The Beecroft Art Gallery in Southend-on-Sea currently has the privilege of exhibiting a selection of previously unseen works and archival material by The East London Group; a movement active around 1928–1936 and largely forgotten in the post war art world. But this group, comprised of mainly working men and women from the East End, is now well on the road towards their rightful position in the history of British art. The group was augmented by a few trained artists from the Slade School of Fine Art, tutored by John Cooper and mentored by none other than Walter Sickert at their art classes in Bow. They achieved notable success in their heyday, securing exhibitions at the Tate and Whitechapel galleries among others but it seems that their talents were forgotten when they disbanded, and after the War an effort to revive the group failed, perhaps because many of them had moved away from East London by that time.
Perhaps the pinnacle of the Group’s success was in representing their country at the Venice Biennale in 1936, but one of the great surprises of the Beecroft’s exhibition is a small, unassuming catalogue for An Exhibition of Paintings by British and French Artists (pictured above) at the Lefevre Galleries in St James’, London. This particular exhibition included works by Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Monet and many other giants of the art world, as well as several artists from the East London Group, and really brings into perspective the incredible circles in which these working class, east end artists were mixing.
This particular exhibition, including work by Albert Turpin, Cecil Osborne, Elwin Hawthorne, Harold and Walter Steggles, Henry Silk, John Cooper and Phyllis Bray, is the brainchild of Alan Waltham whose wife is the niece of Walter Steggles. The Walthams have a vast collection of Steggles’ paintings, drawings and archive material, some of which feature in the Beecroft’s exhibition. Alan has organised further loans from far and wide, including exhibition catalogues and sketchbooks from family holdings, private collections, and the Shell Heritage Art Collection. The theme ‘Out of the City’, was chosen in order to focus upon pictures painted away from the Group’s London base and features landscapes from Essex, Suffolk, Devon and many others. A recently revised edition of the fantastic publication From Bow to Biennale: Artists of the East London Group by David Buckman is an invaluable accompaniment to the exhibition.
Alan had initially approached the Beecroft because it holds a work by one of the group in its collection, Windy Day on Marine Parade, Southend by Brynhild Parker (pictured above). Interestingly, the source of this picture was the collection of Lord Duveen (1869–1939), an art dealer and great benefactor to museums in Britain, who donated pictures to the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery among others, and financed building schemes including the gallery for the Parthenon Sculptures at the British Museum. He was a patron of the East London Group and helped finance some of their exhibitions.
Alan then launched a campaign on the crowd funding platform, Kickstarter, and got 64 backers pledging £2,358 to help fund the costs of the exhibition and Kevin Marsh, the Beecroft’s curator of exhibitions has been working closely with him for over a year now, to help make Alan’s vision become reality, in a show that is attracting a lot of attention from some interesting people!
'There's this exhib of painting in Southend you should go to if you can – I just love this stuff.'
@CaroleSouter (Chief Executive, Heritage Lottery Fund)
'It was a really lovely event: everyone was so friendly and appreciative of all the work.'
Clare Hunt, Curatorial Manager, Southend Museums Service
'The East London Group: Out of the City' is open at The Beecroft Art Gallery, Victoria Avenue, Southend on Sea, Essex SS2 6EX, from 19th March to 25th June 2016, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am–5pm.