pass your message on.

But the most astonishing circumstances surrounded Cicely Hey (1896-1979). Hey was elected to the Group in 1927 as an artist and close friend of ‘The Father of The London Group’ Walter Sickert. His portrait of Hey (c. 1922/23) was shown in the 2013 Ben Uri exhibition “Uproar!” celebrating the first fifty years of The London Group (the catalogue to this exhibition by the way is still one of the most popular sales items for Ben Uri). Much later in her very eventful life Hey became a good friend of artist Tony Goble and his wife Janice who all lived in Wales at the time. Janice’s friend Madoc Roberts, upon a chance meeting at an exhibition in Cardiff, discovered that Janice still had a large and almost forgotten stash of Hey’s work in four drawers of a plan chest at the top of her house. In these drawers were life drawings, prints, designs for pub signs, two oil paintings and several small sculptures. Janice was looking for a good home for all of them. Madoc had emailed The London Group to ask if we had any leads or ideas, which fortunately I had and shared with him. The result was that Denys Wilcox agreed to sell some of Hey’s work through his Court Gallery and also Thomas Kennedy of Tate Britain travelled to Wales to see them and would like to take some for the Tate collection. Should you be interested to read more about Hey’s life and work please visit the Journal | Modern British & French Art Dealer for a fascinating extended essay by Alison Bennett.

Interestingly all of these requests and the majority of other enquiries I receive these days involve women artists, indicating the renewed and burgeoning interest in the part women played in the development of British art and the role The London Group has played supporting women artists from its inception.

David Redfern LG 2023