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)

A better view of Annesley Tittensor


Andy Tittensor by Arnold Machin, terracotta, c1938-40

(Page updated 4 February 2012 – scroll down past “gallery” for new material)

In August I posted “The invisible sculpture of Annesley Tittensor“, a short piece about the rather wonderful carving Dharana, currently on show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, by the sculptor Annesley Tittensor, who passed through Wolverhampton School of Art in the ‘thirties, and who died in 1991. I wondered what more was known of him, and where all his other works might be hidden away. This brought a response from his daughter Rose, who has very generously sent images of a number of pieces in the keeping of the family, some still in his studio and photographed there. Rose speaks of her father Annesley (more generally known as Andy) as “a very much loved teacher and father”, and says –

“He was a remarkable  person and I still keep in touch with some of his old students … He was known as an inspirational teacher. Dad was amazing at carving as well as terracotta and did a couple of commissions for coins and medals, but he got heavily sucked into teaching and the art world went away from his style. I have always felt he was unrecognised for in what my own eyes was his outstanding ability as an artist. He was also always laughing and joking, and yet was quite a philosopher and extremely wise. He bought us up to to respect everyone, rich or poor, and to always remain humble. He also played four musical instruments and was full of energy. He could repeat the words of the whole of Shakespeare’s Henry V – how he did that I will never know!”

Bust of Edward Elgar

While at Wolverhampton Andy Tittensor exhibited at Bilston Art Gallery. From Wolverhampton he went to the RCA, where he befriended his fellow student, the sculptor Arnold Machin. He left the RCA in 1940 and by 1942 was teaching at Walsall College of Art, in the department of “carving and modelling”. Later in the war he was called up and served in the artillery. By 1948 he was living in Chelsea, and then taught for many years at Kingston Art School, becoming head of ceramics there, and worked at his studio in Kew.  A photo (below) taken in the studios at Kingston shows him in conversation with student Sally Arnup, now a successful animal sculptor. In retirement he was invited to exhibit with the Brotherhood of Ruralists, contributing a bust of Edward Elgar to their 1984 Salute to Elgar show. The following year his 1948 piece Angel Musician was exhibited and sold at the Ruralists’ Continuing Tradition show (“Works by the Brotherhood of Ruralists and invited friends on a Christian theme”), which toured throughout that year. His dogged respect for traditional skills and processes and the neo-romantic and religious character of some of his work must have made him a natural “guest” for the Ruralists, though personally I would doubt that he shared completely the Brotherhood’s fondness for pastoral whimsy.

Andy Tittensor teaching at Kingston in the 'sixties

The photos of his surviving works show a remarkable variety of styles and approaches, from early student pieces to relatively traditional portrait busts to more expansive, romantic carvings. A striking female life study is one of his earliest pieces done at Wolverhampton. In plaster, painted to resemble bronze, it is essentially a formal student exercise, but it has a pleasing classical-Deco quality, and is immaculately modelled. What may be a later student piece, a dancer in painted plaster, shows a completely different feel, almost in a vernacular, folk art style. (See also the newspaper cutting below.)

life study

life study

dancer

The surviving portrait busts, while they avoid experiment, are admirably done. In particular, a commissioned portrait head of Sara Vitali has the urgent and expressive quality of an Epstein (vitale indeed!), while a carved wood mask of the artist’s brother Frank has a most intimate and haunting feel.

dancer (close up)

Edward Elgar

Florence

Frank Tittensor

Frank Tittensor

Sara Vitali

A maquette of the figure of St Paul, with a more gritty, ‘sixties expressionist finish, is for a sculpture commissioned for the courtyard of a school (St Paul’s School at Hammersmith Bridge?). There are also relief carvings in wood, including a full length panel of the image of Christ from the shroud of Turin.

