An Artist in The Times

Copyrighted material on this page is included as ‘fair use’, for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner. Catalogue information is based on the catalogue raisonné by David Cleall. For this and further details of the exhibitions cited, see the links below.

The News

The News (aka Public Library), 1941
Gouache, 34.5 cm x 52 cm

Until 1967 The Times did not identify the authors of its art reviews, which appeared either unsigned or sometimes as ‘By Our Art Critic’ or ‘From a Special Correspondent’. Its chief art critics from the period when William Roberts began exhibiting to the late 1960s were as follows:

Arthur Clutton-Brock (1868–1924)
1924–40Charles Marriott (1869–1957)
1945–55Alan Francis Clutton-Brock (1904–76)
1956–64David Thompson (1929–1988)
William Gaunt (1900–80) (‘special correspondent . . . on art subjects’)


University Intelligence
London, June 18
19 June 1912

The University College Committee have awarded Slade scholarships of £35 each, tenable for two years in the Slade School of Fine Art, to Miss Dora Carrington and Mr. W. P. Roberts.


University Intelligence
London, Feb. 14
University College Prizes
15 February 1913

The Slade Prize of £25 has been awarded to Mr. S. Spencer.

The Melvill Nettleship Prize for Figure Composition has been awarded to Mr. W. P. Roberts …


The New English Art Club
The Fiftieth Exhibition

1 December 1913

The New English Art Club, whose fiftieth exhibition opens today, is now recognized for one of the strongest conservative forces in the artistic life of the country. What was an adventure has become an institution. On the whole its success has been well deserved. Under the guise of an asylum for the outcast it was a conservatory for future Academicians, until it began to dawn on its more distinguished members that perhaps they were just as well where they were …

In the present exhibition, as heretofore, the Club has been generous in its hospitality: the outside exhibitors outnumber those who are members almost as three to one. Yet their work is hardly of a kind to submerge that of the older established painters …

… [I]n the “Ulysses” of Mr. William Roberts … we have a clever invention in the Cubist convention, which has been handled with more dynamic force by Mr. Wyndham Lewis. Are the New English Art Club here securing works from adherents to the younger schools and letting the principals slip through their fingers? …


Junkerism in Art
The London Group at the Goupil Gallery
10 March 1915

This is only a group for exhibition purposes; the pictures of Mr. Wyndham Lewis and of Miss Sylvia Gosse seem to belong to different ages and continents. There would not be so wide a difference if Cimabue and Chardin were hung in the same gallery.

Messrs. Lewis, Wadsworth and Roberts are more rigid than ever. Their pictures are not pictures so much as theories illustrated in paint. In fact, in our desire to relate them to something in the actual world, we can only call them Prussian in their spirit. These painters seem to execute a kind of goose-step, where other artists are content to walk more or less naturally. Perhaps if the Junkers could be induced to take to art, instead of disturbing the peace of Europe, they would paint so and enjoy it. But we do not feel that those gentlemen enjoy it. They are not Prussian enough for their theories of art. They seem to have set their teeth firmly, and done their worst in a kind of aesthetic asceticism which prevents them from taking an interest in anything actual or concrete whatever. This asceticism seems now to have gone about as far as it possibly can, and we only wonder what they will do next in the way of renunciation …


War Story in Pictures
Canadian Exhibition at the Royal Academy

4 January 1919

The Canadian War Memorial Exhibition, which will be opened at Burlington House at noon to-day by Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada, is a collection of the material for what must remain one of the most glorious chapters of Dominion history …

In 400 pictures many phases of the war, as Canada has entered into them, are illustrated …

It is a pleasant, but perhaps unprofitable, speculation, what the future generations of Canadians who will look on these pictures will make of the allegories. Nor is it possible to decide whether they will prefer Mr. [Edgar] Bunday’s conventional treatment of an event to the mitigated modernism of Mr. C. R. W. Nevinson, whose “Roads of France” are surely very delightful, or the “experiment” of Lieutenant P. Wyndham Lewis “in a kind of painting not his own.” There is more safety in predicting that, apart from any artistic importance it may possess, they will not learn very much of “The First German Gas Attack at Ypres” from Mr. W. Roberts’s picture …


Homeless Artists
New England Club’s Search

5 June 1919

The New English Art Club, unable to find a gallery large enough for their ordinary exhibition, are holding a small one of drawings in the Maddox-street Galleries, 23A, Maddox-street …

Mr. Roberts’s war drawings [Burying the Dead after Battle 1919, The Wiring Party 1918] are, like those of Mr. Wyndham Lewis, more representative than most of his work. Like Mr. Lewis and Mr. Nevinson, he uses the cubist or vorticist convention here dramatically, to express his own sense of the ruthless mechanism of modern war, of man subdued to that mechanism. It is interesting once or twice; but we should soon grow tired of it. The method applied to human beings seems a satire on their helplessness, seems to deny the human will; but the satire becomes a formula which is likely to revenge itself on the artist, to make him mechanical in his insistence on mechanism …


Art’s Fresh Start
A War Revolution
Experiences in Paint

12 December 1919

Before the war new ways of expression and of representation were being sought, or were happening, everywhere, even in England. But, in that world of things as they long had been, these ways seemed to the public to be freaks, the bluff of incompetence or the yawn of ennui. The painters with their new ways, which really happened to them more than they were sought, had nothing momentous enough to paint. It was the ordinary world of landscapes and sitters; and there was a temptation to play violent tricks upon those without conviction.

But the war, like Christianity long ago, has supplied a momentous theme, while it is in itself an event so large, and so shattering of continuity, that even the dullest of us expect all things to be different after it. And this exhibition of war pictures, acquired by the Imperial War Museum and the Ministry of Information, is wildly different from anything that any official body could conceivably have countenanced before the war. “Art too,” they seem to have said, “shall have a fresh start. These young men have fought for us; now they shall paint for us, what they have seen, as they have felt it. We will not impose on them our old examination standard; we will not ask the questions we are accustomed to ask about pictures – as whether that left foot is not out of drawing or whether that is our idea of a bursting shell; we will let them give us the idea and nerve ourselves to face the results.”


The result, as you see it in the large room at the Academy, will interest you if you too will forbear to ask whether that left foot is out of drawing. Several of these young painters have managed somehow to destroy that cut-off between the whole contents of the mind and the contents of a picture which has made modern painting so dull. They have been forced by the sharpness of their experiences to become illustrators of these experiences, and to find a way of illustrating them which will not kill the experience itself among a mass of diligently stated facts …

Mr. W. P. Roberts in his “Shell Dump, France” (71), has made a true wall-painting, which catches the eye and delights it as you enter the room from the far end. But go closer, and you will see that this pleasure to the eye, as of leopard-skins not stretched on the ground, but on living and moving leopards, is obtained by the intensity of life in all the figures and by their living relation to each other. It is not, in aim, a decoration, but an illustration; and that is why it beautifies rather than prettifies the wall. The figures are occupied with their own business; they are not there to make the picture, but they do make it far better than posed models would …


Principles of the X Group
”Literary” Painting

1 April 1920

Mr. Wyndham Lewis explains the purpose of the X group, which is holding its first exhibition in Messrs. Heal’s Mansard Gallery, in a preface to the catalogue. “They believe that the experiments undertaken all over Europe during the last 10 years should be utilized directly and developed … There are many people to-day who talk glibly of the victory of the Cubist, Vorticist, or Expressionist movements, and in the next breath of now putting the armour off and becoming anything that pays best.”

So the group means to maintain certain principles in its art, and these principles are to be discovered from its pictures. Only one of the artists, Mr. C. J. Hamilton, persists in design that looks entirely abstract; the others, including Mr. Lewis himself, have returned to the representation of recognizable objects. But still most of them have a common aim, which can best be understood by a comparison of their work with that of the one exhibitor, Mr. J. Turnbull, who has not that aim. His painting of an airman with his machine, “The Ace of Aces,” is what artists call a “literary” painting. This means that it gets some of its interest from its allusion to certain facts which interest us in reality.

The very title helps our interest; it makes us see the contrast between the great airman and his machine. In fact the picture works by suggestion, as many of the greatest pictures of the world have done; and, working so, it differs in design and in execution from the others. For the aim of Mr. Lewis, Mr. Roberts, and Mr. Hamilton is to make their works as free as possible of suggestion or allusion, to confine our interest to the picture itself and its own qualities of design. While Mr. Turnbull gives us, as it were, a symphonic poem, the very form of which is to be understood through its associations for the mind, the others try to give us absolute music …

Mr. Lewis paints himself smoking a pipe, but not as if it were himself, or indeed anyone with a past or a future. He defines in terms of a geometrical problem, and in the very manner in which he applies his paint he insists that it is that and nothing more. The colour, too, has the same sharpness, harshness, and lack of suggestion. It is itself, and makes no allusion to the complexities and subtleties of actual colour, To these artists nature is an old siren, whose allurements must be resisted by the artist who would reach his home. The method reminds one of those mathematical formulæ by which alone Mr. Bertrand Russell insists that truth can be discovered.


As to the result, it reminds one in Mr. Lewis and Mr. Roberts of the works of Tura and Cossa, masters who “were mad on tactile values.” The tendency to pure design has appeared again and again in art, though never perhaps so consciously … The defect of Mr. Roberts’s “Street Scene: Cockneys” is that it does make allusions and fails to satisfy in making them. We cannot but compare it with the reality; and in doing so we find that the figures are engaged in some kind of common action, but seem to be all acting furiously and separately like mechanical toys a little out of order. In his war picture he was mastered by the theme and achieved unity; here he is not, and the figures are pieced together as in Raphael’s “Entombment.” …


New English Art Club
The Test of Good Faith

7 June 1920

In the present exhibition of the New English Art Club, held and overcrowded in the Gallery of the Old Water-Colour Society, there are too many examples of the new movements which seem to us to lack good faith. We do not mean that they are conscious impostures, but that they evade difficulties without giving us any compensation for the evasion. The exhibition as a whole has a modish air, but many of the pictures look as if they were reducing the fashion to an absurdity, like an ambitiously but badly-dressed woman …

Mr. William Roberts’s “Travelling Cradle” … is one of the most interesting works in the exhibition. He has, by his formula, given an almost musical uniformity to the figures without robbing them of life. They are all working together; and it is their collective effort that he has drawn, and made a curious, complex, yet harmonious beauty out of it …


Pictures by the London Group
18 October 1922

The present exhibition of the London Group, held in Messrs. Heal’s Mansard Gallery, is interesting both because of the merit of particular works and of the general tendency revealed in it. It would be unjust to describe that tendency in the words “back to nature,” as if these artists had repented of an error; but no one can object if we say that it is forward to nature … Mr. Roberts, in his “Dock Gates,” has certainly achieved a curious, intricate, and vital design, but he has made great sacrifices of several accustomed elements of beauty to achieve it, and the picture leaves us bewildered both by what it has and by what it lacks …


The Contemporary Art Society
21 November 1922

The Contemporary Art Society have purchased for their collection from the present “Goupil Gallery Salon” the following works: –
H. M. Livens. – “Reflections.”
Powys Evans. – “Cannon Street Station.”
William Roberts. – “The Red Turban.”

From the same exhibition, Mr. P. Wilson Steer’s water-colour “Elm Trees” has also been acquired by a collector for presentation to the Tate Gallery.


The Contemporary Art Society
30 June 1923

The exhibition of the Contemporary Art Society fills five rooms and a corridor at Grosvenor House; but it must not be thought that the Society had bought for the London and provincial galleries all the three hundred and odd works which make up this collection to be opened to the public today … We ought to be congratulating the Contemporary Art Society (as indeed we do) on having, with no very great wealth in its coffers, picked so well that the works of art it has already bought would make a very representative little collection of truly contemporary art. At one end of the scale come Mr. Bomberg and Mr. William Roberts [The Resurrection 1912, Infantry Fatigue Party: Forage Barn 1919, The Red Turban 1921]; at the other, G. A. Storey’s portrait of his father … And in between these extremes (though we do not profess to grade them) comes a collection of a great diversity of styles …


Mr. William Roberts
9 November 1923
[The exhibition reviewed was WR’s first one-man show.]

So far as his paintings are concerned Mr. William Roberts does not get the distance he really needs at the Chenil Galleries, Chelsea, but it is something to have them brought together. It is little short of an artistic tragedy that this young man should be compelled to paint pictures for the chances of exhibition instead of in the security offered by the wall of a public building. Properly to appreciate his powers the visitor should look first at such things as the “Portrait of Miss Tupper-Carey” and the four drawings of soldiers [Captain Robin Buxton, Colonel S. F. Newcombe DSO, Colonel Sir Henry McMahon, General Sir Reginald Wingate?] in the room above, not because they are the best things in the exhibition, but because they make evident the fact that the treatment of form in some of the other works is deliberate, for the double purpose of racy comment and articulate design. “Dock Gates,” to name only one example, shows that Mr. Roberts would be the ideal decorator of a municipal or commercial building, and it is indeed remarkable that this picture has not been secured by one of our shipping companies.

Mr. Roberts has first of all an intimate knowledge of the more characteristic aspects of contemporary urban life, and he has worked out a convention which enables him to present them in a forcible manner with an insistence on the grotesque that is calculated to make them stick in the mind. “Love Song in a Bar”, “Brass Balls,” and “The Dance Club” are examples. Only an artist who was completely master of his forms could simplify them so boldly, and Mr. Roberts knows exactly when, and when not, to employ distortion to give coherence to his designs. In his portraits and in such a picture as “Jewish Melody,” he is content with simplification.


The Prince at Wembley
An Informal Tour
Amusements Park Thrills
By Our Special Correspondent
6 May 1924

The attendance at [the British Empire Exhibition at] Wembley yesterday was the largest of any day except Saturday since the opening; and among those who visited the exhibition was the Prince of Wales …

In view of what the Prince of Wales said at the Academy Banquet about the art section of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley [“Everybody who has been to Wembley will admit, I think, that amongst all the splendid features there, none is of more abiding importance than the Palace of Arts, and none makes a more varied appeal. Above all, it is the first show of British art of a truly Imperial nature. Never before has there been gathered under one roof the picked work not only of the painters of the United Kingdom, but of Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, and Burma”], a few words may be said about the general scope of the collections in the Palace of Arts. Detailed description must wait for catalogues, but all the pictures are hung, and all the works in sculpture are in their places, and so “the first show of British art of a truly Imperial nature,” as the Prince described it, is already prepared for visitors.

British “home” art is represented by a retrospective section ranging from Hogarth down to the end of the 19th century, followed by a modern section covering all schools and tendencies of the present day …

So far as can be judged in a rapid survey, the modern section gives our living painters at their best: Sir John Lavery with “The Amazon,” Mr. Augustus John with “Symphonie Espagnole,” Mr. Ambrose McEvoy – the new A.R.A. – with “Blue and Gold,” Mr. Glyn Philpot with “The Sisters.” Nor are the more “advanced” painters neglected, for there is one room containing typical works by Mr. Roger Fry, Mr. Paul Nash, Mr. William Roberts [The Violet Hat, 1923], Mr. Jacob Kramer, and Mr. Edward Wadsworth …


The Goupil Salon
31 October 1924

Consisting of nearly 500 works … the 14th Goupil Gallery Salon gives the fortunate impression of being selected by merit rather than by tendency. That is to say, though new movements, as they are called, are represented, the feeling is that the pictures are there for practical rather than theoretical reasons – because they happen to be good … If there is a prevailing character it is that of an enlightened liberalism, but – though the bulk of the work is English – as the work would be understood in France rather than in England. It is, in short, a very human sort of exhibition.

From the mass of generally good work which fills the upper rooms, “Anita,” by Mr. William Roberts … and “The Dressing Table,” by Mr. Mark Gertler, may be picked out as best worth attention …


25 November 1924

The present addition to the series of special exhibitions of Japanese colour-prints in the exhibition gallery of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum is one of prints by Hokusai and his pupils …

[Hokusai’s] “The Attack on Moronao’s House,” with soldiers in what look like tin hats scrambling up the snowy roof, might almost be an incident in the late war as painted by Mr. Wyndham Lewis or Mr. William Roberts – if they forgot their oddities in trying to make the subject plain …


Aims and Methods of the Younger Men
24 March 1925

At the Mayor Gallery, 18, Cork-street, Old Bond-street, there is a small but varied and interesting exhibition of modern English art, forming a rather unusually good opportunity to study the aims and methods of the younger men and women. As a general criticism it may be said that too many of the works seem to fall between the two stools of painting and something like aesthetic geometry, the commonest defect being a lack of relation between the forms produced and the means of producing them …

In “4.5 Howitzer” that interesting artist, Mr. William Roberts, shows a new cheerfulness of colour.


