Fleeting members

Though many members consider themselves wedded to The London Group for life, for some it has been a more passing affair.

The Group’s archivist David Redfern takes a look at these fleeting members.

Not all goes according to plan, even with The London Group. Before the Group was up and running it suffered a few setbacks, notably the pre-group formation exhibition at Brighton Art Gallery in 1913. Even though Lucien Pissarro, eldest son of French Impressionist Camille Pissarro, is on the list of founder members he resigned before the first exhibition in 1914, disturbed by the inclusion of Wyndham Lewis and the English Cubists in the Brighton experiment. Similarly, the “Father of The London Group”, Walter Sickert, having chaired the formative meetings of the Group, resigned before the first exhibition for the same reasons that Pissarro cited. However, after Wyndham Lewis and the English Cubists left the Group (more fleeting members) to form the Vorticist Group X, Sickert offered himself for re-election and rejoined in 1916. Stanley Spencer was also invited to join the new group of radical artists recently graduated from the Slade, but he declined and went back home to Cookham.

Not all members remain active for long. Barbara Hepworth was elected to The London Group along with her husband John Skeaping and a number of other sculptors, purely so that they could exhibit in the London Group Exhibition of Open-air Sculpture on The Roof Gardens of Selfridges in Oxford Street in August 1930. Neither of them stayed long. After Selfridges they only showed once more in the October 1931 annual exhibition and after that, nothing. On the other hand, Henry Moore, also elected in 1930 for Selfridges inclusion, played an active committee role within the Group and showed sporadically up until1937.

David Hockney was another much fêted member elected to the Group at the age of 26 in 1963 soon after the leaving the RCA, the same year as current member Sir Frank Bowling. At the 1963 open exhibition, as a member, he showed “Boy having a Shower” and “Drawing of My Father”. Even though the 1964 and 1965 catalogues record him as continuing as a member he did not exhibit, possibly because he moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and the rest, they say, is history.

But what of the less well-known artists who were elected to the Group? Just after the First World War when travel opened up again, a number of artists stayed briefly in London. Italian Mario Bacchelli, elected 1922, showed twice in May and October 1922 and then disappears from the records. Similarly, American Guy Maynard, a friend of the Bloomsbury Circle and Roger Fry, was elected in 1923, exhibited twice and then returned to his Parisian community. His name appeared on the list of members until 1936 but never submitted work. Perhaps the most puzzling member at this time was Maynard’s friend Roderic O’Conor also elected in 1923 but never exhibited at all. However, Roger Fry lent “Still Life” from his private collection to the 1928 Retrospective. O’Conor was born in Ireland but spent all of his time in Paris and Pont-Aven where he developed a close friendship with Gauguin. After O’Conor’s death in 1940 he was almost completely forgotten, re-emerging to the art world after World War Two. In 1985 a retrospective of his work was organised at The Barbican Gallery where The London Group was to show nine years later.

Roderic O’Conor

During my researches into past members of The London Group I very often hit a brick wall. Michael Elliot was elected in 1963 along with David Hockney and Sir Frank Bowling but I have few details on him. Somebody must know of Peter Creswell elected in 1971? Peter Donnelly, elected in 1973 and the Group’s President for two years from 1977 to 1979 has nothing against his name. Richard “Rick” Oginz joined in 1975 but was deported to the USA in 1976. At least I know a little of him as I met him when he showed sculpture at the Serpentine Gallery whilst I was working there. Did I also meet Jon Fox elected in the same year as Oginz when theatre group “Welfare State” performed at the Serpentine? Who was John Roberts elected in 1981, S. Torrents also in 1981 and Joe McGill in 1984, about whom I know precisely nothing? Finally, surely someone knows something of Ines Buhler and Sophie Horton elected in 1990 and 1996 respectively. If anyone can shed any light on these fleeting past members please contact me.

David Redfern LG, 2021

Portrait of Lucien Pissarro, Unknown date. Unknown photographer. Creative Commons link
Portrait of Wyndham Lewis 1916. Alvin Langdon Coburn. Creative Commons link
Portrait of Walter Sickert in 1884. Unknown photographer. Creative Commons link
Self portrait, Roderic O’Conor, oil on panel c. 1923–1926. Creative Commons link