Albert Herter. Part 2 – The muralist.

Albert Herter

Although Albert Herter was recognized as an “easel painter” who concentrated on portraiture and floral still lifes, he had always loved mural painting, a specialization he began early in his career. Herter’s best-known and most personal mural was his work which is displayed inside the Gare de l’Est. one of the railway stations in Paris. It is entitled Le Départ des poilus, août 1914. It was one of many mural commissions he completed during his lifetime, many of which were for buildings in America, such as the murals prominently displayed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (Milestones on the Road to Freedom, dedicated in 1942) and in the Connecticut Supreme Court Hearing Room (The Signing of the Fundamental Orders of the Constitution 1638-39, and An Allegory of Education, both installed in 1913).

Le poilu (French infantryman of the First World War.

In 1926, Albert completed his most famous monumental painting which measured 12 x 5 metres depicting the departure of young soldiers to the front. It was entitled Le Départ des poilus, août 1914. Poilu is an informal term for a French World War I infantryman, meaning, literally, “hairy one” and is still widely used as a term of endearment for the French infantry of World War I. The word hints at the infantryman’s typically rustic, agricultural background.

 

Le Départ des poilus, août 1914. by Albert Herter (1926)

Albert Herter, who painted the work in an empty room of the Palace of Versailles, donated the work to France in memory of his eldest son. In the upper half of the painting we see a depiction of young men in uniform on the train awaiting departure to the Front. The soldier on the far right carries the French tricolour.

Everit Herter

Look at the soldier in the centre of the painting with his arms raised aloft. In his right hand he holds up a rifle, the muzzle of which is filled with a bouquet of flowers. This is a portrait of Everit, his younger son, who was to die on the battlefield.

Albert Herter

The lower half of the painting is dedicated to the soldiers’ families who have come to say their farewells. Look at the man to the right who carries a bunch of flowers. He is bent over and clutches his chest. This is a self-portrait of the artist, Albert Herter. He has depicted himself as being sad and somewhat fearful of the fate of his son.

Adele Herter

Scan across to the left of the painting and look at the woman in white with hands clasped in prayer. This is a portrait of Herter’s wife Adele. She has a haunted look on her face. She too is fearful for her son. The painting was inaugurated on 8 June 8th 1926 in the lobby of the Paris Gare de l’Est Station in the presence of Marshal Joffre. It has hung at many different places in the station. The painting was removed from the Gare de l’Est in 1948, to be cleaned of the dirt deposited by years of smoke from steam trains. It was returned in 1964, but was removed again in 2006 to allow the station to be adapted for the TGV Est.

Mural in situ at Paris Gare de l’Est railway station

After restoration, it was reinstalled in early 2008 hanging seven metres above the floor in the station’s Hall d’Alsace. The Gare de l’Est was chosen as a site for the work as it is a place of remembrance of the First World War as many soldiers passed through it on their way to the front while those returning home from the battlegrounds passed through there on their way to joining their families at home. For many veterans, the painting by Herter was regarded as an invitation to remembrance and recollection.

Another series of Herter’s murals was commissioned for the Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room although these were somewhat controversial. The controversy was written about in the 1995 Wisconsin State Capitol Historic Structure Report which reported:

“…The complicated and protracted story of the Wisconsin Supreme Court murals involved three different artists (one of whom perished on the Titanic), justices who needed to be convinced of the desirability of murals in the hearing room and an architect who was determined to implement his scheme for the space. The justices, accustomed to portraits of former justices on the walls in the hearing room of the previous capitol, wanted to hang the portraits in the new hearing room…”

Wisconsin Supreme Court main Hearing Room with one of Herter’s murals in the background

The Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room is reputed to be the most beautiful of its kind in the country. In addition to the walls and columns of marble from Germany, Italy, France and Maryland, the bronze candelabras, the carved mahogany bench and counsel table, the most striking objects are the four large murals by Albert Herter, each nine feet by 18 feet six inches. Each mural depicts a source of Wisconsin law.

The mural on the north wall, to the left of the Hearing Room shows King John of England sealing and granting Magna Charta (the Great Charter) in June 1215 on the banks of the Thames River at the meadow called Runnymeade. His reluctance to grant the Charter is shown by his posture and sullen countenance. But he had no choice. The barons and churchmen led by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, forced him to recognize principles that have developed into the liberties we enjoy today. King John, out of avarice, greed or revenge, had in the past seized the lands of noblemen, destroyed their castles and imprisoned them without legal cause. As a result, the noblemen united against the king. Most of the articles in Magna Charta dealt with feudal tenures, but many other rights were also included.

