Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Some more lost surrealists

Here’s a second batch of lesser known surrealists or quasi-surrealists, culled from a continuing trawl of the BBC’s Your Paintings site. (First batch here. More to come, no doubt.) Again, I’m keeping to the “classic” period (‘thirties to ‘fifties). Though all here lived and worked in the UK, not all were British nationals, so I’ve left the “British” out of this post. Enjoy, as they say. Click for enlargement or slideshow.

Augustus Lunn is one of the many dismissed by Michel Remy, in Surrealism in Britain, as “constitutively incomplete” – surrealists by virtue of technique alone, lacking doctrinal rigour. In Lunn’s case, this seems particularly unfair. Though with Beatrice, Lady Glenavy, Dublin aesthete, pupil of William Orpen and friend of Katherine Mansfield, we are definitely at the decorative end of surrealism. She seems to have moved from late Pre-Raph to Catholic symbolism to a sort of twee deco, but for a while in the ‘thirties, she certainly flirted with surreality. But whatever the style, her work is always highly accomplished technically. With Fergus Graham, we seem to be at the fantasy end. Beyond a show at the Lefevre in 1935, I can’t say I know much more about him.

Ditto Margarethe Garthe, who was born in 1891, lived in Beckenham, had a show at the Loggia Gallery, London, in 1972 and died in 1976. Hein Heckroth, on the other hand, was a considerable name as an art director for film and stage, well connected with the surrealist movement and with other wartime emigrés. His film work has definite Dalinian tendencies, but this portrait opts for the full bonkers effect, with tweedy military theorist and historian Liddell Hart looking splendidly out of place among the pipes, severed ears and assorted squishy objects that litter the receding desert. Thomas Esmond Lowinsky is best known as a successful purveyor of cool, classical-deco whimsy, but this fine, tight little canvas, often on show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, achieves rather more of a disturbing effect.

Poet and artist René Halkett (1900 – 1983) was a Bauhaus veteran who transplanted to Britain. Google-wise, he seems best known these days for his late collaboration with David J of the band Bauhaus, but drop his name into Google images and it’s clear that his artwork is well worth a browse, especially the earlier Dada stuff. American Charles Houghton Howard lived and worked in Britain before and after the war. His nicely clean cut biomorphism puts him at the abstract pole of surrealism, not too far from the messier and more instinctual Sam (Thomas Samuel) Haile, potter and night-time painter – the most pukka British surrealist of the lot in this selection. Remy’s chronicle rightly devotes several pages to Haile, who, he says, “aims at flaying and tearing surfaces to help vision become primary again”. Haile was a developed theorist, but his work is unsettlingly de-learned and outsiderish; it’s no surprise to find that he highly rated the work of fellow psychonauts Grace Pailthorpe and Reuben Mednikoff.

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7 responses to “Some more lost surrealists

  1. Guy Cosnahan January 31, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Hi,
    Do ou know if William Cosnahan was an American?

    Thanks

    • richardawarren January 31, 2014 at 9:42 pm

      Hello. I’m afraid I know next to nothing about him. But both his paintings in public ownership in the UK are at Salford, so I’m guessing that he may have been local to the Manchester area. Sorry I can’t add anything more.

      • Sarah Bealby-Wright February 19, 2014 at 4:45 pm

        William Cosnahan is my father, real name William Bealby-Wright. He is painting again now but had put aside his painting career in 1959 to write poetry and perform with the Barrow Poets. He designed all their record covers and made many weird and wonderful props, puppets and instruments ( the famous ‘cacafiddle’ ) as well as a steam limerick pump for the Lord Mayor’s show. He studied at the Ruskin School of Art.

      • richardawarren February 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm

        Thank you, Sarah! Wonderful!

  2. Roxanne Matthews March 24, 2014 at 12:39 am

    I just bought a painting signed William Bealby-Wright 1984 and I would sure like to know more about it can someone help me?

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