Art at Wembley
“English Life” and the Dominions

9 May 1925

There can be no question where is the centre of interest in the Palace of Arts at Wembley. It is in the retrospective section, and more particularly in the room representing “English Life.” General statements about art are always rash,, but it is fairly safe to say that English art, at any rate, is always at its best when it is least artistic in intention; and in this collection of portraits of men, women, children, and animals, pictures of domestic occupations, family seats, and social and sporting events, we have some of the soundest work of the school …

In the room devoted to portraits of “Empire Builders” the entertainment value is less and the incidental artistic merit is more mixed, but there are some very good pictures and sculptures …

It cannot be denied that to pass from these rooms to the contemporary paintings, drawings, engravings, and sculptures is to exchange artistic consequences for artistic aims – with the decline in security indicated; but the collections are comprehensive, representative, and generally well selected. The best that can be done here is to name a few works of particular merit such as “A Triana Gypsy,” by Mr. Gerald Kelly, “The Mouth of the Arun,” by Mr. F. J. Porter, “Outside the Pawnshop,” by Mr. W. P. Roberts, “Sound of Kerrara,” by Sir D. Y. Cameron …


The Imperial War Museum
Problems Due to Want of Space

1 June 1925

The eighth annual report of the Imperial war Museum (fifth report of the Board of Trustees), 1924–25, has just been issued (H.M. Stationery Office, 1s.). Sir Martin Conway, M.P., Director-General, in his report again refers to difficulties caused by want of space at South Kensington …

Works by the following artists have been acquired during the year: Sir John Lavery, R.A., Mr. W. P. Roberts, Mr. F. L. Emanuel, Sir D. Y. Cameron, R.A., Mr. Henrik Lund, and Sir W. Orpen, R.A. …


Opening of New Chenil Galleries
5 June 1925

The inaugural exhibition of present day British art organized by the Chelsea Arts Club to open the New Chenil Galleries, King’s-road,Chelsea, is to be looked upon as an event recalling an honourable past and promising well for the future rather than as a collection of paintings, drawings, engravings, and sculptures for detailed discussion …

Two of the freshest things among the paintings are “The Happy Family,” by Mr. W. P. Roberts, receding somewhat from the tubular treatment of form by which he learnt his business as a designer and in gay innocence of colour recalling Fra Angelico, and “Noah’s Ark,” by Miss Barbara Shiffner …


The London Group
6 June 1925

One effect of the London Group’s 22nd exhibition in its new quarters at the R.W.S. Galleries, 5a, Pall-mall East, needs a word of explanation. Until lately this gallery has been hallowed by the New English Art Club, and the rumbustious effect of the present exhibition is undoubtedly due in part to memories of what has been seen in the same quarters. If a non-university person may risk it, the difference is something like that between Oxford in term and Oxford in the vacation, when the haunts of learning are invaded by gangs of the eagerly intellectual proletariat. One may regret the Oxford manner, but there is something to be said for hobnailed enthusiasm …

There are many … good pictures, “On the Road,” by Mr. Ethelbert White, “Flowers,” by Mr. Mark Gertler, “Suffolk Fields,” by Mr. Frederick Porter, “Bank Holiday in the Park,” by Mr. William Roberts … for a few examples …


Tri-National Painting and Sculpture
England, France and America

9 October 1925

In pursuance of one of its objects, to promote international good feeling, the Tri-National Art Exhibition at the Chenil Galleries, initiated by Mrs. F. H. Harriman, of New York, does not so much afford opportunity for broad comparisons between the nations concerned as bring selections of the contemporary art of England, France, and America together in friendly association …

Taking account of the special object of this exhibition, we may be content to bless its friendliness and to name a few works by English artists which gave particular pleasure in a round of the galleries: such as “The Slum Park,” by Mr. W. P. Roberts …


The Mayor Gallery
9 October 1925

If only for his courageous belief in his own generation, Mr. F. Hoyland Mayor deserves all good wishes in his new, well-lighted gallery at 37, Sackville-street, which he opens with an exhibition of modern English art. Almost everything in it may be said to be at the apparent “growing point” of contemporary effort. “Apparent” because, for anything we know, the leading shoot may take quite another direction and these buds may date a mere decade or two. Somebody may discover that, when you have said all that there is to be said about relations in form and colour, the root of the matter in painting is relations in paint. However, granting the aim of creating relations in form and colour which shall parallel the Infinite, most of these works fulfil it engagingly, and some of them include the substance of paint in the scheme. Mr. Paul Nash, for instance, is at an interesting turn; beginning to allow paint to play a part in determining the relations he would establish … Miss Vanessa Bell, Mr. William Roberts, Mr. F. J. Porter, Miss Winifred Nicholson, and Mr Elliott Seabrooke all help in the entertainment …


Modern Sculpture and Paintings
3 November 1926

Sculpture provides the chief interest of the first annual winter exhibition of modern works of art at the New Chenil Galleries, King’s-road, Chelsea, there being four works by Mr. Jacob Epstein and three by Mr. Charles Wheeler …

So far as pictures are concerned, the exhibition suffers somewhat from the circumstance that our less well-established artists are “at a loose end.” They can draw and paint well enough, but “no man has hired them,” and the ability to improvize an adequate aesthetic motive for the application of skill is rare indeed … “Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple,” by Mr. William Roberts, in his usual convention of form, suffers a little from the effect that the colour is too gay to be relevant to the subject, but it is oddly “real,” and the same artist has a good piece of straightforward painting in the head of “Gipsy Girl” …


Old and Modern Drawings
26 November 1926

On account of its more slender subject interest and more limited materials the art of drawing is less susceptible than that of painting to the influence of time, and the first thing that strikes one in glancing at the collection of old and modern drawings, 1430 to 1926, at the Savile Gallery, 10, Savile-row, is the difficulty of distinguishing “old” from “modern” by any definite characteristics. There is, however, one broad general difference, and it may be suggested roughly by saying that old drawings are generally more poetical in style and modern more explicit. The reason for this, apart from the general change in taste which makes people prefer novels to epics, is not so easy to find, but something is due undoubtedly in the general substitution of the eye for the hand as the leading member in artistic production. Speaking generally, the old drawings strike one as better done and the modern ones as more interestingly seen. It is visual curiosity as against manual training …

The drawings of the nude figure [Female Nude c.1926 and Male Nude – study c.1926] by Mr. William Roberts are interesting as showing that the tubular convention of this artist is not due to incapacity to draw the forms of nature …


Art Periodicals
Questions of Authorship

19 January 1927

Drawing and Design steadily improves in substance, the January number opening with a fully illustrated article on Mr. W. P. Roberts, an artist who has not yet received his due. As the writer, Mr. W. Gaunt – who is far from being uncritical – says, Mr. Roberts is a true product of our mechanical age …


Illustrations of Col. Lawrence’s Book
[Seven Pillars of Wisdom]

4 February 1927

… The exhibition [at the Leicester Galleries] consists of portraits of personages connected with the Arabian campaign and imaginative illustrations of its incidents … The pencil portraits, such as that of “Colonel Sir A. Henry McMahon, G.C.M.G.,” by Mr. William Roberts, are specially welcome not only for the close delineation of character in them but because they throw light on the foundations of an artist whose more abstract performances are often mistaken for the shirking of difficulties. On the whole, Mr. Roberts is the hero of the exhibition …


London Artists
23 May 1927

On consideration, what inspires confidence in the group of exhibitors at the London Artists’ Association, 163, New Bond-street, is that they are all painters as well as composers. Their pictures do not look, as is too common nowadays, as if the artists had composed them and then handed them over to somebody else to execute, but rather as if they had grown in the mind in the actual process of execution, the brush deciding the ultimate form. Add to this that the exhibitors are all sound colourists, getting full effects by the nice relation of secondary hues, and the remarkable effect of the first “wall” of eight pictures [including works by Vanessa Bell and by Duncan Grant] is explained … Detached from this company are [works by Edward Wolfe, Christopher Wood and Paul Nash] and “Portrait,” of an old lady [Cecilia Kramer?], with a very subtle formal relationship between folds of flesh and folds of kerchief, by Mr. William Roberts. One consequence of being a painter as well as a composer – unexpected at first, but easily explained if space would allow – is that Nature is allowed more say in these pictures than is common in modern art.


The Slade School
24 June 1927

Institutions – like individuals – are the better for a certain amount of chaffing, and nobody need regret the frequent references to “the Slade manner,’ social and artistic, which brighten the pages of contemporary fiction. But the fact remains that the Slade is probably the best school of drawing in Europe. Not only that, but the exhibition of works by teachers and students of the Slade School of Fine Art, 1871–1927, which has been arranged in connexion with the centenary celebrations at University College, would indicate that the Slade manner, on the artistic side, is something of a fiction …

What it amounts to is that the Slade manner on the artistic side is a tradition of sound drawing … the net result is a system of drawing which allows for individual development. The only common character to be observed in the works exhibited is an absence of that unintelligent imitation of shapes, not unknown elsewhere, which is not drawing at all …

Consisting of 359 works, in painting, drawing, engraving, and sculpture, this is a very impressive exhibition indeed …

But though the paintings will naturally get the most attention from casual visitors, it is questionable if the more intimate meaning of the Slade as a school is not to be traced rather in the collection of drawings and the figure compostions in the passage upstaris and the drawings and water-colours in the small painting room downstairs. Here we have talent finding itself while still under direction … and the names of Mr. Robin Guthrie, Mr. Augustus John, Miss Clara Klinghoffer, Mr. W. P. Roberts, Mr. Walter Sickert, Mr. Stanley Spencer, Mr. Duncan Grant, Sir William Orpen, and Miss Winfred Knights will suggest the interest and variety of the series …


Mr. William Roberts
1 July 1927

A number of small oil paintings by Mr. William Roberts are to be seen at the London Artists’ Association, 163, New Bond-street. Mr. Roberts is usually at his best in large pictures, for his composition is of a rather mechanical kind, and a large picture leaves more room than a small one for slight variations from a carefully-engineered scheme, and the absence of of these variations tends to conceal Mr. Roberts’s sensibility. Such sensibility as he has is to the actual paint and to the constructed line, the stuff out of which his pictures are made, and he has scarcely any sensibility to nature. This being so, he has before him the hardest of all tasks: he has to be a perfectly classical painter, and the objects represented in his pictures can be nothing but pretexts for an agility of line and a formal balance of solid objects. This balance Mr. Roberts achieves with very considerable ingenuity, and he is particularly successful in this way in “The Garden of Eden,” but his line is often not sufficiently agile; it dies on his hands as he takes it from point to point. And this is the more surprising because in his pencil drawings, of which there are a few exhibited here, there is a real if rather limited sensibility. Mr. Roberts’s task as a classical artist is probably made more difficult by his choice of subjects. Unlike most classical artists, he chooses extremely sensational subjects, and, though at first sight it would seem reasonable that an artist who dwells so much on the mechanical or purely constructive part of painting should make people and things look as if they were machinery, Mr. Roberts makes his people look sensationally and not dully mechanical, as if he had some philosophy of life to expound.


London Artists’ Association
7 November 1927

Excellent as is much of the work in the second exhibition of the London Artists’ Association, at the Leicester Galleries, the exhibition as a whole is not free from the uncomfortable effect of an artistic attitude maintained with some care. As in the too polite society of people who are not quite sure of themselves, you feel prompted to bad behaviour. This is a pity, because art, of all forms of conversation, should be unconstrained. On analysis, the effect of uneasiness is due largely to the old bugbear of “subject” in a new form. Since Cézanne certain types of landscape, certain conventions of the nude, and certain still-life objects have been, so to speak, consecrated as topics of polite, artistic conversation, and the result is that they are becoming as wearisome as the “love–dove, heart–dart” of mediocre poets. How tired we are, for example, of the type of landscape represented in “Provençal Farm,” by Mr Douglas Davidson. Provence has its attractions and advantages as a painting ground – particularly in such a summer as we have had here – but it is impossible to regard the devotion to it in this exhibition as prompted by convenience only. It suggests rather a modernist retort to that egregious proposal to turn Flatford into a school of landscape painting, because Constable worked there. Cézanne, as we know, painted in Provence, and the motto of this exhibition might be “thinking of the Old ’Un.” It is time that serious artists gave up – the word will out – Provencialism.

Otherwise the exhibition may be said to show that in painting there is no substitute for – painting. Well behaved as they are in their compositions, it is when the exhibitors trust to the brush that they give most satisfaction, particularly when they allow colour impulse – the most “natural” gift of the painter – to regulate their designs. Excepting Mr. William Roberts, who has his own subject interests – and is thereby the least conventional of the bunch – all the exhibitors are at their best in flower paintings …

… [Paul Nash’s] most elaborate composition, “Still Life,” is a remarkable instance of the fully plastic effect which can be got by the relations of lines and planes, rather than masses – a possibility of particular interest to English artists. This native character in the work of Mr. Nash, comparable to what we observe in the survivals of medieval wall paintings in village churches, is not his least attraction. Equally native is Mr. William Roberts, though with a more Cockney turn. Though it is not very suitable to oil painting – except as allowing the full gradation of tints which is one of his interests – his tubular convention of the human figure lends itself very well to his angular system of designing, best illustrated here by the large composition of men and pigeons in “Trafalgar-square” and the more intensely coloured “Newspapers.” [H]is weakness, illustrated here by “Surprised,” is to rely too much for interest upon the element of surprise – like an O. Henry story …


The Imperial Gallery of Art
30 March 1928

As a sort of “tasting” of the contemporary art of the British Empire, in painting, drawing, engraving, and sculpture, the second exhibition at the Imperial Gallery of Art, Imperial Institute, deserves great praise. It is not, of course, exhaustive, but it may be fairly be called representative, and to have made it so with not more than 205 works must have needed careful consideration. At any rate, so far as the Homeland is concerned, the exhibition is representative not only in names but in quality, and several of the younger artists – Mr. Paul Nash, Mr. Mark Gertler, Mr. Stanley Spencer, Mr. Allan Gwynne-Jones, and Mr. A. H. Gerrard, for instance, are to be seen here at their best …

… Other paintings to be seen with gratitude are “Portrait of a Lady,” by Mr. William Roberts … One great attraction of this exhibition is that, with sufficient response to the larger world of art, it does seem to represent the native talent with its characteristic merits and defects.


English Water-colours
24 May 1928

To get not only solidity but luminosity with slight means might be described as the common aim of the works in the sixth annual exhibition of the Modern English Water-colour Society at the St. George’s Gallery, 32A, George-street, Hanover-square. This, broadly, is what makes them “modern.” Water-colour has been used slightly in the past, and light is an old pursuit of the painter, but to capture light while defining structure and configuration with the minimum of labour and material is, comparatively, a new game … There are some excellent works in the exhibition. “Whiteleaf,” by Mr. John Nash, with its deep colour and effective combination of natural and formal interest, is the most thrilling, but “St. Remy Church,” by Mr. Richard Wyndham, “The Canal,” by Mr. William Roberts, “Nude,” by Mr. Duncan Grant, “Composition,” by Mr. R. V. Pitchforth, “Clymping, Sussex,” by Mr. P. H. Jowett, “Mother and Child,” by Miss Frances Hodgkins, and “Interior,” by Mr. C. C. Webb, are all water-colours of remarkable ability.


London Artists
4 July 1928

If memory can be trusted, the present exhibition of recent paintings by members of the London Artists’ Association at 92, Bond-street, is the most easily believed that there has been. That the effect of taking artistic principles for granted and “getting on with the job” of painting is partly due to “The Paddock,” by Mr. William Roberts, cannot be doubted. This is a most entertaining picture, combining the two strong points of the artist: his racy and slightly sardonic humour and his ingenuity as a composer in a convention of tubular forms. In general form the composition suggests a glazed pottery group – and indeed the picture might be described as a Toby jug subject in modern terms. There are 12 figures, with a jockey “up” and the owner, in grey clothes and top hat, giving him last instructions, while a number of colleagues in the gaiety of their colours exchange conflicting though apparently derisive comments upon the mount. Of course we may be all wrong about the moment – it may be that the race is over and that the unfortunate gentleman has “pulled” or “bored” or broken some other rule of the Turf. At any rate there appears to be some dirty work going on behind the rails with husky murmurs behind hands and pointing fingers. We are not sure that artistically the picture does not fall a little between two stools – the decorative interest of colour distracting from the unity of the composition as a whole, but is is a genuine “slice of life” and we should very much like to hear stable opinion upon it. Unless we are mistaken the formal convention would present no difficulty …


22 March 1929

With the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, at 195, Piccadilly, the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours, at 5A, Pall Mall East, and the Modern English Water-Colour Society, at the St. George’s Gallery, 32A, George-street, Hanover-square, all opening their exhibitions together, and containing between them 753 works, “The English Art” may be said to hold the field, and the three exhibitions may be discussed conveniently in a single article …

To generalize for convenience – if at the R. I. there is a tendency to sacrifice both water-colour and the picture to illustration, and at the R.W.S. to sacrifice the picture to “subject,” at the “Modern” show at the St. George’s Gallery the disposition is to sacrifice subject and medium to the picture as a theoretical construction … Mr. Frank Dobson … who happens to be a sculptor, has the sense to see that the more flexible medium allows a fuller contribution from the subject itself in his drawings from the nude. Mr. William Roberts, however, has long justified his own convention, and his “The Carpet Beaters” has its ungainly success …


Mr. William Roberts
18 June 1929

To get to the bottom of what makes Mr. William Roberts – now taking his turn at the gallery of the London Artists’ Association, 92, Bond-street – almost unique in contemporary art, it is his combination of form and character. Most painters of character neglect form in the compositional sense – and most painters of form have not the – there is really only one word for it, but the euphemism “inwards” may serve – for character. Thanks partly to his convention – derived, as we know, from “convenience” – Mr. Roberts is able to combine the two and to include some charming substantial qualities of painting as well. He ought to be a popular artist in the best sense of the word, because, while his designs must appeal to connoisseurs of form, he can hardly fail to please and interest those who appreciate the human richness of taxicab men, omnibus conductors, potmen, and courting couples – of the world summarized in his “London Park.’

His largest picture here, “The Prodigal Departs,” is a good example of his double appeal. As a composition it might be called a perforated cylinder – rather like a very elaborately carved Japanese netsuke – with an intricate movement of form and colour among the nine figures. On the human side it is a harvest festival, all the possible emotions of the scene – pathetic, derisive, impatient, and anxious – being expressed in the different faces and attitudes, while the Prodigal himself, in his little green hat, stares out at far horizons. “The Boat Pond,” again, is a very fascinating scheme of uprights, with a curly counterpoint through the swans and into the tree branches, while the attendance of at least three strong men on the navigatory requirements of two nymphs meets the human probability of the occasion.

In his attitude to life – a half-conscious awareness of subject interest in an artistic preoccupation – Mr. Roberts has some resemblance to Mr. Sickert, but he is more pointedly local in his appreciation of character and he goes much farther in a consciously formal direction. Again we may note the advantages of a convention for emphasis – either way. At moments, as in “Surprise,” Mr. Roberts frankly indulges a sardonic humour, and “The Garden of Eden” is even touching in its observation of fallen humanity. The disapproving deer is a comment of genius. “Self portrait,” in pencil, is enough to demonstrate Mr. Roberts’s ability to draw in an ordinary way. Except that artistic tastes often go by opposites, and artisans crave for Arcadia, somebody ought to commission Mr. Roberts to decorate a working-men’s institute. He is certainly necessary to the adequate representation of our urban period in a Folk Museum.


London Artists’ Association
15 November 1929

There are some goodish pictures in the present exhibition of recent paintings by members of the London Artists’ Association … but the general effect of the exhibition is discouraging. It is felt that the pictures are too well behaved artistically … they may be said to represent aseptic art …

If the members of the London Artists’ Association are to do justice to their talents, what they have to do can only be expressed in vulgar language. They must “come off the perch” and “chance their arm” in the ordinary interests of humanity. They must “mix more” in the sense of letting into their pictures some of those elements of corruption which are excluded in a purely artistic attitude. This, too, not for the sake of immediate popularity, but in order to survive artistically. There are circumstances in which it is advisable to drink only bottled water, but too much of it drives the most careful to the duck pond, and the time is long past for aseptic art to serve any useful purpose. All that can be taken for granted, now, and the world wants pictures produced in the same carelessness which produced the great works of the past.