Article 39 provided:

No freeman shall be seized or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, or in any way destroyed, nor will we condemn him, nor will we commit him to prison, excepting by the legal judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

Article 40 promised:

To none will we sell, to none will we deny, to none will we delay right or justice.

Out of these and other provisions came the rights of habeas corpus and trial by jury. Freedom of the church was also guaranteed in the Charter. The barons and churchmen claimed that all of these were ancient rights expressed in earlier charters of Edward the Confessor and Henry I. This mural commemorates our indebtedness to English common law, brought to these shores by the early British colonists. The young boy holding the dog was modelled by Christian Herter, son of the artist. He became governor of Massachusetts and secretary of state under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The mural on the west wall over the entrance to the Hearing Room depicts an incident in the reign of Caesar Augustus Octavius. The Roman writer Seutonious tells of Scutarious, a Roman legionnaire who was being tried for an offense before the judges seated in the background. The legionnaire called on Caesar to represent him, saying: “I fought for you when you needed me, now I need you.” Caesar responded by agreeing to represent Scutarious. Caesar is shown reclining on his litter borne by his servants. Seutonious does not tell us the outcome of the trial but leaves us to surmise that with such a counsellor he undoubtedly prevailed. The mural represents Roman civil law, which is set forth in codes or statutes, in contrast to English common law, which is based not on a written code but on ancient customs and usages and the judgments and decrees of the courts which follow such customs and usages.

The mural on the south wall portrays the trial of Chief Oshkosh of the Menominees for the slaying of a member of another tribe who had killed a Menominee in a hunting accident. It was shown that under Menominee custom, relatives of a slain member could kill his slayer. Judge James Duane Doty held that in this case territorial law did not apply.  He stated:

“…it appears to me that it would be tyrannical and unjust to declare him, by implication, a malicious offender against rules which the same laws presume he could not have previously known…” 

Judge Doty acquitted Chief Oshkosh of the charge and they became friends.
In 1848 Wisconsin achieved statehood and this mural shows the state’s indebtedness to territorial law. Article XIV of the Wisconsin Constitution of 1848 says the common law in force in the territory and the laws of the territory are part of the law of Wisconsin except as changed by the Constitution or altered or repeated by the legislature.

The fourth mural, which is actually the first one that is visible on making an entrance to the Supreme Court Room, and is Albert Herter’s rendition of the signing of the Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. George Washington is shown presiding. On the left, Benjamin Franklin is easily recognizable. On the right, James Madison, “Father of the Constitution” is shown with his cloak on his arm. Although he was in France at the time, Thomas Jefferson was painted into the mural because of his great influence on the principles of the Constitution. The painting hangs above the place where the seven member Wisconsin Supreme Court sit to hand down their decisions. The mural’s position above the bench is symbolic that the Supreme Court operates under its aegis and is subject to its constraints. The United States Constitution has served us well for more than 200 years. This mural shows our indebtedness to federal law.
Thus, the four murals show that Roman, English, federal and territorial law are all part of our legal heritage.

Albert Herter is believed to have used studio space at both his business, the textile design firm, Herter Looms in New York City, and at “The Creeks,” his meticulously designed East Hampton, Long Island estate. Herter’s use of certain colours in his murals so that they complemented the colours in the marble panels beneath them was ingenious.  The murals arrived in Madison, and work began on installation at the Capitol on May 25, 1915, The Racine (Wisconsin) Journal-News reported on that day.

“…The pictures cost the state $28,000. Francis D. Millett, who was the first engaged to make the paintings for the Supreme court room, lost his life in the sinking of the steamship Titanic before he could begin the pictures…” 

House of Representatives chamber of the Massachusetts State House,

Another set of five murals by Albert Herter can be found in the House of Representatives chamber of the Massachusetts State House, the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court, the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The murals known as the Milestones on the Road to Freedom in Massachusetts decorate the upper walls of the chamber. The names above the murals list the fifty-three most important men in Massachusetts history.
The mural on the left was a scene from the court case against a local magistrate, Samuel Sewall. In 1692 a small group of men and women of Salem were arrested for bewitching their neighbours. Samuel Sewall, a local magistrate, was a member of the court that ultimately sentenced nineteen people to be hanged. The tragedy was realised several months later: those still being held were released. In the mural, Sewall is seen standing in Old South Church in Boston with his head bowed as his confession and prayers for pardon are read aloud.
Sewall is said to have fasted one day each year, praying for his soul and the souls of those wrongfully put to death. At the dedication of the murals, this event in particular was singled out as a turning point, for it represented “the beginning of the recognition of the ‘quality of mercy’ in human affairs.”

