William Roberts: Title


William Roberts in the Tate Archive

Uncatalogued Archive of William Roberts

The William Roberts archive is currently (December 2010) being looked after by the Tate Gallery, but will not officially enter the Tate archive until 25 years after the death of Roberts’s son, John, i.e. 2020. The 14 archive boxes are accompanied by handwritten notes dating from 30 March 1995 which outline the contents of each box. This summary is mainly a rewriting of these notes, with additional observations made in relation to the direct assessment of boxes 3, 4, 5, 9 and 10 made in December 2010.

Box 1 comprises 34 handwritten notebooks by John David Roberts (1919–95) ‘relating to his father’s work’.

Box 2 comprises 6 files also by John David Roberts, including autobiographical notes, diaries (1974-94), letters, writings by JDR about music, and the ‘contents of bureau’.

Box 3 comprises a large number of envelopes relating directly to William Roberts. A scrapbook of press cuttings includes some early cuttings from the Pittsburgh press and the New York Times. Most of the cuttings are familiar from other library and archive sources, and they were probably compiled by JDR at a later date. Further envelopes of press cuttings – with much duplication – include items from the New Statesman, The Listener, and the Times Literary Supplement letters relating to the controversies surrounding the Wyndham Lewis 1956 Tate exhibition and John Rothenstein’s biographical essay on William Roberts in Modern English Painters Vol. 2 (1952). There are a large number of handwritten and also typed manuscripts of essays that were written by William Roberts and were subsequently published by John Roberts in 1990 under the title Five Posthumous Essays and Other Writings by William Roberts, including the summary of the Vortex Pamphlets; prefaces to WR’s Paintings and Drawings books published between 1959 and 1975; and the paste-ups and typed copy of both of John David Roberts’s poetry books (illustrated by his father) from 1942, Fantasy For Flute and Four Fables.

A large envelope of letters documents responses from publishers and influential individuals in relation to William Roberts’s request that the reprinted version of Rothenstein’s book be amended to correct biographical inaccuracies. The responses are listed as to whether they are ‘good’ or ‘weak’.

An envelope marked ‘Texas Letters’ contains photocopies (apparently from the Harry Ransome Center, University of Texas at Austin) of letters sent by Roberts to his former Slade professor Henry Tonks in 1919 explaining his dire financial situation and asking for help with commissions or sale of work as he was ‘almost driven to despair’ – Tonks replied with a cheque for £5. Twenty years later, in August 1938, Roberts writes a desperate letter to Hugh Walpole, who has just bought a drawing, asking for commissions or the purchase of other work as Roberts has just suffered a disappointing exhibition (Lefevre Gallery, 1938) at which little has been sold. A letter from Kenneth Clark to ‘Mrs Kingsley’ (presumably the Robertses friend Victoria Kingsley) as late as 1960 is in response to an enquiry about the possibility of Roberts receiving an official pension to alleviate his need. Correspondence to a former landlord, the wood-engraver William McCance, in 1925 relating to the payment of rent and a cheque from Roberts that either bounces or is stopped by Roberts as he knew it would bounce includes a statement from Roberts that ‘the financial position is such that I feel proud when I am able to produce the cash for the next days [sic] meals.’

Pamphlets illustrated by Roberts for Ernest Cooper’s London Health Centre include Bread, Good Food for Growing Children and A Simple Guide to Healthy Eating, and there are various calendars for the London Health Centre and Christmas cards produced for Ernest Cooper using a colour reproduction of Across the Counter (1958). There is a copy of Coterie December 1919 and Drawing and Design October 1928. Three pages taken from a small sketchbook contain preliminary sketches using red and black chalk, inscribed with ‘Painters’ and additional annotations, appear to relate to Munitions Factory 1940. A preliminary sketch for The German Prisoner (1931) is squared for transfer.

There is a small envelope of ‘in sympathy’ letters sent to Sarah Roberts on the death of her husband in 1980.

Box 4 This is a large collection of mainly ‘family-album’ photographs, with a number showing Sarah, William and John from the 1920s in London and with family and friends (such as Bernard Meninsky and his wife) and visits to Cloud Hill cottage, Dorset, through to photographs of a later date including Sarah and John’s holiday travels after William Roberts’s death. A selection of photographs are marked as being copied in preparation for Andrew Gibbon Williams’s book William Roberts – An English Cubists (2004). These have professional large-format negatives which are copies of the ‘snapshots’ used in the book and a number that were not finally used. Other photograph albums are separated by subject into ‘Sarah’, ‘Cecelia Kramer’ (Sarah’s mother), ‘William’ and ‘John’. Some of John’s photographs are studio photographs of him playing a guitar. Some photographs show William Robert’s work and some of William Roberts’s work displayed in the house. A newspaper cutting shows William Roberts at a Royal Academy selection panel.