The paintings in this exhibition which have in them most of the elements of corruption are those by Mr. William Roberts, such as “Beach Fun” and “The Tea Garden,” with their piquant allusions to the passing world. They may not be the best paintings, but they will certainly “date” less than most of the others … [W]ith all their excellences, such works as “Still Life,” by Mr. Duncan Grant, and “Foundling Hospital, Bloomsbury,” by Miss Vanessa Bell, can only be described as “naice” pictures, produced in the “tin shoes and tepid milk” spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson.


Mansard Gallery
12 February 1930

At the Mansard Gallery of Messrs. Heal and Son, 196, Tottenham Court Road, there is a comprehensive exhibition of the art of wood-block printing … Owing to the similarity of method the exhibition hangs together consistently, and it suits very well the general purposes of a furnishing house.

It is intended henceforward to devote the small Mansard Annexe to paintings and drawings of the modern school, and the inaugural exhibition is one of works by Mr. Cedric Morris, Mr. Duncan Grant, Mr. William Roberts, Mr. Adrian Daintrey, and others. Here again, and excepting such things as “The Pawnshop,” by Mr. Roberts, and “First of October,” a dead pheasant, by Mr. Morris, one cannot help feeling that the logical end of a good deal of modern painting is some decorative application – which is again in tune with the general purpose of the house.


Modern Water-Colours
17 February 1930

Though it might be difficult to say exactly what constitutes “modern” in the eighth annual exhibition of the Modern English Water-colour Society at the St. George’s Gallery, 32A George-street, Hanover-square, it is true that the works in it have a general character which distinguishes them from the works that prevail at the R.W.S, the R.I, and even the New English Art Club. In a sense there is a return to the earlier tradition, with its basis in drawing and a broad use of the wash, but it is a return with a difference. Perhaps the difference may be suggested by saying that, whereas in the early work water-colour was used for the broad definition of objects, in the “modern” work it is used rather to define their relation in space. Attention is called to a different aspect of Nature – as if you called attention to the social relations of people rather than to their individual characters. Since, in the process, the special qualities of water-colour are preserved, the “modern” work is welcome; anything being better than the frittering away of the medium for illustrative or imitative purposes which is too often called “traditional.”

With the general character indicated above, there is plenty of variety in the exhibition … and Mr. Duncan Grant, Mr. William Roberts, Mr. Charles Ginner, Mr Douglas Percy Bliss, and Mr. Henry Moore all contribute something to our enjoyment.


The National Society
9 May 1930

In welcoming the first annual exhibition of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, and Potters at the Grafton Galleries as a serious attempt at a more inclusive exhibition than we have had before, it is necessary to say at once that not more than the Academy itself does it – except in sculpture – represent the more genuine contemporary talents … To take a few names at random – there is nothing by Mr. Duncan Grant, Mr. Paul Nash, Mr. John Nash, Mr. Cedric Morris, Mr. Matthew Smith, Mr. Keith Baynes, Mr. Elliott Seabrooke, Miss Vanessa Bell, Mr. Edward Wadsworth, Mr. Ben Nicholson, Mrs. Winifred Nicholson, Mr. F. J. Porter, Mr. R. V. Pitchforth, and Mr. William Roberts …


London Artists

9 June 1930

To open the new – commodious and very well-lighted – gallery of the London Artists’ Association at 92, New Bond-street, there has been arranged an exhibition of “English Landscape Painting 1750–1930.” In some respects it is a startling exhibition, because it shows Peter de Wint and Mr. Roger Fry, Richard Wilson and Mr. P. Wilson Steer, Gainsborough and Miss Vanessa Bell cheek by jowl and – allowing for differences in rank – nobody a penny the worse …

Sawing Wood,” by Mr. William Roberts, [is] … worth seeing.


St. Martin’s Gallery
12 June 1930

It is no disparagement of the individual art of Miss Doreen Penson, whose paintings in oil and water-colour are now being shown at St. Martin’s Gallery, 33, St. Martin’s-court, to say that “Workmen Resting” … , which is the most striking of her oils, recalls the work of Mr. William Roberts. The careful grouping, extended even to the ladder in the background, and the stylized figures of the men make it the strongest of her pictures …


Savile Gallery
3 July 1930

Though it is hardly more than an accident of selection the present exhibition of 27 contemporary French and English paintings and nine drawings at the Savile Gallery, 29, Bruton-street, certainly gives the advantage to the native works, and at least half a dozen of them would have held their own in a stronger company from across the Channel … Mr. William Roberts has a grave “Head of a Woman,” with an orange scarf [A Gypsy Girl?] …


Paintings of London
19 May 1931

At the Cooling Galleries, 92, New Bond-street, there is a striking illustration of the good effects of direction in art in the shape of an exhibition of paintings of London by members of the London Artists’ Association. As a rule, and for reasons inherent in the time of day, exhibitions of works by our more progressive artists have a little the effect of being “all dressed up and nowhere to go.” The subject interest which ruled the the last generation being deprecated, there is nothing in particular to hang the picture upon – except in the rare instances where the artist has real formal invention. But this exhibition looks particularly well founded – so much so that the effect was remarked before the general subject had been taken in.

It would not do to push convulsions too far: probably none of the works were actually painted for a London exhibition; they are there simply because they happen to be paintings of London; it is the fact of a common subject – in a great variety of aspects – that gives the effect of properly directed and intended art. Intrinsically the interest of the works is that, almost exclusively, they represent the painting of London for purely pictorial reasons, without any sentimental, historical, or “picturesque” axe to grind. One consequence of this is to show that the London scene can stand on its own merits without reference to associations.

… As for “Bank Holiday in the Park,” by Mr. William Roberts, which is appropriately hung at the tail of the exhibition, it might stand for a summary of the racier spirit of London.


Mr. William Roberts
30 October 1931

Mr. William Roberts is not everybody’s artist, but his present exhibition of recent paintings and drawings at the Cooling Galleries, 92, New Bond-street, should impress even those whose liking is repelled by his uncompromising style and slightly sardonic attitude to life. He is one of the most thorough of our younger artists, not only in matters of execution, but, in what is even more important, the construction of his pictures. Whether you like his work or not, you cannot fail to see that it is all intended and carefully worked out.

Though he paints portraits, and very good portraits, Mr. Roberts is best known as an interpreter of contemporary London life – Cockney life, for a more precise description. But instead of treating it in an illustrative manner he enshrines it in compositions which derive from the Italian Renaissance. Thus you have the piquant combination of racy feeling and severely formal art. In some respects, in an engaging awkwardness, for instance, he makes you think of Lucas Cranach the Elder, but his treatment of form has more affinity with that of artists like Pollaiuolo. The astonishing thing is the amount of native character, of “London particular,” that he manages to retain. It is largely a matter of characteristic attitude and gesture and facial expression. One feels that the man in the street, knowing nothing of their art, would understand his pictures.

Like most artists who take design seriously, Mr. Roberts began with severe abstraction, reducing the human figure to tubular forms. Having mastered the composition of these forms, in their relationships and movements, he is now relaxing them a little in a naturalistic direction, but still keeping to essentials and excluding accidents. All the facts – except here and there, as in the ears of his portraits – are completely digested from a formal point of view. But the great advance in the present exhibition is in the management of colour. A few years ago, as may be seen in the uncatalogued “Prodigal Son,” Mr. Roberts worked in colours. They were well balanced and related and decorative in effect, but they were not, so to speak, “matey’; they contributed little to – if they did not sometimes hinder – the formal movement of the design. Now, as may be seen in the most excellent painting of “Primrose Hill,” more specifically the boys’ gymnasium on that eminence, Mr. Roberts is working in colour. The mauves and purples, delightful in themselves, enter into the spirit of the spiral movement of the figures round the vertical system of the apparatus and railings. The formal movements and the colour progressions are at one, so that you think of the general colour of the picture and not of its individual colours – though you cannot but admire the judgment with which the blue of the hill is summed up “sforzando” in the boy’s figure at the bottom by the railings.

This, “The Chess Players,” and “Sun-bathing” are the most elaborate compositions, and in all of them, apart from their artistic interest, there is remarkable human vitality. Good composer as he is, Mr. Roberts can also hold a picture together by the sheer force of its emotion as indicated by attitude and facial expression – the moment of tension in “The Chess Players,” for example. The most daring exercise in colour, as also the most novel design – dominated by the wheels and handle-bars of the bicycles – is “Les Routiers,” and it is only the pinks in the background that escape from control. In his portraits, such as “Paul” – which, in its incisive drawing of the features, recalls Botticelli’s “A Young Man” in the National Gallery – and “Dr. Paul de Zoysa,” to name the two most striking, Mr. Roberts gets great dignity. Simple as it looks, “Dr. Paul de Zoysa” is full of science – the way, for instance, the right angle made by the head and right shoulder, otherwise too obtrusive, is brought into order by the downward swing of the left lapel of the coat. The drawings and water-colours are practically all preliminary versions of the paintings, and they show that Mr. Roberts’s original conceptions are so clear that he finds very little to alter in the finished work. This, whether you like it or not, is an important exhibition.


Modern Drawings
23 December 1931

Children should not play with edged tools, and one consequence of a very precise language like the French is that statements in it are strictly dependent upon context. In the catalogue of an interesting exhibition of water-colours and drawings by 11 contemporary English artists at the Abdy Gallery, 11 Carlos-place, there appears the following quotation from Baudelaire: – “Tout ce qui est beau et noble est le résultat de la raison et du calcul.” Now it is at once evident that, taken from its context, this may mean two different things. It may mean, and probably does, that all beauty and nobility result from reason and calculation as controlling factors, which is a statement worthy of respectful consideration; or it may mean that all beauty and nobility originate in them, which is absurd.

A good many of the works in the exhibition may be said to hesitate between these two possible meanings. Mr. Frank Dobson’s drawings of the figure are clearly the result of feeling controlled by reason and calculation, but the compositions by Mr. Edward Wadsworth look as if they had been reasoned and calculated into existence …

Among the drawings which do not require a context to explain them [is] … “Study for “The Tea Garden’,” by Mr. William Roberts …


British Art at Venice
The International Exhibition
15 April 1932


Assisted by a Selection Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Holmes, ex-Director of the National Gallery, the Department of Overseas Trade has been actively engaged in the organization of an exhibit of British fine art at the International Art Exhibition which opens in Venice on April 28 and will be continued until the autumn. An official communiqué states: –

British art treasures to the value of more than £50,000 were dispatched to Venice on March 30, and there is little doubt but that British art will be represented on an impressive scale at this year’s biennial. The Venice Exhibition is one of the most important art exhibitions in Europe and one which is visited regularly by large numbers of the leading art connoisseurs and art dealers in the world. Most of the chief European countries will be represented this year for the first time, each nation exhibiting in its separate pavilion. For some years a committee of public-spirited gentlemen, of whom the honorary secretary was Mr. P. G. Konody, have been responsible for the management of the British pavilion. They felt, however, that the Government should more properly continue this important work, and have recently offered to the Government the British pavilion and the revenues attaching to it, an offer which was recently accepted.

The work of British painters, engravers, and sculptors ranks high among the nations in conception, design, and execution; and much of our work is without equal in the world to-day. The Exhibition at Venice affords an exceptional opportunity for the conduct of propaganda for British art. It is therefore gratifying to know that the Government is continuing the public-spirited work which had been so successfully undertaken by Mr. Konody and his colleagues in the interests of British art.


The British artists, examples of whose work have been selected for exhibition are especially noteworthy for the modernity of their inspiration and outlook. The following artists have accepted the invitation to participate: –

Robert Austin, R.E.
Muirhead Bone
G. L. Brockhurst, A.R.A, R.E., R.P.
Sir George Clausen, R.A., R.W.S, R.P.
Philip Connard, R.A.
Frank Dobson
Eric Gill
Duncan Grant
Augustus John, R.A., R.C.A., R.P.
G. F. Kelly, R.A., R.H.A.
Henry Lamb
Bernard Meninsky
Cedric Morris
A. J. Munnings, R.A., R.W.S., R.P.
John Nash
Paul Nash
William Roberts
W. R. Sickert, A.R.A., A.R.E.
J. R. Skeaping
Matthew Smith
Stanley Spencer
P. Wilson Steer, O.M.
Edward S. Wadsworth
Miss Ethel Walker

Several eminent British painters have unfortunately recently passed away, but one whose work has an extremely wide appeal, the late Mr. Ambrose McEvoy, has been selected. As a result of the helpful cooperation of Mrs. McEvoy, examples of every phase of the late Mr. McEvoy’s work have been assembled for inclusion in the British exhibit. A special panel of the work of the late Sir William Orpen was shown at the last Exhibition, held in Venice in 1930, otherwise it would have been included on this occasion, while it was not possible to arrange for an adequate group of the work of the late Mr. Charles Ricketts.

It is unquestionably important in these days to demonstrate to the world at large the high quality of British fine art. The artistic world is one on which our competence and our imagination as a nation are accompanied by what is still, unfortunately, a characteristic disinclination to advertise properly what we do. The example set by Mr. Konody’s committee and the decision of the Government to continue the committee’s enterprising work is therefore a matter for congratulation. Under Government auspices it is hoped that much can be done to increase the prestige of British art abroad.

It is encouraging to learn of the willing assistance which has been given to the Government by a number of private owners, who have realized the importance of the Venice Exhibition and in many cases have spontaneously offered the loan of their treasures in order to make the British exhibit at Venice adequately representative of the work done by the artists who have been asked to participate. It is hoped that exhibitions of British art will be organized in other suitable centres abroad in the future, for the need for proper advertising in the artistic world is no less than in the spheres of commerce and industry.


British Art Exhibition in Hamburg
11 May 1932

Sir, – The Anglo-German Club, in collaboration with the Hamburg municipal authorities, is holding an exhibition of British post-War art in Hamburg this summer. The following artists have at present been invited to attend: – Paul Nash, William Roberts, Matthew Smith, Duncan Grant, Mark Gertler, McKnight Kauffer, Stanley Spencer, Edward Wadsworth, John Armstrong, Raymond Coxon, and Ben Nicholson. Unfortunately, the pictures available from these artists are limited in number, owing to exhibitions elsewhere.

In order that the exhibition may be truly representative of British post-War art I shall be happy to hear if any collectors of pictures painted by the above-named artists would care to lend them for the period of the exhibition. I might add that the pictures will be collected, packed, shipped, insured, and returned at no cost to the owners. I should be most grateful if any collectors who are willing to lend pictures will communicate with me.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Secretary, Anglo-German Club.
Piccadilly Hotel, W.1.


The Theatres
19 May 1932

… A season of ballet will be given by the Camargo Society, in conjunction with the Vic–Wells and Ballet Club at the Savoy Theatre opening on Monday evening, June 6 … The scenery and costumes will be designed by Mr. Edmund Dulac, Mr. Duncan Grant, Miss Vanessa Bell, Mr. George Sheringham, and Mr Edward Burra. There will also be special curtains by Mr. McKnight Kauffer, Mr. William Roberts, and Mr. Walter Sickert …


Savoy Theatre
“The Camargo Ballet”

8 June 1932

The second programme of the Camargo Society’s season at the Savoy Theatre contained, in addition to a repetition of Vaughan Williams’s Job, William Walton’s Façade, a short scene to music by Scarlatti on the subject of Mars and Venus, and The Enchanted Grove, with music by Ravel, which was produced earlier in the year at Sadler’s Wells.

Façade is one of the society’s most successful productions. The dances are a witty counterpart of Walton’s music, and the wit has the merit of brevity, so that we feel that it is all over too soon. The polka danced by Mme. Markova and the amusing burlesque Tango by Mme. Lopokova and Mr. Frederick Ashton are alone enough to secure the success of any ballet, and the other dances are nearly as good. Mr. John Armstrong’s décor fits in with the scheme of the whole, pleasing as well as amusing the eye. There was little pleasure and not much amusement to be had from the special drop-curtain painted by Mr. William Roberts and exposed to view during the performance of Constant Lambert’s Romeo and Juliet Suite in the interval …


Pictures at Eton
31 October 1932

The drawing schools at Eton College are at present occupied by the collection of modern British paintings and drawings belonging to Mr. Hugh Blaker, and 145 works out of a total of nearly 200 are shown. Besides reflecting a personal taste – Mr. Blaker is himself an artist – with remarkable consistency, this collection … has the interest of being concerned with a more or less definite phase of English painting; … it may be said to centre around the group of artists, several of whom are now dead, who were associated with Mr. W. R. Sickert at Camden Town.

… In “Landscape and Cattle” … Mr. Duncan Grant shows some affinity with [Spencer] Gore, while other surviving members of the group, such as Mr. Charles Ginner, Mr. William Roberts, and Mr J. B. Manson are seen forming the styles by which they are now familiar …

There is no more gratifying circumstance than the increasing interest in art at public schools. The benefits do not end with improved “taste,” but carry over into affairs in a sense of order and proportion and a knowledge of how things are done.


The London Artists’ Association
13 January 1933

Structural emphasis and abstract design have had such a bracing effect upon English art that it seems almost ungrateful to welcome the evidence in a general exhibition of the London Artists’ Association at the Cooling Galleries, 92, New Bond Street, of a return to painting …

The picture of the exhibition … is “The Masks,” by Mr. William Roberts. In a close-packed composition it represents a group of Cockneys, on a festive occasion, noisily absorbed in the joke of a toy horse belonging to a half-flattered and half-outraged little boy. From the presence of a real horse in the background it may be assumed that the joke is about “odds.” The pictorial interest is in the agitated internal movement, a raucous movement, set up within the group by the play of masks and hands, and in the harsh but somehow pleasing colour. Everything seems to be dominated by the hoarseness of the implied voices. The colour, particularly in the flesh tints, would have gained by a toning down of the brick wall. Also by Mr. Roberts there is a brilliant little painting of “The Ballet,” with a green-shadowed male dancer with mauve loin-cloth in the spotlight, and a shadowed group of spectators in a box or gallery. The lighting implies a bolder bid for depth than is usual with the artist, and feminine absorption in the dancer, to the boredom of one male, gives the right ironical flavour …


English Water-colour Painters
7 June 1933

… With the exhibition of water-colours, drawings, and pastels by members of the London Artists’ Association at the Cooling Galleries, 92, New Bond Street, we are very much in the present, but there is something to interest the romantic as well as the constructive mind. If, for instance, “Study for ‘The Tea Garden’,” by Mr. William Roberts, be found too uncompromising in its organization of tubular forms, there is “Hatfield Park,” by Mr. H. E. du Plessis, to fall back upon …


English Drawings
1 July 1933

… At Mr. [R. E. A.] Wilson’s Gallery [at 24 Ryder Street, St. James’s] the selection, in 23 drawings, old and modern, appears to have been definitely artistic, with no historical intention … “A Girl Playing a Guitar,” by Mr. William Roberts, [is among] … other excellent drawings.