Christian Archibald Herter

The mural was a gift of the artist and his son, Governor Christian Herter which was unveiled December 16th, 1942.

Besides these murals at Madison, Wisconsin, Albert Herter’s murals now decorate walls in the State capitols at Hartford, Connecticut, Lincoln Nebraska, the Public Library in Los Angeles, the Academy of Science in Washington DC, the National Park Bank in New York and many other public buildings.  It is probably his murals that Albert Herter will be best remembered and one has to remember the story of him as a child when his first drawing was a very large picture featuring numerous people.  Maybe his large-scale murals were always going to be his favoured genre.


Information about Albert Herter’s murals at the Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room came from the Wisconsin Court System website:

https://www.wicourts.gov/news/view.jsp?id=687

 

 

Albert Herter. Part 1

Albert Herter

One’s upbringing surely plays a big part in how we develop. Often, we follow in the footsteps of our parents and soon what was there chosen occupation, becomes ours. Financial stability must play an important role in how we develop. There are many stories of artists struggling away against financial adversity in their childhood and youth to become famous painters. It was that struggle which shaped them and their life. However, there are also many young people who emerged from a wealthy background who also made it to the top of their profession. They neither struggled with nor worried about financial matters. My artist today is Albert Herter, an American, who was one of those privileged people who had a successful career as an artist. Regina Armstrong, writing in The Art Interchange of January 1899, commented on Herter’s start in life:

“…Well, Albert Herter simply has no right to exist. To begin with, he was born to wealth and social position; he is handsome and attractive in manner, and he has exceptional talent. You see, his career knocks the props from under those accepted saws about the impetus of poverty…”

Albert Herter, Self-Portrait in Costume of Hamlet, (ca. 1900)

Albert Herter was an American painter, illustrator, muralist, and interior designer. He was born in New York City on March 2nd 1871. He came from an artistic family. His mother was Mary Herter (née Miles) and his father was Christian Augustus Ludwig Herter, a German immigrant, who with his brother, Gustave, were founders of the prestigious Herter Brothers, a prominent New York interior design and furnishings firm, which began as a furniture and upholstery shop/warehouse, but, after the Civil War became one of the first American firms to provide complete interior decoration services. Albert’s father, Christian, was also a talented amateur artist. Albert was the younger son and had an elder brother, by six years, Christian Archibald Herter, an American physician and pathologist noted for his work on diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. He was co-founder of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

As a child Albert loved to draw and historians love to quote the story of one of Albert’s first artistic forays – not a small sketch nor a painting but a complicated multi-figure, large-scale drawing. His parents realised that their son’s future was to be artistic. They realised that he was not bound for an Ivy League university but the artistic establishments of New York and Paris. He studied in New York at the Art Students League where he studied alongside William Kendall, the subject of my previous blog. Albert’s work received a number of mentions in art journals and was awarded many medals for his artistic works. He was also acknowledged as the youngest artist to have his work shown at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Portrait of Bessie (Miss Elisabeth Newton) by Albert Herter (1892)

In 1892 Herter completed a portrait of his childhood friend, Elisabeth Newton. It is a life-sized depiction measuring 59 x 32 inches. The lady is in a reflective mood and for this work there are signs of Herter being influenced by Whistler with its carefully schemed arrangement of whites. In the background we have a decorative patterned curtain which also reveals Herter’s interest in textiles and Japanese design.

Portrait of Miss Phyllis de Kay by Adele McGinnis Herter

After Albert Herter left the Art Students League, he travelled to Paris to hone his artistic skills in the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens, the French Academic-style painter and sculptor. It was whilst living in the French capital that Albert met another American art student. She was Adele McGinnis who was studying under William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Gustave Courtois, and Tony Robert-Fleury at the Académie Julian. Adele, who was two years older than Albert, was born February 27th 1869. She was the daughter of the New York banker, John McGinnis and his wife Lydia. Love blossomed between Albert and Adele and they married in New York in 1893.