Box 5 This is a large collection of photographs and photocopies of images by William Roberts organised into envelopes indicating the various decades – 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, early work and portraits. The folder of (mainly) black-and-white photographs from the 1970s is quite extensive. Most, but not all, photographs are annotated on the reverse with some details – sometimes only the title. Many of the photocopied images have been collected from later sources, and the collections reveal few images that are not available from other archives and libraries.

Box 6 comprises a number of exhibition catalogues (some annotated by JDR), covers of books that use reproductions of William Roberts’s paintings on the cover, JDR’s list of reproduced Roberts images, and WR’s own copies of printed pamphlets. Exhibition catalogues include the 1928 London Group retrospective and early Leicester Galleries catalogues.

Box 7 comprises 32 exhibition catalogues organised by JDR, including National Portrait Gallery; Capstick-Dale/Albemarle; Gillian Jason Gallery; Brotherton Library; Dulwich Picture Gallery; New Museum Wales; Arts Council; Contemporary Arts Society; T. E. Lawrence exhibition; Anthony d’Offay; Royal Academy; Guildhall; Bedford; Cork (Hayward?); Chenil; Swindon; British Council; Reading; Tate; Fitzwilliam Museum; V&A; Christie’s; Scotland; York; Ernest Cooper; etc.

Box 8 comprises further catalogues (including Gillian Jason Gallery (‘Pure and Pagan’), William Roberts printed pamphlets, and correspondence with Black Sparrow Press, etc. and JDR’s diary of 1990.

Box 9, ‘Materials for a Life’, comprises a large number of envelopes, some titled in WR’s hand. There are birth certificates; marriage certificate; death certificate and William Roberts’s driving licences; two medals on ribbons (as illustrated in WR’s self-portrait The Salute); originals of the letters written to Sarah by William Roberts from France in the First World War that were reproduced in WR’s 4.5 Howitzer Gunner RFA 1916–18 and also typed transcripts of the same; a letter from the Canadian War Office. An auction catalogue of Hôtel de la Tour Eiffel artefacts (1938) has the Roberts’s ‘futurist’ panels identified and also a ‘female colour sketch’. There are photocopies of two important early exhibition catalogues – ‘Twentieth Century Art’ at the Whitechapel Gallery 1914 and the Group X exhibition of 1919 – and a card reproducing in black and white Roberts’s design for a poster for the Sitwell’s exhibition of French art, also in 1919. Exhibition documentation includes the Redfern Gallery (1942), some Leicester Galleries exhibitions, and the Anthony d’Offay and Hamet galleries. Correspondence includes letters from John Rothenstein and A. J. P. Taylor and a letter from Wyndham Lewis to JDR in 1951, and there are press cuttings relating to the Rothenstein essay and the TLS letters. A letter from the Royal Academy (1979) suggesting a major William Roberts retrospective is accompanied by William Roberts’s letter turning down the suggestion. A letter refers to the awarding of a Queen Elizabeth silver medal – presumably a Silver Jubilee medal of 1977. Other items include a Royal Academy card and tickets, Paul Morand’s Fouquet ou Le Soleil offusqué (with page 65 marked), and lists of works displayed in the Robertses’ home at 14 St Mark’s Crescent.

Box 10 comprises envelopes of papers from Sarah Roberts. There are handwritten notes by Sarah towards an autobiography, some of which have been typed up by JDR and collated. They remain fragmented, and include childhood recollections and later travel notes. There are large quantities of scraps of paper bearing written notes concerning domestic and social arrangements such as shopping lists, phone numbers, receipts, correspondence and postcards, etc. There are childhood letters to Sarah from John, such as communications from when he stayed with his grandmother. Some of JDR’s childhood letters have small drawings on them.

Box 11 comprises John Roberts correspondence and administrative documents from the 1980s to the early 1990s: letters from Mishcon de Reya; tax correspondence; framing bills; letters to/about dealers, auctions, sales, reproduction of WR works. This box also includes Sarah’s copies of JDR’s books.