St Paul

St Paul

Turin shroud

For my money though, the most impressive piece of all is Torso, a vast, elongated wooden carving from 1975, photographed in front of the studio window, in which a single piece of wood (a discarded railway sleeper) has been gently and subtly accommodated  to the resemblance of a monumental female torso. The attenuated simplicity of the form has an echo of the 1936 Dharana, and the tenderness of the carving shows a great respect for the original qualities of the material. There is something remarkably devout, in the best sense of the word, about this piece.

relief carving

Torso, 1975

Torso, 1975

Browsing these images induces respect for a gifted sculptor and devoted teacher who (unlike many of us who work in art education) pursued his vision and stayed true to the ethic and habit of his own work. Half a century’s worth is represented here, from the ‘thirties to the ‘eighties. This in turn raises the question of what future there can be today for any figurative sculpture outside the corporate courtyard and the roundabout “heritage”, beyond bland public statuary or kitsch garden ornament. In the sculpture department where, like a square peg in a round hole, I was obliged to study in the mid-‘seventies, the dead hand of Marcel Duchamp, together with a misplaced code of “truth to materials”, had reduced sculpture to a series of tidy visual paradoxes constructed from ropes, weights and planks, from which it never recovered. To be fair, the notion of a “crisis of sculpture” can be a glib pretext for the reintroduction of the trite and the reactionary. But where are the heroic carvings of our age? Where is our Easter Island?

Additional material from the Wolverhampton Art Gallery scrapbook

Many thanks to Annesley Tittensor’s daughter Rose for alerting me to cuttings from a scrapbook of material relating to Wolverhampton Art Gallery, now online at the Black Country History site,  that throw more light on her father’s early career. A review of the Wolverhampton Art Circle exhibition in the Express and Star of January 1938 by their regular art reviewer “U.U.” mentions that

Among the sculptors, Ursula Moynihan and Annesley Tittensor are noteworthy even in the company of others of national reputation, Annesley Tittensor’s “Dharana” being a beautiful piece of abstract art.

(Ursula Moynihan went on to study sculpture at the Royal, but her work seems to have vanished. One amateurish oil of 1942 is her only representation on the BBC Your Paintings site.) November 1937 reports of the Art School’s annual prize giving in the Express and Star, the Birmingham Gazette and the Birmingham Post and Journal single out Annesley Tittensor’s studentship at the RCA, and note that he was the first student from the School’s junior department to have a piece of work – Dharana – purchased by the Gallery.

Best of all is an anonymous Express and Star notice of his solo exhibition at Wolverhampton in July 1942, by which time he was teaching at Walsall:

ONE-MAN SHOW AT THE ART GALLERY

A former pupil of Hordern-road council school and Wolverhampton School of Art, Mr Annesley Tittensor ARCA has several fine examples of sculpture in a one man show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Mr Tittensor, now on the staff of Walsall School of Art, was 13 when he entered the full time junior department of Wolverhampton School of Art. Two years later he obtained a scholarship which admitted him to the senior department, and from there he qualified for the borough major art scholarship and a free studentship admitting him to the Royal College of Art, London, where he studied in the school of sculpture.

Here he obtained the diploma of associateship and went to Walsall after being discharged on medical grounds from the army.

Strength and artistic perception are among the qualities revealed in the work now on view in the north room of the art gallery, which includes several portrait heads and busts, as well as full length figures.

There is a fine bust of a first year Walsall junior boy, and the full length figures include a powerful study of a negro and a fountain design for a pool.

Mr Tittensor has worked in stone and wood among other media, and a study of a giant arm in cherry wood is particularly notable.

Dharana, purchased by the Gallery in 1937, is visible at centre in a case, with the “dancer” shown above to her right. The gent inspecting the rather impressive giant arm appears to be Mr T Roberts, the curator at the time.

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3 responses to “A better view of Annesley Tittensor

  1. Rob Knifton November 8, 2012 at 9:51 am

    Dear Richard – great to learn more about Andy Tittensor, thanks! I’m part of a research project at Kingston University developing histories of the art school. We’d love to perhaps add some of this material to the digital archives we’re constructing – might you get in touch please? All the best, Rob

  2. Robert Erskine January 9, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Dear Richard,

    As a pupil of Andy I would like to contact his daughter Rose.

    Are you able to provide a contact address.

    Kind regards.

    Robert Erskine.

  3. Brendan Flynn June 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I visited Annesley Tittensor some years ago at his home in Kew while researching the sculptor Robert Jackson Emerson. He said that Emerson gave him the wood for Dharana – a piece of limewood from his own garden and encouraged him to carve a figure for exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Tittensor was about to begin his studentship at the Royal College and the purchase of the work, recommended by Emerson, was a great encouragement to him. It was one of his first attempts at carving which makes it an even more remarkable achievement for such a young artist.

    I only met Tittensor once but he was a delightful character, very modest about his own work but full of praise for the work of others – a rare quality amongst contemporary artists.

    Kind regards

    Brendan Flynn

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