The Creeks, 1905.

In 1894, Mary Miles Herter, Albert’s mother, gave the couple a wedding gift. It was not just any wedding gift, it was a seventy-acre parcel of land in East Hampton, Long Island, between Montauk Highway and Georgica Pond. In 1899, on this parcel of land, the couple built The Creeks, a 40-room, Mediterranean-style villa. This beautifully created estate incorporated almost a mile of waterfront on the tidal estuary. As both Albert and Adele Herter were artists, they incorporated into their villa two large art studios so each would have their own workspace. Adele Herter also designed the extensive gardens.

Orange and; Yellow Garden, (1913). Albert Herter’s studio is the building at left Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographer – Johnston Collection, Library of Congress

In 1912, Albert Herter added a much larger studio to the complex, which also doubled as a private theatre, and it was in this building that famous artists, such as Enrico Caruso, Isadora Duncan and Anna Pavlova performed. The house design and interior featured in a 1914 book entitled The Honest House by Ruby Ross & Rayne Adams in which the authors wrote:

“…One of the finest examples of a color plan in our architecture is the country place of Mr. Albert Herter at East Hampton, Long Island. Here is a large, rambling house, built so close to the sea that the blue-green of the water and the clear blue of the sky are deliberately considered as a part of the color plan. Mr. Herter’s idea was to get, if possible, the effect of a house in Sicily, and so he built the house of pinkish yellow stucco and gave it a copper roof. The sea winds have softened the texture and deepened the color of the walls to salmon, and the copper roof has been transformed into ever-changing blue-greens that repeat the colors of the sea. In front of the house there are terraces massed with flowers of orange and yellow and red, and back of the house there is a Persian garden built around blue and green Persian tiles, and great blue Italian jars. Here flowers of blue and rose, and the amethyst tones in between, are allowed. Black green trees and shrubs are used everywhere, with the general effect of one of Maxfield Parrish’s vivid Oriental gardens…”

Still Life with Philodendrons and Coral by Adele McGinnis Herter

Although known for her floral still life and decorative wall paintings, Adele McGinnis was principally a portraitist. Through Adele’s upper-class upbringing she made many important contacts some of whom sat for her, such as Abby, the wife of John D Rockefeller and Mary Emma Harkness the wife of the wealthy philanthropist, Edward S. Harkness. She received a number of awards for her art, the major ones being at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901 and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1904. She was also a charter member of the Cosmopolitan Club, New York.

Eastern Blossoms (also known as Geisha Standing on a Balcony) by Albert Herter (1894)

Albert and Adele honeymooned in Japan, and Herter completed a number of paintings with Oriental themes such as his 1894 work entitled Eastern Blossoms.

Portrait of Master Rosenbaum, (Portrait of Albert M. Rosenbaum, Jr.) by Albert Herter(c. 1914)  

The Portrait of Master Rosenbaum, (Portrait of Albert M. Rosenbaum, Jr.) was commissioned by Albert and Nettie Rosenbaum, young Albert’s parents.  The painting then became the property of Milton Meyers, the older brother of Albert M Rosenbaum Jnr and his wife Fern Meyers. According to Mrs Meyers, the Rosenbaums, whom she never knew, commissioned Albert Herter to paint a portrait of their son after his impending death became known. She didn’t remember if she’d ever heard the cause of his death at the age of eleven, but it was probably consumption.

The couple returned to Paris for the first years of their marriage. Albert and Adele went on to have three children, two sons, Everit born in 1894,  Christian Archibald in 1895 and one daughter, Lydia Adele in 1898. Everit and Lydia both became artists.  Sadly, Everit was killed, at age 24, in World War I.  Christian became a politician, serving as governor of Massachusetts and later U.S. Secretary of State under Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Woman With Red Hair by Albert Herter

In 1894 Herter completed his well-loved painting entitled Woman with Red Hair. His work was a depiction of fine living during America’s Gilded Age. The Gilded Age was a term derived from the title of Mark Twain’s satirical novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today and defined the turbulent years between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the turn of the twentieth century. It was during this period that America became more prosperous and saw unprecedented growth in industry and technology. However, the Gilded Age had a more sinister side. It was a period when greedy, corrupt industrialists, bankers and politicians enjoyed unprecedented wealth at the expense of the working class. The lady in the painting is the height of elegance with her swan-like neck and mass of red hair set against a lavishly decorated background. Her dress is sumptuously embroidered and the gossamer filaments which attach the sleeve to the bodice reveal a sophisticated sensitivity to the beautifully handcrafted garments that could only be afforded by the wealthy. There is an element of the depiction which reminds one of the portraits of the Italian Renaissance which many aspiring American artists liked to mimic. For many artists of the time the accoutrements used to set up the painting were of great importance.

