Richard Warren

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

Tag Archives: Wolverhampton School of Art

Back to life with Alan Wycliffe Wellings

The “drawings” category of Ebay’s art listings is crowded out with old life studies. (They even outnumber the hopeful but hopeless Picasso fakes.) It’s sad, really. Pencilled and charcoaled ladies with their kit off (and the odd gent) from a variety of past decades, once laboured over in the life rooms but now unloaded onto the market in folders full. Mostly mediocre student stuff, and probably destined for the recycling bin, despite the occasional optimistic tag of “erotic interest”.

alan wellingsBut this one seemed worth rescuing for the price of a takeaway.

The artist is the teacher and illustrator Alan Wycliffe Wellings, born in Pattingham, near Wolverhampton – just a few fields away from me – in 1910. By 1926 he was at Wolverhampton School of Art, where at the age of 15 he was among the top eight candidates nationally in the Royal Drawing Society examinations, as reported in this cutting from the Wolverhampton Express & Star. (For another distinguished alumnus of the Wolverhampton School of Art, see the Annesley Tittensor page above.) Wellings went on to the Royal, and then taught at the Eastbrook School for Boys in Dagenham, which enjoyed a progressive arts curriculum at the time. By the late ‘forties he was at South East Essex School of Art. He died in 1985. A folder of his life drawings turned up a month ago at an Essex auction house, the buyer promptly turfing them out onto Ebay.

This one isn’t dated, but other pieces in the folder are said to be marked from the ‘thirties. This may date from Wellings’ time at the Royal, though the pen and ink style, with its dashed lines of shading and rather risky employment of a wide range of nibs, wouldn’t have looked out of place twenty years later. There is no under-pencilling; Wellings put the image down directly from observation, squatting at his donkey, resulting in a number of prominent alternative lines which, as in all best drawing practice, co-exist as successive thoughts and build to a vibration, rather than something “accurate” from which the life has been erased.

footThe figure is given a subtly neo-classical feel which might be a faint but knowing nod to Picasso’s drawings of around 1923. And the generosity of the limbs is certainly in that area. My favourite bit is the foot on the floor – you have to admit, that’s one hell of a foot!

A better view of Annesley Tittensor

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. They’re all up on a page here, or press “A better view of Annesley Tittensor” on the tabs above.

The invisible sculpture of Annesley Tittensor

Wolverhampton Art Gallery currently has a semi-permanent exhibition (till January 2012) of work by luminaries of the Wolverhampton School of Art in its various incarnations between 1850 and 1970. The prevailing feel, as is only to be expected, is competent, distinguished, but bland, and until we get to one or two of the most recent items it’s hard to detect any impact of Modernism. In the 3-D, the dominant feel is that of establishment sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler, alleviated a little by the slightly Deco classicism of Robert Jackson Emerson. All a bit Royal Academy. But then there’s this –

Dharana (in yoga, a state of concentration) is a slender 70 cm wood carving, dated to 1936, by the mysterious Annesley Tittensor. Compared with everything else around it, this is self-consciously of its time. The curved, extended neck, and the tilt of the elongated oval of the face show clearly the influence of Modigliani, maybe even a hint of Brancusi, and behind that an awareness of non-European art. The very economical attention to the draperies of the clothing relieves the overall minimalism, as do the curls of the hair, though to my mind these are a small but unnecessary concession to the decorative. But anyway, this is a beautiful piece, and the stock gallery image doesn’t do it justice. Neither do my phone-snaps, but they may help to give a fuller idea.

But what do we know of Annesley Tittensor? Remarkably little. Googling his rather splendid name will give you the info on this one sculpture, plus a single source at Glasgow Uny’s “Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951database. Born in 1916, he studied under Emerson at Wolverhampton from 1935, proving an “exceptional” student, and went on to the Royal in 1938, graduating in 1940. After the war he was still in London, and had one piece (“Angel Musician”) accepted at the RA in 1948. Later he returned to the West Midlands to teach at Walsall School of Art. He died in 1991. That’s about it. On the strength of this piece, you’d expect Tittensors to be lying about all over the place. So where are they? And are they as good as this?

Follow-up page to this, with many more images of Anneseley Tittensor’s work, here, or click on “A better view” above.