Anglo-German Club
15 December 1933

Encouraged by the success of a similar exhibition at Hamburg, and with the praiseworthy object of strengthening the cultural relations between the two countries, there has been arranged at the Anglo-German Club, 6, Carlton Gardens, an exhibition of Contemporary British Art. Consisting of 78 works in painting, drawing, and sculpture, the exhibition is based upon the belief that art, while it has interesting national flavours, transcends all national and political aims and prejudices: the club, in relation to domestic questions in Germany, being strictly neutral ground. The exhibition is catholic in kind, the artists ranging from Mr. Wilson Steer to Mr. Ben Nicholson, and, on the whole, well selected. One or two names can hardly be justified in this limited company, and one or two others are represented beyond their comparative importance, but the average quality is excellent.

… “Seat in Park,” by Mr. William Roberts [and works by Stanley Spencer, Alan Walton, Frederick Porter, Cedric Morris, Paul Nash, and John Nash] … are all first rate and typical examples of their authors …


Lefèvre Galleries
9 February 1935

With exhibitions of “Modern French Classics,” new paintings and drawings by Mr. William Roberts, and paintings by Mr. Fergus Graham, the Lefèvre Galleries, 1A, King Street, St. James’s, cover a wide range of tastes …

Mr. William Roberts, who is represented by 33 paintings and drawings, has performed the remarkable feat of reconciling the digested influence of the Italian quattrocento with Cockney character and humour. A bus conductor could enjoy his “Sam Rabin versus Black Eagle” and “Shuttlecock,” and yet they are full of the most interesting formal devices. Mr. Roberts, in fact, has done by native genius what is always hoped, generally in vain, of winners of the “Prix de Rome” – applied the teaching of the past to the representation of contemporary subjects, racy of the soil. His portrait heads, such as “Helen,” are worth the most careful study for their translation of “facts into form,” and anybody who wishes to be given artistic dignity should be painted by him. Most of the works are shown in the successive stages of drawing, water-colour and painting, which throw light upon the soundness of his methods …


Painting and Sculpture
Influence of Impressionism

3 May 1935

All artistic periods are said to be periods of transition; but the accession of King George V. did happen to coincide with a change in English art which may fairly be called revolutionary, that is to say, in its effects, because it is doubtful if the change itself represented anything new in principle. The exciting cause was the first exhibition of Manet and the Post-Impressionists, organized at the Grafton Galleries in the winter of 1910–11 by the late Mr. Roger Fry …

As was only natural the fundamental meaning of Post-Impressionism, the importance of the picture as such, was for a time over-emphasized at the London Group, chiefly in the form of Cubism, which may be described as a doctrinaire development from Cézanne. A fair way of putting it is to say that what up to the end of the eighteenth century had been taken for granted was now worn on the sleeve. That the public was bewildered by this over-insistence upon the framework, or scaffolding, of the picture is true, but the lesson was driven home. Whatever changes may take place in art, and allowing for preferences in the degree of likeness to Nature, it is unlikely that the status of the picture as an organized composition will ever again be ignored in general opinion. Particularly since, after the first over-statement, there appears to have been a gradual discovery by artists that, the picture once secured, there may be, according to individual inclination, a closer approach to naturalistic representation, or even to “story-telling,” than at first seemed evident. There has been a “back to Nature” movement, but always within the framework of the picture.

Certain consequences upon individual reputations are worth noting. Up to 1910 the predominating influences in English art had been those of Sargent and Whistler, with, in the later years, a response of younger artists to Orpen and Mr. Augustus John. Ignoring for the moment the reputations which may be said to have started in the “Georgian” period, one unexpected effect of the Post-Impressionist exhibition was to enhance the reputation of certain artists who were unaffected by the movement itself. The two most striking examples are Mr. Richard Sickert and Mr. Wilson Steer, O.M. …

Of the reputations which began about 1910 a long list might be made. The names of Mr. Duncan Grant, Mr. Matthew Smith, Mr. Paul and Mr. John Nash, Mr. Stanley and Mr. Gilbert Spencer, Mr. William Roberts and Mr. Mark Gertler are only the first that come to mind. In sculpture the leading names are those of Mr. Jacob Epstein, Mr. Frank Dobson and Mr. Eric Gill …


Lefèvre Galleries
Water-colours and Paintings

10 March 1938

In his exhibition at the Lefèvre Galleries Mr. William Roberts shows a number of new oil paintings and, together with these, his preliminary studies for them, both water-colours and drawings. In these studies the whole design is usually worked out with remarkable certainty and completeness; everything that is in the finished painting is there, and the picture only adds the resistance and firmness that is given by its medium. Indeed, there is often more in the study than in the picture; in his water-colours Mr. Roberts often allows his figures a surrounding atmosphere and space which they lack in the oil paintings. This may possibly result from the indefinite quality of water-colour and its capacity for automatically suggesting an atmospheric haze; in the oil paintings, at any rate, the suppression of space seems to be quite deliberate. The figures are firmly gripped in a purely linear design and with a marked repetitive rhythm. The harsh colours are scarcely softened by distance, and whatever background the picture has stands like a wall against which the figures are pressed. As these figures are extremely realistic, often to the point of being grotesque, the effect is certainly disconcerting; but it cannot be denied that these paintings make an extremely definite and complete statement, and Mr. Roberts shows, as always, his remarkable power of grasping a figure as a whole.

[Works shown works included Sun-bathing, The Masks, The Gutter, The Palm Foretells, The Orchard, Chamber Music, Bohemians, Spanish Beggars, Shuttlecock, The Tea Room.]


The Dance in Art
Wide Range of Styles

4 July 1938

Under the title of “The Dance” there is at the Leicester Galleries a comprehensive exhibition of 200 works in painting, drawing, engraving, and sculpture by artists past and present, all concerned, whether as designers, poets, or caricaturists, with the common subject. The range in time is wide enough to include Callot, Marcellus Laroon, and Longhi at one end, and Mr. Richard Sickert, Mr. Ethelbert White, and Miss Nadia Benois at the other, and the range in styles would baffle description.

It is a lively show, but for descriptive purposes it presents the difficulty of distracting attention not only between subject and pictorial interest but also between emotional attitudes in the artists, as they may be sympathetic or satirical … “Au Théâtre,” by Degas, “Ballet at Her Majesty’s,” by Mr. Sickert, “Design for Ballet ‘Job,’” by Mrs. Gwen Raverat, “Folk Dance,” by Mr. William Roberts, and very particularly, “Costume du moyen age from Spessivtseva,” by N. Gontcharova, are all pictures worth seeing.


Art in Bristol
16 August 1938

The welcome news in The Times of August 13 that means have been found to save Thomas Chatterton’s house and school, Bristol, originally scheduled for demolition because of the new Western Road, is a good pretext for calling attention to the excellent work that is now being done in Bristol both as regards the preservation of the old and the acquisition of the new …

Recent additions to the permanent collection of the Art Gallery are “The Palms Foretell,” by Mr. William Roberts, presented by Mr. Samuel Courtauld, Mr. J. M. Keynes, and Mr. Hindley Smith; “Statue in a Park,” by Mr. Mark Gertler, presented by the Contemporary Art Society; and “Fishing Boat at Staithes,” by Mr. Rowland Suddaby, presented by Mrs. King-Farlow, who has also given one of her own paintings to the gallery. These three contemporary paintings help to remove the reproach that the Bristol permanent collection is a bit behind the times …


Mr. Mark Gertler
An Appreciation
27 June 1939

… Gertler’s early portraits and still lives show a conscientious search after that simplification of statement, that reduction of form to bare essentials, that was the chief preoccupation of the Post-Impressionist school. Noses and fingers were summarized rather than limned in the entirety of their detail, and arms and legs were more or less tubular formations, though never the uncompromising tubes of Mr. William Roberts …


Leicester Galleries
Autumn Exhibitions

25 October 1939

The autumn exhibitions at the Leicester Galleries consist of selected paintings, drawings, and pottery lent by the Contemporary Art Society, and paintings and sculpture for sale by modern British artists. By this time it is hardly necessary to emphasize the value of the Contemporary Art Society as a “feeder” of the public galleries and museums, but it may be recalled that one of its advantages is that it enables the person of moderate means to become an artistic benefactor by means of an annual subscription. The 59 works at the Leicester Galleries have been acquired over a period from 1918 to the present year, and they represent a collection of things at least worthy of consideration which might otherwise have passed into private hands or got buried in the despair of studios.

The most substantial of the paintings, and the one most obviously a picture to be rescued from oblivion, is “The Chess Players,” by Mr. William Roberts, a typical example of his power to combine character with formal interest. It is a picture that should appeal to both sides in artistic opinion. Among other works that it was wise to acquire and will contribute to war-time refreshment are “Landscape,” by Mr. David Jones; “Still Life: flowers,” by the later Mr. Roger Fry; “Suspension Bridge, Bath,” by Mr. John Nash; “Still life: violin and flowers,” by the late Mr. Mark Gertler; “German landscape,” by the late Mr. Vivien Forbes; and “Dead resort,” by Mr. John Piper …


Portrait of Canadian G.O.C
29 January 1940

Mr. William Roberts has been commissioned to paint the portrait of Major-General McNaughton, G.O.C., Canadian Forces. The artist hopes to finish the portrait after four sittings of one hour each. This portrait will be one of a series of the senior officers of the Services, the pictorial method having been officially adopted as a means of introducing the Empire’s war-time leaders to Great Britain.


War Artists
Salaried Posts and Work on Commission

14 March 1940

The Ministry of Information issued last night a statement on the work of the Artists’ Advisory Committee, appointed in November under the chairmanship of Sir Kenneth Clark to advise on the selection of artists to record the war at home and abroad. The other members of the Committee are Sir Walter Russell, R.A., Sir Muirhead Bone, and Mr. P. H. Jowett, R.W.S.

Below is a list of all the artists so far commissioned on the recommendation, or with the concurrence, of the Committee. Some of the names have already been announced.


Sir Muirhead Bone, LL.D., D.Litt., Tempy. Hon. Major, Royal Marines.

Mr. E. Ardizzone.
Mr. Edward Bawden.
Mr. R. G. Eves, R.A.
Mr. Barnett Freedman.

Mr. Keith Henderson, R.W.S.
Mr. Paul Nash.


Mr. John Nash, A.R.A., Tempy. Hon. Captain, Royal Marines.
Mr Eric Ravilious, Tempy. Hon. Captain, Royal Marines.

Mr. Anthony Gross.

Mr. Francis Dodd, R.A. (armament and munition manufacture).
Mr. Hubert Freeth (a portrait).
Mr. A. S. Hartrick (land work).
Mr. Eric Kennington (portraits).
Mr. Henry Lamb (portraits).
Mr. Raymond McGrath (aircraft manufacture).
Mr. Robert Medley (A.R.P. subjects).
Mr. H. V. Pitchforth (A.R.P. subjects).
Mr. William Roberts (portraits).
Mr. Henry Rushbury, R.A. (armament and munition manufacture).

The committee have also recommended the purchase of works produced independently by Mr. Charles Cundall (a sketch of the arrival of H.M.S. Exeter), Mr. Anthony Gross (two pictures of London during war-time), Mr. H. V. Pitchforth (two pictures of street workers), and Sir William Rothenstein (seven portraits of R.A.F. personalities). They have recommended the acceptance, as a gift from the artist, of a further portrait by Sir William Rothenstein.

Artists recommended for salaried posts will not necessarily hold them for the duration of the war. Fresh artists may be appointed from time to time. The committee have in mind that some of the best pictures of the last War were painted by those who had served in the Armed Forces, and they are anxious that the way should be open for artists serving in the Navy, Army, and Air Force in the present war to be available later on for employment as official artists.

The committee state that they are endeavouring to secure equality of treatment in the matter of fees between artists who are working in the national cause, and they are happy to find that established artists, who normally command high fees, are ready to accept lower fees for work they will undertake on their behalf than they would normally expect to receive from private patrons. By so doing, not only have they made a personal contribution to the national cause, but have also made it possible for more money to be available to commission works from less well-known, but not less deserving, artists.


National Gallery
First War Pictures

2 July 1940

The first war pictures by artists working under the direction of the Services and other Government departments are to be seen in an exhibition which will be open to the public from to-morrow at the National Gallery … No elaborate or full-length portraits have yet been commissioned, but there are some good drawings by Mr. Roberts, some harshly vigorous pastels by Mr. Kennington, and some oil sketches by Mr. Eves …


Leicester Galleries
Contemporary Paintings

16 January 1941

An exhibition of paintings and drawings by contemporary British artists opens to-day at the Leicester Galleries and is to continue until February 8.

On the whole it is the older painters who are most strikingly represented, particularly Mr. Richard Sickert, whose “At Bathampton,” a painting of cows feeding in lush summer meadows glowing with morning light, is a beautiful thing … For those that like their several styles there are also examples of Miss Frances Hodgkins, Mr. Graham Sutherland, and Mr. William Roberts.


Painters at Oxford
The Contemporary Art Society

17 February 1941

The Contemporary Art Society has arranged an exhibition of pictures by artists now working in or near Oxford, and the private view was held on Saturday at the Ashmolean Museum. The Director of the Tate Gallery, Dr. John Rothenstein, declared the exhibition open.

Evidently Oxford has a most distinguished artistic population at the moment, for those contributing to the exhibition include Sir William Rothenstein, who sends an agreeably decorative oil-painting of a country church, and Sir Muirhead Bone, who shows four drawings, of which one, “Near Gundvagen, Norway,” in pencil delicately tinted with water-colour, is a specially fine example. Another good group of drawings, all of Oxford architecture, is contributed by Professor Randolph Schwabe.

Of the painters in oils, perhaps the best represented is Mr. Albert Rutherston, who has three pictures of very high quality, including his brilliant early portrait of the late F. Spencer Gore, and “The Pump,” a small landscape – bright in colour and precise in effect rather than in detail – which has been bought by the Tate Gallery. Mr. John Nash’s “The River Below the Hill” is one of his fresh and not too much stylized renderings of the green English countryside. His brother, Mr. Paul Nash, in five exhibits, again shows his command of lovely soft colours, but again leaves one not quite satisfied with his forms. Others who are well represented are Mr. Thomas Lowinsky with a curious fantastic landscape executed in a smooth, highly polished style, Mr. Allan Gwynne-Jones, Mr. William Roberts (more pleasing than he often is), and Mr. Percy Horton.


Redfern Gallery
Artists of Individuality

9 July 1942

Mr. John Tunnard and Mr. William Roberts share between them the new exhibition at the Redfern Gallery, 20, Cork Street, W. The private view takes place to-day, and the general opening will be to-morrow. The exhibition is to continue until the end of the month …

Mr. Tunnard, who is showing some 30 new oil paintings and water-colours, is the most interesting and attractive of the abstract artists now exhibiting. He has imagination, much charm of colour, and a pleasing quality of paint (in both mediums) …

In strong contrast to Mr. Tunnard’s work is that of Mr. Roberts, but he too is an artist with an individuality of his own. He has devised for himself a convention for representing the human race which is identifiable at a glance. His clumsy, staring-eyed, fish-mouthed, heavy-jawed puppets may look as if they were filled with sawdust, yet they have vigour, and sometimes humour, and the artist manages to arrange them into very ingenious patterns – as, for example, in “Cricket,” “Errand Boys” (on bicycles), and “Folk Dance.” His love for brick-reds (e.g. in Nos. 14 and 15) as flesh tints is sometimes rather trying, and though his view of life, and especially of proletarian amusements, has (as already noted) humour, it is a brutal humour, quite without delicacy or gaiety. Mr. Roberts’s art is an ugly one, but at least it is an art.


Acquisitions by Tate Gallery
Two Self-Portraits

5 August 1942

The Trustees of the Tate Gallery have recently purchased two remarkable self-portraits. One, a fairly recent and broadly executed painting by Mr. William Roberts, is in marked contrast to the other, an early work by Gwen John (1876–1939), almost tentative in handling and subtle in characterization …


“Artists of Fame and Promise”
A New Edition

1 September 1942

The second edition of the “Artists of Fame and Promise” exhibition, now on view at the Leicester Galleries, Leicester Square, is almost entirely a new show … A “Study of Heads,” by Mr. William Roberts, shows him working with accomplishment in a completely naturalistic mood …


Modern British Pictures for U.S. Museums
8 September 1942

The report of the Contemporary Art Society for the years 1940 and 1941 records “a novel and important development”: for the first time examples of modern British painting were presented to museums in the New World.

Dr. John Rothenstein, Director of the Tate Gallery, arranged the gifts while visiting America. Mr. Stanley Spencer’s “Nursery” was given to the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Mr. David Jones’s “Meadow Gate” to the Art Institute, Chicago; Mr. William Roberts’s “Chess Players” to the Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey; and Miss Ethel Walker’s “Gabriel von Schnell” to the National Museum of Canada.

Paintings, drawings,or other works of art were also given to the Tate Gallery, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and to many British provincial galleries.


Artists of Fame and Promise
“Second Edition” of Exhibition

19 August 1944

The exhibition of pictures by “Artists of Fame and Promise” at the Leicester Galleries, Leicester Square, is now in a “second edition,” which consists of an entirely, or almost entirely, new selection of paintings and drawings.

Sir William Nicholson’s contributions to the collection are among those which leave the clearest impression on the mind … Other things to be noted especially are Mr. Leonard Greaves’s sombrely rich “Still Life in a Mirror”; Mr. William Roberts’s vivid head of a gypsy girl, painted in a less formalized style than is usual with him; and Mr. Ruskin Spear’s “Children in a Street,” which is sketchy and smudgy in method, but perfectly clear and crisp in effect …


Art exhibition
6 November 1945

The current exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, Leicester Square, is divided between three contemporary artists – Mr. William Roberts, Mr. Henry Lamb, A.R.A., and Miss Dora Gordine.