Woman with a Fan by Albert Herter (c.1895)

Arabella Huntington was a philanthropist whose second husband was the American railway tycoon and industrialist Collis Potter Huntington. Collis Huntington died in 1902, and in 1913 Arabella married his nephew, becoming the second wife of Henry Edwards Huntington. Arabella Huntington was once known as the richest woman in America and was the energy behind the art collection that is housed at the Huntington Library in San Marino California, which was founded by her husband Henry Huntington. The establishment, which already owned an inlaid ebonized secretary cabinet designed by the Herter Brothers furniture and decorating company purchased Albert Herter’s 1895 painting entitled Woman with a Fan.

Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1490, by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

There is a lot of speculation as to who the sitter was for this portrait. On the back of the frame is a nameplate which reads Miss Maude Bouvier. Maude Bouvier was the grandmother of Jacqueline Kennedy and it is known that during the early 1890’s, Albert Herter had spent time in the Hamptons, close to where the Bouviers lived. The only query as to the sitter is that the nameplate is not original to the painting and thus there is an element of doubt as to the authenticity of the sitter. Her costume and the format of the painting are derived from Italian Renaissance portraits, such as the Huntington’s Portrait of a Woman, by Domenico Ghirlandaio

In 1904, Albert Herter’s mother, Mary bought a plot of land in Santa Barbara, California with the intention of having a home built. She persuaded her son and daughter-in-law to help decorate the large Mission Revival-style home.

El Mirasol

They agreed and the residence was transformed into a veritable showplace, which was bedecked with magnificent murals, tapestries, and other artistic pieces. The Herter family spent their winters there.   When Mary Herter died in 1913 Albert inherited the house and he turned it into a hotel and named it El Mirasol (The Sunflower). Later Albert and Adele built a number of bungalows on the surrounding land of the property, and El Mirasol became a destination resort for the wealthy.

Herter Brothers, the business founded by Albert’s father, closed its doors in 1906, and Albert founded Herter Looms in 1909, a tapestry and textile design-and-manufacturing firm that was, in a sense, successor to his father’s firm.

Black and white print of Portrait of College Boys by Albert Herter

Around 1912 Albert Herter completed a portrait of his two sons and many prints were made of the work. It has been given many titles, such as The College Boys, Portrait of the Artist’s Sons, and Two Boys. The depiction features Albert and Adele Herter’s sons, eighteen-year-old Everit and seventeen-year-old Christian. The painting was part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum from 1912 until 1923, when it was returned to the Herters, in exchange for another of his paintings.  The request to have the painting returned to the family could well have been due to the death from shrapnel wounds of Everit in World War I. Sergeant Everit Albert Herter, Herter’s twenty-four-year-old son, volunteered to join the US Army in September 1917, some months after the US joined the First World War. Everit Herter joined the camouflage section of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Sergeant Herter was killed in June 1918 near Château-Thierry in Aisne, while serving in France with the American Expeditionary Force, and is buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. Sadly, Everit Albert Herter was the first to be hired as a volunteer and also the first to be killed in his unit.

In the next part of the Albert Herter blog I will look at his work as a muralist.


I would like to take this opportunity to wish everybody a Happy Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a peaceful New Year.

Jonathan

Mary Adshead – the great muralist.

Mary Adshead

The artist I am showcasing today, Mary Adshead, was an exceptionally gifted person. She was an artist who moved seamlessly between easel painting and murals.   She was a portrait painter.  She painted on furniture and glass.  She was a postage stamp designer.  She was a book illustrator and devised and designed advertisements and stage sets but will probably be best remembered as a muralist.

Mary was born in Bloomsbury, London, on February 14th, 1904. She was the daughter and only child of Stanley Davenport Adshead and Annie Adshead. Her father was a well-known neo-Georgian architect and talented amateur watercolourist, who trained in Manchester and London and for four years was clerk of works for the vast mansion at Rosehaugh, Argyll, during which time he met his wife, Annie, who was the village school mistress. In 1909, Stanley became Associate Professor of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool, and in 1912 became the Lever Professor of Civic Design. He moved back to London in 1914 and became the first Professor of Town Planning at University College, London, and remained there until his retirement in 1935.

