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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Buried Treasure: the life and visions of Rupert Lee

If you are an art loving treasure seeker in or around London this week and in need of a bit of an election antidote, you could do a lot worse than to visit the Rupert Lee Retrospective exhibition which is currently on at Gallery 27 in Cork Street. This is where I spent most of my bank holiday Monday and it was a pleasure.

Rupert Lee was one of the “golden generation” of pre-first world war Slade artists that included Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer and Richard Nevinson. He was an extraordinary talent and a truly versatile man who turned his hand to painting, sculpting, printmaking and music. As a young artist he formed an especially close friendship with the artist Paul Nash and was also employed by the legendary theatre director, Edward Gordon Craig. For 10 years Lee served as the President of the London Group of Artists – an avant-garde collective and exhibiting society which in the first half of the twentieth century was responsible for showcasing some of the most interesting and innovative of British artists. As the London Group president, Lee was able to promote such names as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. In 1936 he was chairman of the International Surrealist exhibition at the Burlington Galleries – a properly bizarre event which featured Dylan Thomas offering visitors cups of boiled string with the query “weak or strong?” and Salvador Dali wandering around in a deep sea diving suit.

In short, Rupert Lee was at the forefront of the artistic community of his day. In addition to this, his own work was powerful and versatile. He exhibited many of the hallmarks of those who directly influenced him such as Roger Fry and Paul Nash – but he also bought to the table his own vision. In particular his series of First World War pictures, drawn in and very soon after leaving the trenches are a real discovery and enrich the artistic legacy of the war. As the book which accompanies the exhibition points out, where Paul Nash focussed on the landscapes of war, and Nevinson on the mechanisation of battle, Lee’s vision homes-in on the fighting man; cowering; shooting; dying; seemingly tumbling into an alien landscape. I have included pictures of a few of the most notable pieces – but there are plenty more at the exhibition. Lee experimented with many styles and many mediums during the course of his life; he was not a slave to any particular school.

This rich artistic legacy is made still more vivid by the personal story behind the pictures. The book that accompanies the exhibition is Rupert Lee: Painter, Sculptor and Printmaker by Denys J. Wilcox and it is available from the exhibition itself and from Amazon. Together with wonderful illustrations, the book tells a remarkable personal history. I will not spoil it for those who wish to dig deeper, but Denys Wilcox has bought to life a previously lost narrative of love, vision, resentment and complexity that would be quite at home in the annals of Bloomsbury. Behind Lee’s artistic output sits his profound friendship with Paul Nash, torn asunder by personal dramas; his bizarre and disastrous marriage to a woman who appeared to be consumed by hatred for him; and his long term relationship with another woman – whose sure-footed intelligence, kindliness and tolerance make her seem so very out of step with her own times. For those who like a bit of biography with their art, there is plenty to be getting on with here.

The exhibition has also been featured in the Independent and runs until 8 May.

9 comments:

  1. I am not in or around London, so thank you for sharing your experience. I really enjoyed your post.

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  2. It's such a pleasure to read about art. I don't know Rupert Lee's work but I can imagine nothing more agreeable than spending a day at this gallery. I'll have to see if any of his drawings or paintings made it to my neck of the wood. Doubtful, though!

    Kat

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  3. Good evening both!

    Aguja - what a shame that you are not in the vicinity - I am pleased that you enjoyed the post - thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment

    Kat - it is quite doubtful as much of his work has dosappeared - but he was a truly extraordinary man and well worth looking into - even if only through Denys Wilcox's book. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment

    Enjoy the rest of the week

    Hannah

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  4. If you're still in London, Hannah, you'd probably enjoy the Paul Nash exhibition at Dulwich, though only a few days left.

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  5. This sounds great - can't get to London, but I will order up the exhibition catalogue. I'm in the middle of reading A Crisis of Brilliance and want more on the artists of this period.

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  6. Mary - thanks for the recommendation. I have been to the Paul nash exhibition, although have been thinking about tryng to sneak another quick visit in before it closes, it certainly makes sense to view the Rupert Lee show and the Paul Nash show together due to the connection between the two men.

    Blithe Spirit - Lovely I do hope that you enjoy it - it makes an excellent book to read alongside A Crisis of Brilliance. Enjoy!

    Thank you both for visiting and commenting

    Hannah

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  7. I really enjoyed reading your post :) I have never been that big a fan of Rupert Lee but I enjoyed reading your persperctive :)

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  8. Dear Vaishnavi - thank you for stopping by and for your comment.

    Have a great week
    Hannah

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  9. I really enjoyed your post/blog especially about Rupert Lee who I have only just discovered at a local exhibition in West Somerset and even met Denys Wilcox the author of Ruperts book ... very good veiwing but only on for a very short time.

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