In the first gallery are Mr. Roberts’s coloured drawings. These are, so to speak, a highly specialized product, consisting chiefly of repetitions in varying combination of his own formula for the human form – bullet-headed, half anthropoid, with black eyes very round except at the outer corners, and seeming as if sand-papered from some rough-hewn wood into a sort of smooth clumsiness. Such figures – drinking, gossiping, riding bicycles, or what not – Mr. Roberts fits together into a close-knit composition, the result of considerable ingenuity and dexterity …


English Paintings and Drawings
Three Exhibitions

23 February 1946

The Redfern Gallery, 20, Cork Street, has an exhibition of paintings and drawings by English artists, including a number of works which date back to some of the first attempts of the English school to begin painting again after the end of the nineteenth century … There are also works by many later artists, including Mark Gertler, Mr. William Roberts, Mr. Duncan Grant, Mr. R. Moynihan, and Christopher Wood …


Leicester Galleries
Miss Gordine’s Recent Sculpture

1 November 1949

Miss Dora Gordine’s recent sculpture in bronze at the Leicester Galleries mostly consists of nudes in the pose of a dancer or in a phase of some other complicated movement, and these make a great contrast to the one or two heads which she also shows …

New drawings by Mr. William Roberts are shown at the same gallery. They are water-colours in the same style as his oils, with the same very able grouping and construction of distorted figures, and it may be noticed that even in his satirical subjects, which are extremely funny, he is quite unable to produce an evasive composition or to pass lightly over a difficult transition. But, at the same time, the medium of water-colour brings out a lightness and delicacy of touch, and even a certain charm of colour, which it has not always been so easy to find in his oils; few artists have ever concentrated as rigidly as Mr. Roberts on a single kind of picture in a style which admits of no variety or licence, and the reward of such devotion is certainly apparent here …

[Works shown included Spanish Rhythm, Channel Crossing 1934–5, Self-portrait 1936–7, Cricket 1938, The Guitarist 1943, The Gipsies 1946–7, Crossing the Minch 1946–7, Homage à Stulik 1948, A Reception at the London Group 1948–9, Bus Stop 1948–9.]


Leicester Galleries
“Artist of Fame and Promise”

25 August 1950

The second half of the annual exhibition of “Artists of Fame and Promise” contains a large number of accomplished and very often pleasing paintings, most of them fairly small, only a few of which attempt anything startling in the way of modernity. Generally some degree of impressionism has been the artist’s method, and in many cases – both among the famous and the promising – it has been used very successfully.

A purely personal expression of preference might begin by selecting Mr. Ruskin Spear’s two interiors and Mr. William Roberts’s “A Gipsy Girl,” this last a firm and able piece of naturalism, as among the most immediately attractive of the 216 exhibits …


The Royal Academy
Summer Show at Burlington House

By Our Art Critic
5 May 1951

… For those that look for a glimpse of 1951, after all that has been done to illustrate it elsewhere, there is Gallery VIII, dominated by a systematically distorted but rather anecdotal composition by Mr. John Minton and by a large and particularly uncompromising example of the work of Mr. William Roberts. It cannot be said that this room offers anything like an adequate survey of recent developments in British painting, but this is clearly not because more conspicuously unrepresentative works would have been excluded; a still-life completely in the manner of Picasso, a nearly abstract still-life by Mr. Jan Le Witt in the style of the paintings which he recently showed at the Hanover Gallery, and the extreme distortion of Mr. Roy de Maistre’s interesting compositions have all been liberally accepted. Mr. Roberts’s “Temptations of St. Anthony” well repays attention, in spite of the harsh distortion of the figures, which tends to suggest that the saint’s temptations were easy to resist …


Tate Gallery Acquisitions
17 August 1951

It was announced yesterday that during the past few months the trustees of the Tate Gallery have purchased, among other works, two oil paintings, William Roberts’s “Cantering to the Post” and Gilbert Spencer’s “Saches Meadow,” a bronze by Fritz Wotruba, “Standing Figure,” and Edward Bawden’s “The Canmore Mountain Range” …


An Exhibition of Contemporary Art
20 March 1952

Some of the works lent by members of the committee to an exhibition arranged by the Contemporary Art Society, which opens to-morrow at the Tate Gallery, are reproduced on this page. [They include] “Judgment of Paris” by Mr. William Roberts, lent by Mr. W. A. Evill …


The Royal Academy
Summer Exhibition of 1,579 Works
By Our Art Critic
3 May 1952

… An early work by Mr. Eric Kennington, the large picture on glass, “The Kensingtons at Laventie,” which was painted during the 1914–18 war, holds the attention in Gallery No. II; it is an astonishing work of skill and power without sensibility, executed with enough drive and assurance to supply the needs of a dozen more cautious and self-critical artists. There is much the same grasp and force in Mr. William Roberts’s large figure composition, “The Revolt in the Desert,” and this artist’s implacable distortions seem to pose much the same aesthetic problem as Mr. Kennington’s terrifyingly unreal realism …


The Leicester Galleries
Mr. Terry Frost

13 October 1952

… In the same gallery there is a selection of pictures from the collection of Mr. Wilfrid A. Evill, all by British artists, with good examples of the work of Mr. Graham Sutherland, Gaudier-Brzeska, Mr. Stanley Spencer, Spencer F. Gore, Mr. William Roberts [The Restaurant 1929, The Recorder Player 1935–6, The Grand Chantrey Stakes 1949], and Mr. William Scott …


Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
Use of the Chantrey Bequest

By Our Art Critic
2 May 1953

… In Gallery No. VIII a group of what might be described as modern pictures is segregated; there is a large, lively, and entertaining interior with figures by Mr. Ruskin Spear and one of Mr. William Roberts’s very thorough compositions of mechanized figures [Trafalgar Square 1952]. But it is in no way a good or representative selection of contemporary painting, and certainly not to be compared with an average exhibition of the London Group …


Quality at the Academy
Notable Portraits in Summer Exhibition

By Our Special Correspondent
30 April 1955

… There is little of note this year in the way of subject-pictures: Mr. Stanley Spencer’s are disappointing, Mr. Ruskin Spear’s distasteful; there is, however, a vastly entertaining “Birth of Venus” by Mr. William Roberts …


“Artists of Fame and Promise”
Flight from Familiar Styles

2 August 1955

Two works by famous artists stand out like beacons in the Leicester Galleries’ summer exhibition, “Artists of Fame and Promise,” and put the rest of it in a rather watery light … One … is a decorated plate by Matisse which was executed in 1906 … The other is Sir Jacob Epstein’s portrait bronze of Mr Sholem Asch …

There are characteristic works by Mr. Allan Gwynne Jones, Mr. Stanley Spencer, Mr. Duncan Grant, Mr. L.S. Lowry, Miss Bellingham-Smith, Miss Mary Potter, Mr. Ben Nicholson, and Mr. William Roberts …


Art in British Advertising
Charm and Nostalgia in Exhibition Ranging over Half a Century

22 November 1955

Sir David Eccles, Minister of Education, last night opened the Art in British Advertising Exhibition, presented by the Advertising Creative Circle and sponsored by The Times, at the R.B.A. Galleries, Suffolk Street, W.1 …

A Special Correspondent writes: –

Although this exhibition, which takes up the whole of the R.B.A. Galleries, does not aim at being comprehensive, it gives more than a fair range of the best things there have been to look at on hoardings and in advertising columns of newspapers from the forcefully simple posters of the Beggarstaff Brothers and Dudley Hardy’s somewhat Parisian-looking Gaiety Girls of more than 50 years ago to the latest Shell-Mex and I.C.I. advertisements.

The choice has been made on an aesthetic basis, which as far as the public is concerned is the only criterion, for if a cheap and nasty picture happens to be more effective in selling a product it does not become a better advertisement from the point of view of the public than one which is less successful but more pleasing. On the other hand, this basis for selection gives an an altogether too flattering impression of British advertising unless one remembers that the exhibition consists primarily of of “art in advertising” rather than “art of advertising,” for practically all the exhibits are straightforward paintings, lithographs, and drawings reproduced with a minimum of copy, usually only a few words. The artists on the whole have not been confined to a limited theme or preconceived subject. Nor has their work been tampered with – like Sir John Millais’ famous “Bubbles” (of which the original is on show) which had a lump of soap added to it. Most of the examples were not designed to plug a new or slow-selling product, but to increase the prestige of nationally accepted wares.

The familiar series of London Transport posters by artists as diverse as E. McKnight Kauffer, William Roberts, and Ivon Hitchens, of which there is a fine selection in this exhibition including two early Sutherlands, come into this category, so do the equally praiseworthy Lyons tea shop lithographs, of which practically the whole set is here, but which can hardly be called advertisements, since they have no wording, boost no products, and are merely used to decorate the walls of shops …


Vorticist Works at Mixed Exhibition in London
9 January 1956

The New Year exhibition at the Leicester Galleries offers a much more interesting mixed collection than the two “Fame and Promise” shows held there last summer. As usual the entrance gallery is devoted to drawings, and there may be found two works belonging to the short period of Vorticism.

These are a splendidly vigorously design by Mr. Wyndham Lewis for a programme cover which was reproduced in the second number of Blast and a sketch by William Roberts for a paintings of carpenters dating from 1912. In this the stylizations which were later to become more austere, mechanistic, and indeed decorative are shown in a state of emergence and indeed both the the substance and the relationship of the figures are more powerful and dramatic …


Painter Consistent in Style
7 February 1958

The paintings and drawings by Mr. William Roberts now on view at the Leicester Galleries, the product of fairly recent years, show how remarkably consistent he has remained in style and character. Here typically are those groups of figure in which the mechanistic and the grotesque are combined a way that has long been immediately recognizable as Mr. Roberts’s own. His modernization of “The Rape of the Sabines,” a fantasy of human machines, and his “Masked Revels” with its robotesque jollity are among the more elaborate examples.

It may be accounted a criticism that, as the present exhibition shows, his rigid conventions of style, having their origin in Vorticism and modified only in portraiture, have changed little with the years, and that one might be reminded by his “1943 A.D.” as much of the First World War as of the Second. At the same time one feels that it is something to have evolved so individual a manner, for which he is not always given full credit, and also that many of the works shown here spring from a lively and unabating interest in everyday life and the contemporary scene. The modern street pattern is rendered with gusto and an attractive gaiety of colour in “Bus Stop” and “Request Stop,” and a number of other watercolours successfully combine cylindrical and cubic form with observation and satiric humour. The tom-tom players in his “Drums” and the reclining lovers of “Summer Night” are examples of Roberts at his best …


Matisse Seen by Derain
Tate Gallery’s New Portrait

10 April 1958

Among the pictures acquired by the Tate Gallery during the past few months the most important is a portrait of “Henri Matisse” by Derain … British works of the last hundred years are also among the new acquisitions … [The Trustees] have also purchased a watercolour, “The Horse-dealers,” by William Roberts …


Two New A.R.A.s
26 April 1958

At a general assembly of academicians and associates held yesterday Mr. Uli Nimptsch, sculptor, and Mr. William Roberts, painter, were elected associates of the Royal Academy.


How Good Artists May be Forgotten
From a Correspondent
7 October 1958

That it is still possible for an artist of considerable merit to escape notice during his lifetime was brought home to me by the current Arts Council retrospective exhibition of paintings and drawings by David Bomberg, who died last year. He was not, it is true, completely unknown, but only a faint and distant celebrity attached to his part in the London Group of 1913, then new and challenging, and the Cubist-Vorticist period when his efforts had some relation to those of Wyndham Lewis and William Roberts. When, subsequently, he took an individual line, he seemed to disappear from view, though how vigorously he continued to work we are now reminded by a succession of fine pictures from those of Petra in 1924 to those of wartime and post-war …


Ritual Dances
Mr. Anthony Fry’s New Paintings
From Our Art Critic
3 January 1959

The New Year is ushered in at the Leicester Galleries with a pleasing flourish. In the Hogarth Room items from Mr. Robert Banks’s collection are on view, and as if this very personal miscellany, with its notable Bacon and wallfuls of Keith Vaughan and Burra were not interesting enough, the Leicester’s own mixed exhibition includes, in a side room to themselves, four large recent paintings by Mr. Anthony Fry which necessitate a visit on their account alone …

The remainder of the exhibition offers a pleasant assortment through which to browse, with reason to pause before such items as Rousseau’s drawings, a vorticist design by Mr. Frank Dobson, two water-colours and two paintings by Mr. Alan Reynolds which carry his landscapes to a stage of abstract crystallization, two heads by Mark Gertler, an unusually early portrait head by Sir Jacob Epstein, a landscape by Gilman, and an ugly but robustly idiosyncratic panel by Mr. William Roberts …


Friends of the Tate buy a Henry Moore Group
From Our Art Critic
5 February 1959

The formal presentation took place last night at the Tate Gallery of the first four works of art to be purchased by the Friends of the Tate. This society, it will be remembered, was formed last April to help raise the “spending money” then so desperately needed to improve the quality of the national collections, and though the recent Government grant has in the meantime somewhat improved the gallery’s financial situation, the value of the Friends’ contribution is amply demonstrated by the excellence of their present choice.

That Mr. Henry Moore should be as strongly represented at the Tate as possible is only right and proper, and it is equally right and proper that it should possess a cast of his bronze “King and Queen.” This haunting work with its aura of primitive nobility shot through with a peculiarly modern, nervous quality in the lightly resting hands as well as in the quizzical heads themselves, was Mr. Moore’s major work of 1952–53, and the present cast, the fifth, was one specially made in 1957 and sold to the Friends of the Tate for the cost of the casting alone. Mr. William Roberts is also represented already in the collection, but “The Diners,” an important early painting (about 1919), will provide the most substantial example of his work. Stamped with the jazzy shapes and rhythms of a final stage of Vorticism, the picture is believed to have been one of three panels in the decoration of an ante-room at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Percy Street, which also boasted murals by Wyndham Lewis …

[Continues with descriptions of the other two works gifted by the Friends of the Tate: Robert Delaunay’s La Ville, Première Etude and Constant Permeke’s Harvest.]


A Private Collection
Loan Exhibition at Kettering

From Our Art Critic
23 April 1959

The Art Gallery at Kettering, built originally to house Sir Alfred East’s bequest of his own paintings to his native town, is at present showing (until May 18) an exhibition of paintings, prints and drawings from the collection of Sir David Scott …

In the second room two forcefully colourful Duncan Grants and a splendid drawing and portrait of a schoolboy, as solid as sculpture, by William Roberts, stand out …


The 1959 Royal Academy
1 May 1959

A selection of oil paintings from the 1959 Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, which opens in London to-morrow and will continue until August 16. There are 1,542 exhibits in this year’s, the one hundredth and ninety-first, exhibition.

[Eight photographs of works in the 1959 RA Summer Exhibition, including WR’s Trooping the Colour.]


Academy Makes Concessions
From Our Art Critic
1 May 1959

“You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backwards,” wrote Thurber. One applies the moral to this year’s Royal Academy exhibition, which opens to the public to-morrow, at the invitation, disarmingly enough, of the Academy itself: the quotation appears on the title page of the catalogue. Is it challenge, explanation, or excuse? A little of each, perhaps, but at least a provocative motto, which makes it clear that the Academy has given thought to the wearisomely reiterated complaints about its standards, even to criticism of the kind that has just been called “leftish” by the president, and is prepared within its limits to do something about them.


The exhibition follows last year’s precedent of mixing “leftish” and “rightish” elements, as we now seem obliged to call them … The Academy has within its ranks not a few artists of solid worth and achievement, and could accommodate more without undue sacrifice of principle on either side. But such artists need occasionally to show their most ambitious work to make their allegiance appear worth while, and this Mr. Carel Weight, Mr. William Roberts, Mr. Norman Blamey, and Mr. John Bratby have done.

Mr. Roberts’s “Trooping the Colour” is the sort of painting which possibly no visitor between now and August will admit to liking; it is rigid, schematic, and harsh in colour, and the figures are characteristically puppet-like. But what subject could be more fitted to puppet-like depiction than soldiers on ceremonial parade, what patterns better adapted to geometric regularity than those made by serried ranks of identical uniforms, marching feet, and sloping bayonets? The painting, in a word, triumphs by logic; it is a complicated, highly skilful achievement which makes the most of an heraldic subject in heraldic manner …


Royal Academy’s Larger Sales
12 May 1959

By the end of Sunday, the eighth day of the Royal Academy’s 191st exhibition, sales were, in value at any rate, enormously up on last year – 323 works sold for £30,644 compared with (at the same juncture) 316 for only £19,993. Last year the total for the whole season was £32,554.

It would seem that patrons are now paying on the average something rather less than £95 for a picture: but the financial range remains, in fact, huge. At one end, an engraving for a couple of guineas, at the other Augustus John’s “Dorelia” awaits a buyer at £2,500. Also waiting for a buyer, at £1,500, is William Roberts’s “Trooping the Colour.”


Has the Machine had an Influence on Art?
From a Correspondent
8 September 1959

… Some distinction has evidently to be made between being “machine-conscious” – or interpreting the spirit of a “mechanical age” – and depicting its products in the traditional fashion. The distinction is first illustrated by developments in European art between 1910 and 1914. Cubism, one might say, was as remote from mechanical progress in its origin and growth as Early English Watercolour (however different in other respects). The components of a Cubist still-life, pipe, guitar, wineglass, were no more modern than those of seventeenth-century painters like Kalf or Heda. Yet its end product was a style or way of looking at things which became identified with the growing respect for machine forms extravagantly expressed by the Futurists.

What, in fact, was a “machine form” except one of those basic geometrical figures which Cézanne had found in nature? The cylinder, for example, a characteristic metal product of the factory, became for some artists a symbol of human life and its modern trend. The robot, an instance of this symbolism, was not the invention of the playwright alone; one can find it (or him) in the “Card Players” of Fernand Léger, who in 1917 depicted the poilu as a metallic man, his arms and fingers so many iron tubes, and again in the mechanized genre of Mr. William Roberts …


Unspectacular but Satisfying
Leicester Galleries’ Miscellany

6 January 1960

The New Year miscellany at the Leicester Galleries is not an exhibition to provoke jeremiads on the fifties or prophecies for the sixties such as most people are indulging in this week. It collects pictures from an older generation and those of the gallery’s younger protégés and brings them together in its own quiet way, without comment, to make an unspectacular, but solidly satisfying, collection.