Stanley Davenport Adshead (1927)

From the age of six, Mary was determined to become an artist and spent much of her time drawing and she produced many sketchbooks of cartoons and illustrations to stories.  The family would spend their summer holidays in the New Forest. Her mother and father’s relationship was often stormy and Mary found herself acting as a go-between, passing messages from one parent to the other.  At the age of twelve, she attended Putney High School and remained there for three years.    At the age of fifteen she went to Paris with her mother and both lived in a hotel in the French capital for six months whilst Mary attended the Lycée Victor Dury.

Ludus Pro Patria by Puvis de Chavannes (c.1883)
This painting which is housed at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, replicates the central portion of a mural, Ludus Pro Patria (Patriotic Games), which was installed in the stairwell of the Musée de Picardie in Amiens, France

Whilst in Paris she visited many of the famous art galleries and was greatly influenced by the murals of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.  In the Autumn of 1921, when she was seventeen years old, her father took her to meet Henry Tonks the principal at the Slade School of Art, which was part of the University College, London, where Stanley Adshead was a professor.  Henry Tonks, a former surgeon, had a reputation for being very harsh with his students and a fierce taskmaster.  Mary brought along a portfolio of work which she had put together whilst in Paris but Tonks was not impressed.  However through a lot of arm-twisting by her father Tonks agreed to allow her to enrol on his art course.  This was a great relief to Mary and her father who, because he was a professor at the UCL, would not have to pay for his daughter’s tuition.

Poster artwork; Country joys on Londons Underground, by Mary Adshead, 1926

During the early phase of her course Mary did not work as hard as she should and was happy to hang out with a set of wealthy girls who looked on the art and course as simply a pleasant hobby.  Soon she realised that she was wasting valuable time and began to knuckle down and Tonks began to be very impressed with her work. Mary and fellow student, Rex Whistler won the joint first prize in the Slade’s Summer painting competition in 1924 and as a result, when their time at the Slade came to an end, Henry Tonks arranged for them to undertake a joint mural commission at the Highway Boys’ Club in London’s East End.

Mary Adshead 1926 mural:
A Tropical Fantasy:
for Charles Reilly’s Dining Room
Mural (panel 1 of 6)

Once she had completed that commission, more followed and her next one, in 1924, was to create a mural based on a desert island theme, which became known as A Tropical Fantasy. It was commissioned by Charles Reilly, the professor of architecture at Liverpool University, and one-time colleague of Mary’s father.  It is now housed at the Liverpool University Victoria Art Gallery. It is one of just a few of her murals to survive. That same year she completed a large mural entitled The Housing of the People, which was exhibited at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

Bank Underground station, advertising mural by Mary Adshead which was situated next to escalator (1926)

She designed posters for the Underground Group and London Transport in the period 1927-37 and also carried out decorative works at Bank and Piccadilly Circus Underground Stations.

An English Holiday – Village Inn, 1928

 

One of her most lauded and often considered as her finest work was a commission she received in 1928 from Lord Beaverbrook, the millionaire Canadian-British newspaper publisher and politician, for a mural to cover the walls of his dining room at his Newmarket House, Calvin Lodge. He had decided that the mural should depict scenes of Newmarket life such as the horse racing and the fair and should depict his well-known and famous friends and it was that last instruction which was to be the stumbling-block to this project.

An English Holiday – The Puncture by Mary Adshead (1928)

The resultant panels, collectively titled An English Holiday, were true masterpieces combining humour with an insight into a life of privilege and elegance. They were described at the time as being in ‘the manner of English 18th-century sporting prints and acquatints. The paintings were packed with activity.

Village Inn by Mary Adshead

 

In Village Inn, a gentleman cyclist flirts with a country maid. In another one we see Arnold Bennett playing the harmonium for a crowd of gypsies. In another we see Lady Louis Mountbatten waiting by her car, the tyre of which had punctured and is being offered assistance by a swaggering, bearded character who looks very much like the painter Augustus John. More bizarrely Churchill is depicted astride an elephant. All of the characters are making their way to the Newmarket racecourse to meet Lord Beaverbrook.

