Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Brief encounters with the Two Roberts

I have a definite childhood memory of watching a black and white TV programme about two painters at work, occasionally talking to camera, punctuated, I think, by snatches of Erik Satie – maybe Gymnopédies or Gnossiennes, though I would hardly have been able to identify the music at the time. I must have been ten, and this must have been Ken Russell’s first short TV film for the BBC Monitor series, Scottish Painters, broadcast in October 1959.  And the two Scottish artists were “the Two Roberts”, Colquhoun and MacBryde, exiles in Fitzrovia and beyond, the matter of legend, and both fine painters. My parents were not art lovers. (Dad was one of the very first to buy a print of Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl.) But I was deemed to have talent in that direction, so the film might well have been switched on for my edification. A false memory? I don’t think so. Though I don’t recall any details clearly. I’ve trawled around online for clips of the film, but it seems inaccessible. Did a copy even survive?

Neglected for many years, the Roberts have undergone a bit of a boost recently with Roger Bristow’s essential 2010 biography, The Last Bohemians. Though for a quick start, but with some fascinating new information and images, try the excellent 2010 catalogue from The Scottish Gallery, downloadable as a pdf.

Anyway, it’s high time I devoted a page to some brief encounters with the Roberts. I’ve made a start here, reproducing the short feature on them in a 1949 Picture Post, followed by Wyndham Lewis’ 1951 account. As yet, no images of their work, but that can be remedied at a later date.

4 responses to “Brief encounters with the Two Roberts

  1. Jan D. Cox March 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    I didn’t know about The Scottish Gallery show, as always interested in the Roberts. Those two “Monitor” clips used to work, but unfortunately haven’t for a year or two.
    Clicking on Colquhoun in the Wyndham Lewis “Listener” website shows that Lewis mentions Colquhoun in nine articles from 1947 to 1950 and MacBryde in three. Link is at:
    Strange that Lewis says in 1951 that Colquhoun had been excluded from the Festival of Britain, as they both were in the ’60 for 51 competition, with pictures opposite each other in the catalogue if I remember rightly. Perhaps he is referring to the fact that nearly every other neo-Romantic was asked to decorate the Festival: Sutherland, Piper, Vaughan, Minton etc.
    Lots of first-hand reminiscences of the Roberts in John Moynihan’s “Restless Lives: The Bohemian World of Rodrigo and Elinor Moynihan”.

  2. richardawarren March 11, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks, Jan! Yes, both Roger Bristow and Malcolm Yorke take it that way, Bristow suggesting that they were “deeply offended” by their exclusion from the commissions, and both writers take Lewis’ comment in that light. Bristow suggests that the Roberts had managed to annoy the South Bank designers by telling a group of them in the pub to “go back and look at the Bauhaus”, an exchange that turned unpleasant …

  3. Jack June 22, 2015 at 3:47 am

    Apologies for the comment on a years-old post – I’ve been stalking your Colquhoun and MacBryde tags, and if for some reason you haven’t already seen, just wanted to let you know that the Ken Russell film has recently been made available digitally and can be found at the bottom of this page:
    Thanks for such a brilliant blog and great resources on these two!

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