… There [is] … a lively, tight little painting by Mr. William Roberts [Newspapers 1926] …


Gifts to the Tate
5 February 1960

… An early drawing, “Gymnastics,” by William Roberts, has been purchased …


Spencer Group Brings Distinction to Otherwise Dull Academy
From Our Art Critic
29 April 1960

… Among a few other works that deserve mention are Mr. Robert Buhler’s diploma portrait, “John Davenport”, with green and blue matched against a ground of sombre red; a grotesque little image by Mr. L. S. Lowry of a beggar pushing a pram; two examples by Mr. William McTaggart of the Scottish school’s rich gift for colour; and attractive work by Mrs. Jean Bratby, Mr. Peter Coker, Mr. William Roberts [Flamenco and TV], and Mr. Frederick Gore …


Poor Year at the Academy
Crowded Walls but Little Quality

From Our Art Critic
28 April 1961

… A good many of the best paintings are either old work or have been exhibited already … But while it is understandable that artists should want certain of their works to reach as large an audience as possible, and be on view in the most effective shop-window available during the year, it is a pity that so few take the opportunity to paint with this particular exhibition in mind; there is, after all, no comparable opportunity for stretching the artistic muscles on a public style. Mr. William Roberts, Mr. Carel Weight and Mr Ruskin Spear most consistently attempt it, though Mr. Roberts’s small self-portrait is more attractive than his two larger compositions [The Dove and Sunflowers]…


Fewer Pictures, but also Fewer Good Ones, at This Year’s Academy
From Our Art Critic
4 May 1962

… Conspicuous successes in particular rooms include … a large idiosyncratic picture in an honourable tradition, of “The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring, 1915” by our only artist still willing, or perhaps able, to carry out this type of big, formal group-composition, Mr. William Roberts …


Chantrey Bequest Purchases
10 May 1962

The Royal Academy has bought three works in the academy’s summer exhibition under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest. They are “Professor Carel Weight” (oil), by Ruskin Spear, R.A..; “The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring, 1915” (oil), by William Roberts, A.R.A.; and “Alcaniz, 1962” (oil), by Tristram Hiller, A.R.A.


Progress in Rehanging at the Tate
21 March 1963

Since The Times last gave some account f the steps taken at the Tate Gallery to present the historical British School in ordered arrangement, the work has been carried much farther, and the full extent of the plan can now be appreciated. In general, the aim of the director, Sir John Rothenstein, has been consistently to provide a chronological sequence; within it, to collect together works related in style and character; and to give a considered proportion to the showing of individual artists. The result is a greatly improved exposition of development and change from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century …

English Impressionism and the painting of the 1890s, overlapping into the present century, constitute a room in which Sickert, Steer, William Rothenstein, Nicholson, and Pryde appear. Two new Sickerts are among them, the bearded self-study, “The Servant of Abraham,” and the portrait of Gilman. This room appropriately paves the way for the selection of works of the Camden Town period. The period of Vorticism, the First World War, and early stirrings of the modern spirit provides an interesting room in which are paintings by Wyndham Lewis, W. P. Roberts, C. R. W. Nevinson, Paul Nash, and Christopher Wood …


3 May 1963

[A photograph captioned ‘“The Common Market”, by Mr. William Roberts, A.R.A, one of the paintings in the 195th Royal Academy of Arts summer exhibition’.]


Tate Gets a Work by Millares
6 May 1963

“Painting No. 150, 1961”, by the Spanish artist Manolo Millares has been purchased by the Trustees of the Tate Gallery … Purchases of modern British artists include two early drawings by William Roberts [Leadenhall Market 1913] and David Jones and a recent sculpture by Elizabeth Frink …


Christian Themes in Painting
From a Correspondent
13 July 1963

Thanks to the generosity of a Methodist layman concerned to do something to bridge the gulf which has existed for centuries in this country between the creative artist and the Church, the Methodist Education Department has been able to make a collection of 24 paintings (and four reliefs) calculated to revolutionize taste in a denomination not notable for aesthetic awareness.

This remarkable exhibition of contemporary paintings on Christian themes has just begun a tour of English provincial art galleries (and the National Museum of Wales) with a first showing at the Harris Art Gallery, Preston, where it will remain until July 17, to coincide with the presence of the Methodist Conference in that town.

Through this imaginative piece of patronage the Methodist Church has been able to obtain such outstanding paintings as Edward Burra’s colossal watercolour “The Pool of Bethesda”; a disturbing “Crucifixion” by F. N. Souza; William Roberts’s early “Crucifixion”, which was in the possession of Augustus John until his death, and though painted 40 years ago is remarkably “contemporary” in feeling and style; and three work by Francis Hoyland …


Chantrey Bequest
14 May 1964

The Lake” (oil) by William Roberts, A.R.A., “Nude” (oil) by Euan Uglow, “Landscape from the Balcony” (oil) by Roger de Grey, A.R.A., “Portrait sketch of L. S. Lowry” (oil) by Olwyn Bowey, and “Statuette” (bronze) by the late Frank Dobson, R.A., have been selected from the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy for purchase under the terms of the Chantrey Bequest. These five works will be presented to the Tate Gallery at the conclusion of the exhibition.


Half-Century of the London Group
By William Gaunt
7 July 1964

The groups formed in this century by British painters and sculptors of modern aim might be compared to a series of islands, a kind of archipelago stretching from the opening decade to the present day. A principal piece of firm ground, a main feature in the chart of development that can thus be traced, is the London Group, whose Jubilee Exhibition opens to the public at the Tate Gallery tomorrow week. Since 1914 it has represented so much of the best of British art as to map out an exciting history of the whole period.

… Between 1914 and 1919 there was a balance between the Post-Impressionism of Gilman, Robert Bevan and others and the Vorticism of Wyndham Lewis … and the dynamic war paintings of Nevinson. The late Charles Ginner – and William Roberts still – have been adherents of this group who long continued to represent its original different constituents of style and idea.


An Academician at the Tate
From Our Art Critic
20 November 1965

William Roberts is now 70. His paintings have not changed substantially since he found his style in the mid-twenties, but currents of opinion in England have alternated between welcoming his work and forgetting it entirely. Since 1958 he has not exhibited anywhere but the Royal Academy, but now the Arts Council have mounted a retrospective of more than 200 paintings which runs at the Tate Gallery until December 19.

Mr. Roberts is really a modernist in style but not in spirit. His formative years were spent in the company of the Vorticists, and his work was liberated by the deflected forces of French cubism, though he did not deeply absorb their ideas. After veering quite close to abstract art, he retreated and produced his own simplified and and mannered figurative style in which crowded groups of massive tubular-limbed figures are crammed into a shallow tilting space between background and picture-plane.

It is a style with an obvious resemblance to that of Leger, though Mr. Roberts has never evolved it to a comparable purity. His favourite subjects are groups engaged in the ordinary pleasures of city life – such things as bicycling, fishing, shopping – each individual fitting into a carefully constructed composition which ascends tier upon tier from the bottom to the top of the canvas. In many of these paintings the basic arrangement of forms remains heavy and static and is enlivened by anecdote and characterization, even caricature, in the faces and gestures. In fact there is a curious feeling of separation between the mechanistic forms of the bodies and background, and the faces and gestures, which seem close to those of Renaissance art.

These contrivances make many of Mr. Roberts’s large paintings difficult to accept in their entirety; a natural rhythm seems to be lost through too much effort. But there is much in them which is individual and fresh. There are details in his paintings which could well have been seized on for their implications and given a primary rather than a secondary role. This comes nearest to happening in some of the small paintings made in the early 1940s, many of which are landscapes. There is a precedent for this in the “Rustic Scene” of 1922, and though the later ones are more stylized, they have a sensual density almost non-existent in the large pictures. “Windy Day” and “The Ferry” are perhaps the best. In “Hampstead Fair”, which was made into a London Transport poster, and the earlier, adventurously coloured bicycle picture “Les Routiers”, he has captured vitality in the forms themselves, not merely reflected it in the faces.


New Academicians
29 April 1966

At a general assembly of Royal Academicians and associates yesterday Mr. William Roberts and Mr. Henry Carr, both aged 71, were elected Royal Academicians. Mr. John Armstrong, aged 73, was elected an associate of the Royal Academy.

Mr. Carr is a landscape, figure and portrait painter. Mr. Roberts was an official war artist in both world wars. Mr. Armstrong’s work included murals for the Festival of Britain.


Picture Gallery
23 May 1966

[A photograph captioned ‘“The Cinema”, 1920, by William Roberts, recently purchased by the Tate Gallery and hung in the room devoted to Vorticism and Surrealism.’]


Picture Gallery
26 August 1966

[Photographs captioned ‘Graham Sutherland’s deliberate tribute to Samuel Palmer, “A Kentish Barn”, and (top) William Roberts’s “No No Roger, Cézanne did not use it” (depicting Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry) in the exhibition of works from the Wilfrid Evill collection at the Graves Art Gallery until September 11.’]


Early Lelys for the Tate
9 November 1966

Recent acquisitions by the trustees of the Tate Gallery range from a pair of Lelys painted in the 1640s to a portrait painted this year by Francis Bacon …

The Return of Ulysses,” 1913, a small but strong and dramatic watercolour by William Roberts, augments the gallery’s Vorticist representation …


Painter under Arms
17 August 1967

William Roberts, writing of his friend, Wyndham Lewis, after his death, described him as he was in his prime – “alert eyed, with an assurance and provocative swagger in his bearing”, adding that “in a sense acquaintanceship with Wyndham Lewis was like a contest, in which you come out of your corner fighting – and the best man won”. Something more than a taste of this side of Lewis comes through in his Blasting and Bombadiering (Calder and Boyars, 42s.). It is a section of autobiography first published 30 years ago …


[Personal advertisements]
4 October 1967 (and other dates thereafter)

WILLIAM ROBERTS. American collector urgently requires early works; also Bomberg, Lewis, other Vorticist paintings. – Write Box 2395C, The Times, E.C.4.


The artist and war in the twentieth century
[apropos the exhibition ‘An Age of Conflict’ at the Imperial War Museum]
by T. G. Rosenthal
5 December 1967

… War, it has been said ad nauseam, brings out the best in people. Clearly it can occasionally bring out the best in a painter. C. R. W. Nevinson never painted again quite as well as when he did his war pictures … William Roberts rarely organized a complex canvas more successfully than in his “The First German Gas Attack at Ypres”, and Wyndham Lewis’s “A Battery Shelled” is a truly monumental work …


Art for the schools
by Guy Brett
24 January 1968

Some of the paintings bought by the Leicestershire Education Authority for its schools can be seen now at the Whitechapel Gallery

As seen here, the collection goes back to small paintings by Wyndham Lewis, Christopher wood and Stanley Spencer of the 1920s (a pity William Roberts’s “Dentist” of the same period is not hung) …


From the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition
3 May 1968

[Five photographs of works in the 1968 Summer Exhibition, including ‘“The Goal” by William Roberts, R.A.”]


Their two-hundredth show!
by William Gaunt
3 May 1968

The two-hundredth exhibition of the Royal Academy which opens to the public tomorrow gives many signs of carefully considered presentation and choice …

Mr. L. S. Lowry and Mr. William Roberts [including The Playground, The Fountain and The Goal] are in typical form in painting the contemporary scene …


William Roberts’ art in retrospect
by Guy Brett
Art Critic
29 September 1969

William Roberts’s platform has long been the Royal Academy summer exhibitions; his last appearance in a commercial gallery was in 1958, and his last but one, nine years before that. In mounting a small exhibition of William Roberts’s drawings and watercolours, the d’Offay Couper Gallery, Dering Street, W.1, may possibly sense a revival of interest in the kind of hard-edged realist style Roberts has practised for decades. The affection of younger artists for unpretentious styles of commercial illustration – comic strips and advertising – has had its effects. There is a certain similarity between the style of William Roberts and, for example, the solid simplifications in the well-known “Nancy” strip.

Whatever the reason, this exhibition gives a lot of pleasure. Though in some of his work, especially more recent paintings, Roberts has indulged his taste for anecdote to the point of making the massive simplifications of his figures seem no more than a mechanically employed mannerism, in earlier work these stylizations produce a clear and attractive rhythm. His subjects are nicely balanced between humorous observation and mystery. In “Channel Crossing” (1933) all the bits of the crowded composition – sailors’ uniforms, ship’s ventilator, mountains, water and clouds – have a distinct solidity as if cut out with a fretsaw. Roberts also makes humorous geometric play with the shadows on naked bodies.

Roberts was one of the Vorticist groups before the First World War, and one thing they all shared and which was possibly passed on to them by the Futurists, was an understanding of the dynamic effects of repetition. Roberts adapted this repetitiveness for his paintings of crowds of people swimming, doing gymnastics, eating in cafes and other commonplace events – but he uses it most personally in small details which appear almost incidental, like the three smooth rocks in the empty background of “Tropical Sea”.


The Vorticist explosion
by Guy Brett
Art Critic
27 November 1969

In English art of this century the impetus towards abstraction has usually come from abroad. Figuration (and isolation) has served very well one or two notable loners, but it has also been the retreat of English art when links abroad have been cut, particularly during and after the two wars. Vorticism is a record of a fantastic struggle to be free of this English “climate”, expressed verbally by Wyndham Lewis in the brilliant social satire of Blast magazine, and visually by the crowded, aggressive, zig-zagging forms in David Bomberg’s and William Roberts’s paintings, Gaudier-Brzeska’s sculpture and Wyndham Lewis’s drawings. Except for Wyndham Lewis and Laurence Atkinson, all these artists were in their 20s (or younger) when Vorticism blazed up suddenly at full strength in 1913 and 1914, only to be snuffed out totally by the war the next year.

The break produced by the war not only affected the artists so thoroughly that those who survived it never painted Vorticist pictures again, it also buried their prewar work. Until Antony d’Offay painstakingly assembled the exhibition of Vorticist work now at the d’Offay Couper Gallery, Dering Street, W.1, the movement had only been surveyed in one exhibition before, and that was in 1915.

D’Offay has carefully titled the show “Abstract art in England 1913–1915”. It is a blanket title which should quell the old disputes about the use of Ezra Pound’s term “Vorticist”, and about the relative importance of Wyndham Lewis as the leader. It treats the artists more as individuals. The d’Offay Couper exhibition is mostly of small works – drawings, watercolours and gouaches – therefore it gives an intimate knowledge of how these artists responded to the discoveries of Cubism and Futurism on the Continent (there was much travelling in both directions). They did so in different ways, but there is a steady high level of excitement shared between them …

The Vorticists were not imitating Cubism and Futurism. They had their own originality and great vigour. But there is a certain forced feeling underlying nearly all their work, and a kind of brittleness, which was possibly what was snapped by the war. In many ways the freshest legacy of Vorticism is the first issue of Blast, which was largely written by Lewis. It is great poetic satire, attacking art and life together, and it is set in free lines of block capitals, as if the book itself had become a loudspeaker.


London in the ’20s
by William Gaunt
18 August 1970

The character of British art in the decade 1920–1930 is not so easy to define in general terms as that of the foregoing period of 1910–1920, but the third of the Arts Council loan exhibitions arranged by Mr. David Bowness to trace development decade by decade since 1890 has clarification to offer and certainly a considerable number of good paintings and works of sculpture, now to be seen in London at the Camden Arts Centre …

A long-term result of Vorticism is called to the attention of visitor in the early style of William Roberts to which he has remained loyal down to the present time …


William Roberts
Hamet Gallery

by William Gaunt
5 March 1971

The retrospective exhibition of oil paintings and watercolours by William Roberts at the Hamet Gallery illustrates the remarkable consistency of a style that, after the Cubo-Futurist agitations of the Vorticist movement in 1914–15, has varied little through the years and displays the same distinct character in 1970 as in 1920.

In a time like the present when a special prestige attaches to surprise at all costs it might almost seem an adverse criticism to say that a Roberts of any period is at once recognizable by the same features. The massively constructed pieces of human mechanism in their geometric setting are of the same race in The Amateur and the Professional of last year as those of half-a-century ago.

Yet Roberts is an artist with a well-developed interest in everyday life and activity, and his style mécanique is not an end in itself but the means of giving a social picture in which there is humour and an occasional touch of satire. The variety in his work is that of subject, though conveyed by an ordered system of design. He compresses incidents together in such an oil as The Hungry Birds (1957–58) in a way that makes its own decorative pattern. In so good a pencil drawing as the study for Munitions Factory (1940), an acquisition of the Ipswich Museum, his attention is diverted for the moment to the visual character of the machine and machine-made object (as distinct from mechanical analogies with the human figure), but rural life, sport and urban entertainments claim him mostly.

The Toast of 1923 is an example of the humour with which he pictures a social assembly conforming to the required mood of the moment. The feeling for action derived from Futurism gives its elan to the Camel March of the same year. The Baseball Players, a watercolour of 1959 [reproduced with this article], illustrates his appreciation of movement and the Goal, of about the same period, the stylized comedy he discovers in a game. The many watercolours collected at the Hamet Gallery can be enjoyed almost as one might enjoy a collection of Rowlandsons, partly in the light tints of colour that serve as a foil to the hardness of form and partly in the sense of fun, even if this is sometimes of an elementary kind.

But to speak of fun is not to say that Roberts is not a serious draughtsman. A pencil self-portrait of c. 1965 is an impressive example of his ability to define form with a severely geometrical decision of line without losing an essential humanity. The exhibition continues until March 13.


Summer Exhibition
Royal Academy

by William Gaunt
30 April 1971

This year’s summer exhibition of the Royal Academy, open to the public from tomorrow, is on the whole one of the R.A.’s better recent shows. It is a mixture, of course, with some of the abrupt contrasts between works of very different kinds that are apt to be disconcerting, but not quite to be summed up as “the mixture as before” …

L. S. Lowry’s Shields Ferry, Carel Weight’s The Library, John Bratby’s Rima in orange slacks, William Roberts’s The Accused and Willi Soukop’s papier-maché Tranquillity are among the highlights of the academic establishment …


Charles Lahr
18 August 1971

Mr Rhys Davies writes:

Charles Lahr, who has died aged 86, was a long-established but wayward London bookseller who disliked selling a good book to the wrong customer, his knowledge of the former as instinctive as it was of the latter …

In 1920 he began bookselling with his equally book-engrossed wife, Esther, whose portrait by William Roberts he presented to the Tate Gallery last year …


Summer Exhibition
Royal Academy

by William Gaunt
28 April 1972

Larger than ever, the 204th Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy containing 1,179 exhibits is mainly of note for the wide range of styles it provides …

William Roberts, tireless in portrayal of a mechanized modernity, is vivid in Rush Hour


The Times Diary
Selling Well

6 May 1972

It looks as if sales at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition are going to reach £100,000. At the end of the first week 603 works have been sold for £64,312, compared with a total of 852 works sold for £67,023 for the entire exhibition last year – itself a record. In the first week last year 463 works sold for £41,878. Nicholas Usherwood, clerk to the Royal Academy, tells me attendance is well up on last year’s figures, 8,000 compared with 6,606.