Box 12 comprises postcards, posters and other reproductions of work that was in William Roberts’ studio at the time of JDR’s death; these are mainly postcards and reproductions of the work made by Ernest Cooper, and photograph albums of work. A roll of posters includes posters for the Arts Council 1965 exhibition, Royal Academy 1967 exhibition and Hayward Gallery 1974.

Box 13 comprises a set of William Roberts’s printed books and pamphlets, including some source material.

Box 14 comprises material relating to Jacob Kramer (William Roberts’s brother-in-law), including ‘Memories of a Life with Jacob Kramer’ by Sarah Roberts; photographs and other reproductions of work by Jacob Kramer; exhibition catalogues; correspondence to Sarah; and other items, including a copy of ‘Nettles’ (1930) by D. H. Lawrence, a postcard from Aldous Huxley, and a June 1916 issue of the magazine Colour.

Box 15 comprises correspondence mainly to John Roberts and Sarah Roberts from 1950s to 1995; manuscripts of JDR’s Travel Notes (1971, 1972, 1978 and 1982); other notebooks of JDR; and photographs of the interior of 14 St Mark’s Crescent taken by Pauline Paucker after John’s death in February 1995.

Additional archived materials comprise a wooden paintbox and artists’ materials from William Roberts’s studio, including ceramic palettes, brushes, vanish, pencils, square, watercolours and oils.

Ernest Cooper Papers in the Tate Archive (TGA 9918)

The four boxes of Ernest Cooper’s papers in the Tate archive are mainly from the 1970s and 1980s, with very few items from the period in which Cooper was collecting and commissioning William Roberts’s work. There is photographic documentation (mainly black and white) of most of the works exhibited in 1972 at Worthing Art Gallery before Cooper broke up his Roberts collection. There are a handful of colour ‘Instamatic’ snaps of William and Sarah Roberts with Ernest and Joan Cooper on the front at Worthing and having a meal. There are also many albums, with much duplication, of the postcards that Ernest Cooper had printed of William Roberts’s paintings, and some large transparencies of some of the significant images.

The collection of press-cuttings of exhibition reviews and articles includes the heated 1957/8 correspondence in The Times Literary Supplement following a TLS review of the first of Roberts’s Vortex Pamphlets, as well as reviews of Roberts’s 1965 Tate retrospective and some later material (including the Observer article that prompted a retaliatory broadsheet from Roberts, copies of which are also in the boxes). Particularly interesting is a 1957 New Statesman review in which David Sylvester praises Roberts at the expense of Wyndham Lewis.

The large collection of correspondence is mainly administrative, dealing with loans of pictures, insurance, framing, copyright – including the sale by Roberts to Cooper of the copyright of all works by Roberts owned by Cooper in February 1977 – and reproduction. Files of letters document Ernest Cooper’s attempts to persuade galleries to sell the postcards he has produced in their shops. He is offering the proceeds to charity, and he seems motivated by a desire to promote William Roberts’s work as well as to draw attention to his collection. His letters are largely ignored, and this provokes some angry and sarcastic responses from him. There is quite a lot of correspondence between Ernest Cooper and the Tate Gallery concerning possible purchases from Ernest Cooper’s collection, issues of copyright relating to purchases, and gifts that Cooper made to the Tate. Sotheby’s catalogues for 1972/3 sales including some of Cooper’s Roberts pictures are annotated with the prices obtained.

The correspondence between Ernest Cooper and William Roberts at about the time of the Worthing exhibition and the selling-off of Ernest Cooper’s collection is quite friendly and makes reference to the Robertses staying in Cooper’s villa in Spain, as well as some perhaps inevitable mix-ups with holiday arrangements. It would seem that following the Sotheby sales of 1972 and 1973 Cooper gives Roberts at least three cheques totalling about £1,000 which are described as being a ‘golden handshake’.

Following William Roberts’s death, in 1980, correspondence with Sarah and John Roberts continues in the form of some postcards, Christmas cards and notes. In the late 1980s there appears to be a more significant quarrel although it is not clear whether this is a result of further mixed-up holiday arrangements or a dispute over two watercolours (John feels that Ernest Cooper has “cheated” them and sends him a cheetah on his Christmas card!) or another incident. A 1989 letter to John mentions a phone call to Sarah in which she’d said that she was prepared to forget ‘THE INCIDENT’ (unspecified) but that he gathered that John wasn’t. It finishes with a PS to the effect of ‘How many more olive branches do I have to lay at your feet?’

David Cleall and Bob Davenport, December 2010

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