Modern prints by young artists such as Michael Stokoe and Geoffrey Brunell have sold surprisingly well. The most popular price range is £150 to £300 and although the top price Lowry at £6,500 has not sold, a William Roberts has – for £2,000. John Armstrong, a surrealist painter popular in the 1930s who has not done particularly well recently has sold all six of his works as have Bernard Dunstan and Edward Ardizzone.


For Sale and Wanted
7 July 1972

WILLIAM ROBERTS. Collector interested to buy works by this artist – 01-235 9927 or Box 0059 T, The Times.


Upstairs and downstairs
Paul Overy
15 August 1972

The mixed shows put on by the dealers’ galleries during August are too often a way of dusting down the old stock, or a cautious one trying out of single works by young artists – dictated purely by commercial motives. But the better mixed shows, like those at the Waddington Galleries and at Kasmin’s, provide useful comparisons, and they have the advantage over one-man shows that one can respond to individual paintings …

The Hamet Gallery has a good selection of English twentieth-century figurative painting. A very fine Edward Burra, Camouflage, is one of this underrated artist’s best works … Another good English figurative artist is William Roberts, who has several paintings here. He is one of the few genuinely comic modern painters, and he shows a fine compassion and understanding for working-class life. (He was born in Hackney.) Roberts is particularly good at showing people at leisure, enjoying themselves in boats or at sports. He has often been compared with Leger, but his pictures of working-class life seem to me far more sensitive and human than Leger’s later monumental socialist realism …


British wartime art and the aftermath
Decade 1940–50
Whitechapel Art Gallery

by Guy Brett
1 November 1972

This is the fourth Arts Council exhibition [actually entitled ‘Decade 1940s’] to bring together painting sculpture and drawing in Britain over one decade of this century …

In the forties art in Britain returned to insularity after the international contacts of the thirties. But it was an important time in another way because of the war. Many British artists were involved in the war effort, as artists. Some had to turn their talents to purely practical problems, like the design of camouflage; others were literally “mobilized” by being sent off to different parts of the country to paint Britain at war …

As can be seen from the small selection in this exhibition, the artists’ responses varied a great deal. Moore, Sutherland and Piper found food for their romantic imaginations … By contrast William Roberts focused on quite another aspect. In his “Control Room,” crowded with telephonists and men poring over maps, and in his “Munitions Factory,” he showed a scientific, co-operative side of the war, which his plain-spoken, integrated style was well suited for doing …

Many of the pictures [in the exhibition overall] bring stylistic mannerisms of modern painting (especially those of Picasso) together with subject-matter in a pedestrian unconvincing way …

In much of this work one sees the roots of the cramped, tidy and impoverished modern design which was much in evidence at the Festival of Britain one year outside this decade in 1951. Of course some of this impression of derivativeness is due to the inclusion of work by young artists like Peter Lanyon and Alan Davie who had not yet fully found themselves. Nevertheless it is the most idiosyncratic, the most local artists such as William Roberts and L. S. Lowry, or Edward Burra … who in this atmosphere bring the strongest sense of vision …


High prices for modern British pictures
by Geraldine Norman
Sale Room Correspondent
23 November 1972

A sale of modern British pictures at Sotheby’s yesterday saw a painting by Francis Bacon sold for £17,000, one by Jack Butler Yeats for £9,500, one by William Roberts for £8,000, one by Percy Wyndham Lewis for £4,600 and one by Lucian Freud for £4,400. These prices would have been unthinkable a few years ago. They underline the financial discovery that, even in the twentieth century, the British Isles have fathered painters of real distinction. William Roberts’s “Bank Holiday in the Park” of 1923, sold yesterday for £8,000 (D’Offay), failed to sell in a 1967 Christie’s sale and was bought in at 1,200 gns …

Interest in the Vorticist movement, Britain’s answer to Cubism, has probably stimulated interest in both William Roberts and Percy Wyndham Lewis. Their two most expensive pictures in yesterday’s sale both postdated the movement, Wyndham Lewis’s “Red Portrait” of 1937 at £4,600 (Rutland) and William Roberts’s “Bank Holiday” at £8,000 …


A sensitive artist
Jacob Kramer
Parkin Gallery
by William Gaunt
7 April 1973

The exhibition of paintings and drawings by Jacob Kramer at the Parkin Gallery, Halkin Arcade, includes some of the best work of this sensitive artist and remarkable character, mainly produced in the 1920s and 1930s. A member of an immigrant Russian Jewish family and brought up in Leeds (a city for which he had a deep attachment) he was enabled to go to the Slade School when he was 20, and the benefit of the Slade discipline in draughtsmanship can be appreciated in his early drawings. The grace of pose and line in the Study of a Gypsy for which his sister, Sarah, acted as a model has some kinship with Augustus John in style. But like his fellow-students, Bomberg and William Roberts, he was attracted towards Vorticism and its use of sharply-defined, angular forms on the Cubist-Futurist lines …


English painter with a sense of the comic
Edward Burra

Tate Gallery
by Paul Overy
23 May 1973

Although with Vorticism Britain made an important early contribution to modernism in the visual arts … this did not last much beyond the First World War. Nevertheless between the wars there were several good artists of individuality working outside the mainstream of modern European painting like Paul Nash, William Roberts and Edward Burra …

Born in 1905 in South Kensington, Burra … educated himself by voracious reading and studied painting at the Chelsea Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art …

His drawings and paintings of low-life subjects of the late twenties and early thirties are comic and sympathetic, although they lack the more complete understanding and identification with working-class people that one gets in the work of William Roberts, who was born and brought up in Hackney …


Tate goes back to the Vorticists
by Paul Overy
30 May 1973

… for a few brief years Vorticism was an original and vital movement in its own right, the importance of which has never received proper recognition, often anticipating other better-known European movements like Russian constructivism and suprematism …

… In the Archive Gallery outside the coffee bar in the basement of the Tate, an excellent small exhibition of Vorticist works has been mounted under the title of Modernism in England 1910–1920 and this does something to set the record straight … Only Edward Wadsworth and William Roberts of the Vorticist painters went on to produce important work after these years. And in old age Roberts’s works increasingly look back to Vorticism in their energetic diagonals and piled-up spatial compositions, as can be seen in the half-dozen pictures [Ennui 1972, The Soldier’s Dream 1972, The Swans 1972, Bath-night 1973, The Grandchild 1973, Tiddler Fishing 1973] which are the only worthwhile paintings in the Royal Academy summer show …


Record auction prices for modern British artists
by Geraldine Norman
Sale Room Correspondent
14 March 1974

The value of modern British pictures has been rising for two years and yesterday’s sale at Sotheby’s carried prices yet higher. It included an exceptional number of really fine works, so to some extent the enthusiasm of collectors was predictable …

The sale was packed with notable prices, including two Henry Moore small bronze maquettes at £8,000 and £7,000, two small paintings by William Roberts at £4,500 and £4,800 [4.5 Howitzer c.1924 and Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple 1925?], and a little watercolour of a cat drinking from a stream by Lucian Freud at £1,200. The Munnings Museum paid £16,000 for “A Hunting Morning” of 1913 by Sir Alfred Munnings …


The lost revolution of the Vorticists
Vorticism and Its Allies

Hayward Gallery
by Paul Overy
2 April 1974

… William Roberts was even younger than Bomberg at the moment of Vorticism, only just 19, and also an East Ender. His works were not wholly Vorticist and he later disclaimed the connexion. After the war he developed a remarkable figurative style which would not, however, have been the same without Vorticism. Roberts has been able to produce almost the only genuinely popular paintings which show the persistence of the vitality of working-class life in a technological society, full of comic humour and observant sympathy. They are, I believe, superior to the late paintings of Leger who unsuccessfully tried to do something similar on an heroic and inflated scale. Roberts’s affectionate reconstruction of 1961–62, The Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel: Spring 1915, from the Tate, fittingly introduces the exhibition.

[Other works in the exhibition by WR included The Toe Dancer, Street Games, Dominoes, Theatre I, Theatre II, Theatre III, Machine Gunners (photo), Combat (photo), St George and the Dragon, Sketches for Gas Attack, The Dancers, study for The Vorticists]


Association of Art Historians
by Paul Overy
10 December 1974

… Alvaro Guevara was the son of a rich Chilean wool-merchant who imported English woollens. He was sent to Bradford to study the wool business at the Technical College, hated it, showed some talent as an artist and enrolled in evening classes at the Art School on the advice of the Rothenstein family who lived in Bradford and with whom Guevara had become friendly. In 1912 he won a scholarship to the Slade. He was there at the same time as Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, William Roberts and David Bomberg, and the not so talented, but eccentric female students, Dora Carrington and Dorothy Brett …


Summer Exhibition
Royal Academy

by William Gaunt
6 May 1975

There are no perceptible restrictions as to style or theme in this year’s Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy (the 207th) but a continuance of the wide variety that has been a feature of the exhibitions of recent years. The show may once again be considered as a supermarket in which the shopper has a liberal margin of choice from the representational to the abstract …

There are familiar pictorial entertainments by, for example, William Roberts [The Siesta, The Vigilantes, The Vaulting Horse, The Pet, The Art Gallery] and Edward Ardizzone …


What has Britain given to modern art?
by Paul Overy
2 December 1975

… In the Twenties English painting was in a barren trough relieved – apart from [Paul] Nash, and he was not at his best then – only by those like William Roberts, Stanley Spencer and, a little later, Edward Burra, who evolved an eccentric and personal provincial figurative style …


Moores the pity: time to change the rules?
by Paul Overy
11 May 1976

[The title refers to the lead review of the 1976 John Moores Liverpool Exhibition.] … Sir Edward Marsh, Churchill’s private secretary for many years, was the patron of Georgian poets and painters. Every inch of his chambers in Raymond Buildings was filled with pictures, most of them small. A good number [including WR’s A Street Fight c.1916], together with letters and testaments, have been gathered together to make an evocative exhibition at the Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, who have published an excellent catalogue.

Marsh’s patronage is summed up in a recent letter to the organizers from Kenneth Clark: “Eddie Marsh’s taste in painting, like his taste in poetry, was a reflection of his own fastidious but somewhat timid character.” He particularly encouraged that group of young artists from the East End, most of them Jewish, who emerged from the Slade just before the First World War: Mark Gertler, David Bomberg, William Roberts and Isaac Rosenberg.

… The money he used to help young painters was derived from compensation given by the British Government to the family of Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister assassinated in 1812, who was Marsh’s ancestor. He himself used to refer to it as “the murder money” …


The power of the painted image
by Paddy Kitchen
7 October 1977

For the Royal Academy to assemble a large exhibition of British paintings made during the Queen’s reign seems an obvious and sensible contribution to Jubilee Year. Yet it represents a mild miracle, as it is not long since some of the artists would have shunned these august walls …

Carel Weight’s portrait of Orovida Pissarro … make[s] some of the more academic figure painters look a little remote. And there are others, some of them Royal Academicians … whose portraits are disappointingly ephemeral. It seems foolish to accept that portrait painting has been virtually superseded by the camera; I doubt if there is any photographic image of Orovida as memorable as Weight’s. And a group snap of the Vorticists would give quite different information from William Roberts’s Vorticists at the Restaurant de la Tour Eiffel (painted long after the event). Yet there are not very many painters (and perhaps not sitters either) who have the staying power for important, imaginative re-creations of identified people …


Look here upon this picture …
by Paul Overy
20 December 1977

Towards Another Picture (Nottingham Castle, until January 25) is an exhibition which has been awaited with some eagerness and some apprehension in art circles …

The exhibition … could be taken to represent roughly how the Tate’s post-1945 collection might look if a different buying policy [than one which concentrated on ‘an officially approved “Avant-garde”] had been adopted … Self-taught working-class painters, like Oliver Kilbourn and Paul Waplington, are shown along with painters of working-class subject matter like William Roberts and Leon Kossoff …

William Roberts … is a painter who comes from a working-class background and was involved with Wyndham Lewis and Vorticism as a very young man before the First World War. His paintings are almost entirely of working-class life; but they have much more variety and imagination than those of self-taught artists. His The Common Market shows a busy London market scene, marvellously observed and filled with vitality. It actually reveals in paint one of the most important aspects of British life during the past 30 years: that there has been a large immigration of black people. So out of touch with ordinary life are most British artists that I cannot immediately think of another painter who has recorded this. Roberts is an underrated artist, a large-scale exhibition of whose work would be a revelation. (He had a small retrospective at the Tate in the Sixties at a time when his work was even less appreciated than now.)


Sickert’s affair with the music hall
by Paul Overy
28 December 1977

… Sickert’s finest work was done in the years before the First World War – a period where there seems to have been, in some ways, an extraordinary class mobility. These were the years in which a large number of working-class boys from the East End like William Roberts, David Bomberg, Isaac Rosenberg and Mark Gertler went as students to the Slade, and in which it was possible for a man from the professional middle classes like Sickert to haunt the halls and grimy backstreets of Hoxton and Camden Town …


The very stuff of legends

by Bevis Hillier
14 January 1978

… Another London dealer who has done and is doing a lot to popularize the Slade artists is Anthony d’Offay, of 9 Dering Street, off New Bond Street. Since 1969, he has held one-man shows of William Roberts (Slade, 1910–13), David Bomberg (Slade, 1912–25), Edna Clarke Hall, Spencer Frederick Gore (Slade, 1896–99), Michael Andrews (Slade, 1949–53), Gwen John (Slade, 1894–97), William Coldstream (Slade, 1926–29), Nigel Henderson (Slade, 1945–49), Eduardo Paolozzi (Slade, 1944–47), Vanessa Bell (Slade, 1904), Richard Carline (Slade, 1921–24), and Duncan Grant …

Drawings & WatercoloursAverage–Good PaintingsMuseum-quality paintings
William Roberts£300–£3,000


Under the dead hand of social realism
by Paul Overy
23 May 1978

Art for Society at the Whitechapel Art Gallery is an exhibition of “Contemporary British Art with a Social or Political Purpose”. In their introduction to the catalogue Martin Rewcastle and Nicholas Serota of the Whitechapel write that: “In the past most public galleries have shunned, or been unaware of, art with social purpose.” This is not true.

In the past 15 to 20 years there have been shown in public galleries in Britain exhibitions of Social Realism, Fernand Leger, Max Beckmann, William Roberts, Futurism, the Bauhaus and De Stijl (not all art with social purpose is realist or figurative) …


Tate purchases
4 December 1979

Two pictures by the British artist, William Roberts, which are both parts of an original larger work, have been bought by the Tate Gallery, with money from its purchase grant. Described by the Tate as possibly Roberts’s masterpiece, “The Gutter”, the complete work, was painted in 1934–35. It was slightly damaged a few years later while being exhibited in the United States. The artist was also worried that the painting would not sell because of its size, more than eight feet long and nearly five feet high. So Roberts decided to divide the painting in two, eliminating a strip about a foot wide in the process. The larger picture he called “The Playground”, and the smaller “Skipping” (above). The paintings are not yet on show at the gallery; their hanging has been delayed by the reorganization of the Tate’s modern collection. The gallery would not discuss the price paid for the two works.


Mr William Roberts
30 January 1980

Mr William Roberts, the distinguished painter, died on January 20, at the age of 84.

The most obvious character, in Roberts’s earlier work, was the reduction of the human figure to a series of tubular forms. It has been suggested that this was a comment on the mechanical tendency of modern life, but it is more likely to have been an artistic expedient for convenience in composition, and that the Florentine masters, Negro sculpture, Cubism and Vorticism all played some part in deciding it. At any rate Roberts was a striking instance of the benefit to the artist of the discipline afforded by extreme simplification on geometrical lines. In his later work Roberts receded somewhat from his tubular forms, but there always remained a reminder of Cézanne’s remark that the forms of nature approximate to the cylinder, the sphere or the cone. Roberts did not proceed to the later experiments of Cubism in the decomposition and superimposition of forms, but contented himself with its gains in solidity.

On the psychological side a constant and increasing character in the work of Roberts was a sardonic Cockney humour. He might almost be said to have made Phil May solid, or even to have mechanized Rowlandson. His most typical works were intricate compositions of Londoners engaged in work or recreation, under such titles as “The Char”, “Sun Bathing”, “Primrose Hill”, “The Chess Players” and “The Boat Pond”. Even when the titles alluded to the past, as in “The Garden of Eden” and “The Prodigal Departs” – an enchanting picture with great variety of character in the heads and gestures of the group surrounding the bewildered young man – the personalities represented were still Londoners of the “gawblimey” type, whose raucous voices seemed to resound through the canvas.

Where these pictures differed from the usual representations of similar subject matter was that they were constructive rather than descriptive or illustrative. They were as interesting in design as they were racy in character, and a fair general description of them would be classical compositions with a Cockney accent.

It was not without significance that Roberts was the son of a carpenter, because a workmanlike firmness of construction was characteristic of all he did. He was born in London on June 5, 1895. At the age of sixteen he won an LCC scholarship in drawing which enabled him to go to the Slade School, where he studied for three years and became an excellent draughtsman. Then after working for a while under Roger Fry in the Omega Workshops he joined the Vorticist Group under the leadership of Wyndham Lewis, but though he accepted the general principles of Vorticism as put forward in Blast and signed the Vorticist manifesto he does not seem to have been much interested in aesthetic theories.

It was the war of 1914–1918 that gave Roberts an opportunity to prove his mettle. Both his manner of simplification and his rather grim feeling for character were well suited to what he saw as official war artist. Such pictures as “Hoisting Camouflage”, with its effect of frantic haste and emphasis upon the corrugated folds of canvas and uniform, and the large painting of “Gas Attack”, representing the first use of gas against a Canadian division, made for the Canadian War Memorial, are eloquent of both the horrors of modern warfare and the harsh nature of its equipment and surroundings.

But the First World War, though it may have intensified his rather sceptical and ironical attitude to life, left no permanent traces in his work in either subject or style. The relaxation of his forms after the war – a good instance of the truth of Wyndham Lewis’s prediction that “a great deal of effort will automatically flow back into more natural forms from the barriers of the Abstract” – was accompanied by a great gain in human interest of the kind described.

Under his armour of geometry, to put it, that way, Roberts was an extremely sensitive artist. He was primarily a draughtsman and composer, excelling on a large scale, but though he made little attempt to develop it in an atmospheric direction his colour, if, harsh in accord with his subjects, was generally well balanced. His portraits which, though firmly simplified, were more realistic than his subject pictures, had a deservedly high reputation.

Roberts is well represented at the Imperial War Museum and in the Canadian War Memorial. The Tate Gallery has his “The Char”, presented by Lord, then Sir Joseph, Duveen in 1926, and his self-portrait, acquired in 1940.

The abilities of Roberts as a portrait painter were officially recognized, and in 1940 he was selected by the Artists’ Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Information to paint the portrait of Major-General McNaughton, GOC, Canadian Forces.

Works of his were purchased by the Contemporary Art Society, and he was eagerly acquired by the more enlightened private collectors. He exhibited in the period between the wars at the London Artists’ Association, while it lasted, the New English Art Club and the London Group, all of which bodies he was a member, and in recent years also exhibited at the Royal Academy, being elected ARA in 1958 and RA in 1966. One-man shows of his work were held at the Cooling, Lefevre and Leicester Galleries.

At his Lefevre Gallery Exhibition in 1938, an interesting light was thrown upon his thorough methods by the inclusion with finished paintings of preliminary studies for them, both drawings and watercolours. A one-man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1957 showed both portraits and examples of his favoured genre in water colour executed with unflagging interest in the London scene. One of the best of his later works which drew much attention in the Academy of 1959 was his “Trooping the Colour”, the disciplined rigidity of subject matching that of style.

A retrospective exhibition was held at the Tate Gallery in 1965 and he continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy right up to last year.


Colour and consistency in Leeds tradition
by John Russell Taylor
27 May 1980

… Why … is the Arts Council show of twentieth-century British paintings from Leeds City Art Gallery … so extraordinarily consistent? It might well be the taste of whoever put together this particular group. But even at home in Leeds the same observation applies. From the incumbency of Frank Rutter as curator (1912–1917) a clear tradition seems to have been established of purchasing (and encouraging gifts and legacies) along solid Post-Impressionist principles. The foundation is a group of Camden Town artists – several excellent Sickerts, a pair each of fine Gores and Gilmans – and from there the collection builds steadily and reliably, staying just that little bit in advance of general cultivated taste but never going too far towards the avant garde – there is for example, a discreetly Vorticist Wyndham Lewis portrait of 1920, but it did not enter the collection until 1945, though the William Roberts, The Dance Club [illustrated], was given in the Twenties.

One thing which is consistently striking in the show is the preoccupation with colour. Everywhere you look, the colours are bright or rich: there is nothing that could be called drab …


A revelation of Lewis’s consistent awareness
Wyndham Lewis

Manchester City Art Gallery
William Roberts R.A.
Maclean Gallery
by John Russell Taylor
7 October 1980

Old scores hardly ever seem to be satisfactorily settled: especially if your enemy happens to be the Enemy himself. I refer, of course, not to the Devil, but to one who, for much of the intelligentsia of his time, was hardly distinguishable and certainly little better: Wyndham Lewis. In the little memorial show of William Roberts at the Maclean Gallery, 35 St George Street (till October 31) there is a very funny coloured drawing called The Keeper of the Apes, dating from as late as 1958, which shows Lewis looking dubiously at a group of apes trying to paint and puzzling over a copy of Blast. This, apparently, was sparked off by Lewis’s assertion in a Tate Gallery catalogue that “Vorticism, in fact, was what I, personally, did, and said, at a certain period.” Obviously Roberts, as a leading fellow Vorticist, felt differently. More significantly, he kept on feeling differently, and caring about it all, for 40 years after the fact.

The main reason for this, no doubt, was the uniquely irritant nature of Lewis. Though Jeffery Meyers’s excellent recent biography quotes some hardy souls insisting that no, on the contrary, he was always charming, a model of courtesy and consideration, they tend to do it with the bravado of one certain he will not be believed. Against such testimony there are innumerable witnesses to the other side of Lewis’s nature, compounded of demented aggressivity, overweening self-confidence and paranoia in almost equal measures. He was of course, unfortunately, very talented – even though he would be the first to tell you so. He must have modelled himself in many respects on Marinetti, but he was certainly a much better and more interesting writer than Marinetti, while in the visual arts Marinetti, for all his ideas about them, was no sort of a contender.

In the last four or five years a lot of print has been devoted to the revaluation of Lewis as a writer, and the publication of long unpublished or suppressed texts by him. But curiously enough though there has never been much argument about his importance as a painter, there has not, either, been much opportunity to examine his works at first hand and make up our own minds. The new show in Manchester … is the most, and indeed the only, extensive showing of his work since the retrospective show at the Tate in 1956, the year before his death. And it should be said at once that its effect is absolutely stunning …

The result [of influences including Pacific masks, Matisse’s Fauvism, early German Expressionism, and Italian Futurism], much advertised and polemicized at the time [around 1913], was Vorticism, the “movement” which Lewis later chose to claim was no more nor less than himself – the implication being that associates of that period, such as Roberts, Bomberg and Wadsworth, were followers merely, if their existence was recognized at all.

The rights and wrongs of that particular case have been argued out at length. Undoubtedly Lewis’s fellow Vorticists would have been happy to acknowledge him as the leader, had his instinct to offend and alienate not taken over …

Should you go to look at [Lewis’s] A Battery Shelled in the [Imperial] War Museum, it is well worth while to look also at Roberts’s almost equally grand A Shell Dump, France, right nearby. It does at least throw a lot of light on the the relations between the work of the two artists at this time [the First World War], and it would be very hard to decide which is the more remarkable achievement. In the Roberts show at the Maclean Gallery there are small works of this era, such as the drawing for Gas Attack at Ypres and War Celebrations, which are as fine as anything Lewis did in the same line. Otherwise Roberts was never so dynamic as Lewis, or so interested in abstraction per se: almost immediately after 1920 one can see him moving inexorably towards his familiar later style in which the tubular figures (sometimes suggesting Spencer reworked by Léger) are placed in scenes of great activity – like Rush Hour of 1971, a belated tribute to Swinging London – yet remain as immobile as the people on Keats’s Grecian urn, and a good deal weightier. It is finally (if not necessarily from the start) a slighter talent than Lewis’s. But a considerable talent none the less: if Roberts was sometimes the prisoner of his own style, at least you would never be likely to mistake his work for that of anyone else.


[Photo caption]
7 August 1981

The latest acquisition by the Tate Gallery has a topically ceremonial subject: Trooping the Colour is one of the largest and most striking canvases by William Roberts, the British artist who died last year. The work, now on display at the Tate, was painted in 1959; Roberts, nearly half a century earlier, had started his military service on Horseguards Parade.


[Photo caption to story about publication of the
first Royal Academy Yearbook]
20 November 1981

1915 gathering of Vorticists: by William Roberts, R.A.


The painter as performer
The Eye of the Storm

Brighton Polytechnic
by John Russell Taylor
11 May 1982

… The other major exhibition in the Brighton Festival is The Eye of the Storm in the gallery of Brighton Polytechnic until May 27. It is drawn from another seemingly limitless bottom drawer, that of the Imperial War Museum, and concerns itself with artists’ reactions to the First World War. The first impression is of almost total unfamiliarity: in the War Museum’s collection of material by official war artists there is so much that most of it can rarely be shown except briefly, in special exhibitions such as this and those regularly staged by the museum itself. The second impression is one of amazed admiration at the extraordinary intensity – and that all this could come out of something one would suppose to be so constraining as a government-sponsored scheme for recording a war …

As you might expect, the major artists concerned, such as Paul Nash, [Stanley] Spencer and Wyndham Lewis, emerge as, well, major. What is not so much to be expected is the fine showing made by then pillars of the Establishment like Orpen and Tonks, and by now virtually forgotten artists like W. Bernard Adeney, Harold Williamson and Charles Pears … Orpen’s Dead Germans in a Trench (1917) looks horror in the face, and is so far removed from Orpen’s slick social portraits that one can well believe him marked for life by his war experiences. And, in other cases, one can clearly see such charming, distinctive, but minor artists as John Nash and William Roberts reaching in these special circumstances an intensity of feeling (and tightness of pictorial organization) which they were never to achieve again …


Talks, lectures
17 July 1982

William Roberts: Trooping the Colour, by Laurence Bradbury, Tate Gallery, 3.


The hard sell becomes a collector’s item
by Peter Waymark
18 September 1982

Freed from their immediate purpose of selling a bus journey, a film or a bottle of stout, posters have become collectors’ items. Originals are eagerly sought and command four figure sums, while reprints costing a couple of pounds or less enjoy steady sales. We suggest some collectable subjects and give details of where the posters can be obtained.

Lure of the Underground
One of the leading impresarios of poster art has been London Transport. The tradition started before the First World War and the roster of artists commissioned to portray the delights of London for bus and tube travellers includes E. McKnight Kauffer, Frank Brangwyn, Eric Kennington, Ivon Hitchens, Graham Sutherland and William Roberts.

Some 30 reproductions are currently available, from a 1908 classic, No need to ask a policeman, which extols the speed and cheapness of the Underground, to McKnight Kauffer’s Flowers of the Corn and the much more recent 150 years of London buses. One of the most popular is the Lure of the Underground (1927) by Alfred Leete, who also did the famous Kitchener recruiting posters …


A show for those who know what they like
A Summer Show for the City

Guildhall Art Gallery
by John Russell Taylor
31 May 1983

… There is another enterprise to lure unexpected people in to look at art and actually to buy it under way in London at the moment – but an unexpected part of London and in a location hardly less exotic to Londoners than Bath Assembly Rooms [whose Contemporary Art Fair was also reviewed]. In the City, in the unlovely drill-hall which is what passes, since the Blitz, for the Guildhall Art Gallery, there is until June 18 A Summer Show for the City, presented jointly by three dealers from farther west, the Maclean Gallery, the Maas Gallery and J. L. W. Bird.

For the occasion the nastier features of the space have been obscured with pale blue drapes, and the whole attractively hung with nineteenth and twentieth-century British paintings and drawings. The public aimed at is presumably directors of City companies who might be persuaded to buy art for their offices, plus less well-heeled City workers who might possibly be tempted to something at the lower end of the price range, and even if not will no doubt enjoy this as a pleasant free way of passing half-an-hour.

Nothing that you could call a challenge here: nearly all of it in fact quite comfortable and conservative, and even the more bizarre elements, such as William Roberts’s rather desperate 1971 attempts to invade the world of the hippy and the mini-skirt, Rush Hour, are not too unfamiliar. And the overall quality is admirable … Any office would be graced by an addition from this admirable show; one only hopes that City money-men can be persuaded to see it that way.


The Week Ahead
Twentieth-Century Portraits

21 January 1984 (and several dates thereafter)

The National Portrait Gallery’s new display of famous people who have contributed to the character and development of the past 80 years. They include William Roberts’s double portrait of John Maynard Keynes and his wife Lydia Lopokova; Ben Nicholson’s self-portrait with Barbara Hepworth; and Bryan Organ’s portrait of the Prince of Wales …


British paintings fetch record auction prices
By Geraldine Norman, Sale Room Correspondent
24 May 1984

British pictures from the early part of the century were bid to record auction prices at Sotheby’s yesterday. An impressionistic work by Sir George Clausen, entitled “The Shepherd Boy”, brought a record price for the artist of £57,200 (estimate £15,000 to £20,000).

The next highest price was for a William Roberts, a picture poking fun at his fellow artist, Walter Sickert, entitled “He Knew Degas”. It made an auction record for Roberts at £36,000 (estimate £8,000 to £12,000). It shows Sickert in bed painting a picture, while his third wife, Therese Lessore, wields scissors over a mountain of newspapers …


A share of intelligence
Capital Painting

by John Russell Taylor
26 May 1984

The Barbican Art Gallery reminded us in 1982 that the City of London owns an imposing collection of pictures bombed out of the Guildhall Gallery and still, incredibly, looking for a home; at the moment a selection of the most famous is housed semi-permanently on the gallery’s lowest level. But there is more art lurking in the City than what belongs to the City itself, and the show Capital Painting, which occupies the upper level until June 10, gives us some idea of exactly what it is …

… the show includes … an unexpectedly strong representation of early twentieth-century British art: if you want to see a major cubistic Nevinson (The Soul of a Soulless City), or glamorous female portraits by the likes of Stanley Cursiter or J. D. Fergusson, or a classic Twenties Ginner (Old Waterloo Bridge) or Thirties Roberts (Punting on the Cherwell), then this is definitely the show for you.

[Photo caption: ‘Rare opportunity: detail from Punting on the Cherwell, 1939, by William Roberts’]


Chronicle of a marriage
by Sarah Jane Checkland
21 July 1984

William Roberts painted his wife Sarah once a year throughout their life together, and they were married for more than 60 years. He also painted himself, the two of them together and their son John many times. When Mrs Roberts approached Robin Gibson at the National Portrait Gallery recently, suggesting an exhibition of these portraits, he leapt at the chance. “It’s a wonderful aspect of his work that people don’t know about,” he says.

Roberts is usually associated with vorticism, having been a member of that movement with Wyndham Lewis in 1914. From the mid-1920s he established a distinctive figurative style, his subjects tubular, somewhat like those of Fernand Léger, involved in delightful everyday scenes such as feeding the birds or boating on the lake.

The portraits in this exhibition demonstrate, in Gibson’s words, Roberts’s “psychological depth and simple humanity”.

They include 14 of Sarah alone, dated from 1922 to 1971. All are of head and shoulders. “He thought the face of a person was enough,” she says. “He didn’t want to put people on chaises-longues and doing other things.” Sometimes she is portrayed bare-headed, sometimes she wears a headscarf in bright colours, red and green, mauve and yellow, chosen by him.

On show are 19 self-portraits, with a more complex set of props. Sometimes Roberts shows himself with cards in his hand or a knotted handkerchief on his head. Often he appears as a man of people, sporting cap and braces. There are also four on how of their only son, John, born in 1919.

Perhaps the most moving are the two double portraits of the artist and his wife, dated 1942–43 and 1975, in particular the latter where an elderly Sarah smiles out from under her headscarf while Roberts seems either to be looking at her affectionately, or contemplating a piece of paper they are holding. This paper is an enigma, says Sarah, who is now aged 83. “It is either a bill or a marriage certificate, but I never found out. He was not satisfied with the way he had painted me, and was planning to do something about it, but then he died.” It was 1980.

Some of Roberts’s self-portraits reveal a sombre side. He appears to glower out from the canvas. In fact, the face he turned to the world was often one of disaffection. He refused an OBE and a retrospective at the Royal Academy, and still felt his artistic merit had been neglected.

He published many pamphlets privately in which, for example, he objected to the fact that the painter must be a self-publicist to survive, and that the abstract artist tends to “drip, throw or trudge his paint on to a piece of cardboard or hardboard, and if this isn’t fast enough … use a bicycle”.


William Roberts 1895–1980
An Artist and His Family
The National Portrait Gallery, London WC2

28 July 1984 (and several dates thereafter)

Forty from the dozens of paintings by William Roberts of himself and his family over a period of 60 years. A fascinating chronicle of a marriage providing insight into an artist who, after his involvement with the Vorticist Movement in 1914, and active service in the First World War, largely dissociated himself from the world.


Bright hope trapped in its own creative formula
William Roberts

National Portrait Gallery
by John Russell Taylor
7 August 1984

Tip-of-the-iceberg theorizing about art and artists is always tempting – no doubt because it leaves so much to the creative imagination of the observer. But for that very reason it has its pitfalls, inclining us to optimistic or sentimental excess. It is very easy, for instance, to make extravagant guesses about the potential of those who died young, especially cut off in their prime by war. And we may well be right about, say, Gaudier-Brzeska and what he could have become. But before we assume too much we should take a close look at those who survived from the First World War generation, and wonder what we would have made of their futures if an early death had made these entirely hypothetical. The later careers of artists like C. R. W. Nevinson and William Roberts are very instructive in this respect.

If we went entirely on his very early work, we would surely build William Roberts into a far more exciting figure than he actually turned out to be. We would see him as a young iconoclast, a bold innovator in the excitable heyday of Vorticism, someone it was not wholly unreasonable to class with Wyndham Lewis as one of the brightest hopes of British painting. How could we then know that he would become one of those painters who, having found their own style quite early, soon become trapped in it, turning it into a formula which has the advantage of making everything they paint immediately recognizable and the disadvantage of making it seem endlessly the same?

In the early Twenties, under the influence perhaps of Léger, Roberts invented his robot-like shorthand for depicting human beings, in action or repose, and from then on he hardly deviated from it. In early works like the unexpected collection of nude bathers shown at the Fine Art Society a year or two ago, the effect could be delightfully odd; in later works, like the large oil of hippies on and around a London bus included in the Guildhall Gallery show of pictures for the City last year, the oddity is still there, but it is the oddity of anachronism, that anybody should be handling such a subject in such a style at such a time.

It is certainly more than due that Roberts’s career should be looked at in its entirely again, even though we may be fearful of what we shall think when it is. Meanwhile, the general effect of the National Portrait Gallery’s small but informative show William Roberts: An Artist and his Family (until October 7) is unexpectedly heartening. Roberts would not be thought of primarily as a portrait painter, but throughout his life he continued very regularly to paint himself, his wife, his son John and other members of his family, such as his mother-in-law Cecilia Kramer. Obviously familiarity bred a sort of tranced fascination: he went on painting his wife Sarah endlessly because, he said, she never looked twice the same to him. He possibly felt the same about himself, though, especially in the later self-portraits, less and less change is visible and their painting seems to become some sort of ritual task from which he could not escape. All the same, few of these bold, simple and perceptive works fall completely into formula: it is as though, even when he had retreated from society except to fire occasional salvoes at old enemies and old friends, his own family kept him still in practical touch with the world he otherwise held at an uncomfortable distance.

[Photo caption: ‘Inescapable ritual: William Roberts’s Self-portrait in a Cap (c. 1976)’ [in fact the picture showed Self-portrait in a Skull Cap, 1972]]


Talks, lectures
23 August 1984

William Roberts: family portraits, by Liz Rideal; National Portrait Gallery, Education Dept, St Martin’s Place, WC2, 1.10.


Personal Columns
Antiques and Collectables

3 July 1985

William Roberts, RA. Oil on canvas 29 x 25. Exhibited Royal Academy 1964. £6,666 ono. Tel: 01-834-6983.


The Week Ahead
6 July 1985

Lone voice: William Roberts (1895–1980) was an artistic loner who attacked with merciless wit the writers he felt misrepresented his art. This self portrait is included in an exhibition of watercolours, drawings and etching at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (0222 69501) from Tuesday.


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