 

 

 

However, Lady Diana Cooper, a good friend of Lord Beaverbrook and who also appeared picnicking in one of paintings persuaded him not to install the murals. Her argument being that as he was so cantankerous and quarrelsome, he was bound to, sooner or later, argue with one or more of the people depicted in the murals and then he would be forced to look at their depictions every time he dined. He listened to her advice and returned the panels to Adshead and paid the two-thirds rejection fee.

The panels were reassembled and exhibited at the large Peter Jones Department store in Central London in 1930 before being rolled up and relegated to a cupboard in the Adshead’s house where years later all but three were destroyed by fire.

The Little Boy and his House by Stephen Bone and Mary Adshead

In 1929 Mary Adshead married the painter Stephen Bone, the son of the artist and etcher Sir Muirhead Bone. Stephen and Mary had been students together at the Slade. The couple went on to have three children, two sons, Quentin and Sylvester and a daughter, Christina.  Mary and Stephen collaborated on a couple of children’s books, namely The Little Boy and His House in 1936, The Silly Snail and Other Stories in 1942 and The Little Boys and Their Boats in 1953 in which Mary provided the illustrations.

 

Chateau Poulet, near Forcalquier, Haute Provence by Mary Adshead

During their early married life, the couple made many painting and sketching tours during their travels through Europe.  Mary received many commissions through her architect father and also through the good auspices of her father-in-law who was always singing her praises in his circle of artist friends.  Her father-in-law, Muirhead Bone was well known for helping young aspiring artists such as Stanley Spencer, Gwen John and Cristopher Nevinson.

Morning after the Flood by Mary Adshead (1928)

Mary Adshead’s first solo exhibition was held in 1930 at the Goupil Gallery and included the painting The Morning after the Flood which is now part of the Tate collection. This decorative painting by Mary Adshead was characteristic of the style taught at the Slade Art School when she was a student. The tutors at the Slade had students set out figurative compositions that had connections with Biblical tales. This work was set the day after the Great Flood when Noah’s boat with his family and animals had come to rest on dry land.  One art critic wrote that her figure painting combined a fashionable primitivism, loosely derived from Stanley Spencer with a fluency and humour rarely found among her contemporaries.

Self Portrait by Mary Adshead (1931)

Her talent as a portrait artist can be seen in her 1931 self-portrait.

Portrait of Daphne Charlton,by Mary Adshead (c.1935)

Other portraits she completed include one of Daphne Charlton, the painter who studied at the Slade and who was a close friend of Stanley Spencer.

One of her favourites was one she did of her three children.

Victoria Pier, Colwyn Bay prior to demolition (pre-2017)

There is actually connection between Mary Adshead and her father and a place near where I live. The connection is the Victoria Pier Pavilion at Colwyn Bay, North Wales. The original pier was started in 1899 and was completed two years later. A 600-seat ‘Bijou’ theatre was built at the pier head in 1917 for the purposes of light entertainment. This original pavilion was completely destroyed by fire in 1922. This disaster forced the owners, the Victoria Pier Company, into bankruptcy and the pier was taken over by Colwyn Bay Urban District Council which arranged to re-build the structure. Eleven years later this second pavilion was destroyed by fire and a second blaze a few months later destroyed the theatre.

The mural decorations by Mary Adshead in the auditorium of Colwyn Bay Pier

Not to be deterred by these two disasters, the Colwyn Bay Urban District Council set about rebuilding, and the third pavilion was opened on Tuesday 8 May 1934 at a cost of £16,000. Now to the connection !

Inside Victoria Pavilion, Colwyn Bay with murals by Mary Adshead and Eric Ravilious

The third pavilion was designed by architect Stanley Davenport Adshead, Mary’s father, and Mary and Eric Ravilious were commissioned to paint some Art Deco murals for the interior of the pier building. The pier was badly damaged by the gales and sea in 2017 and started to collapse and it was decided to dismantle the whole structure.

Sections of murals from Colwyn Bay pier pavilion

The Art Deco murals created by Eric Ravilious and Mary Adshead, back in 1934, from inside the pavilion, have all been successfully removed and are currently awaiting restoration.

Mary Adshead and Stephen Bone

Stephen Bone, Mary’s husband, was a landscape painter and for a while was very successful but later the market for his work dried up and he became depressed and began to look upon himself as a failure. Stephen Bone died of bowel and liver cancer on 15 September 1958 at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. He was just fifty-three years old.

Travelling with a Sketchbook by Mary Adshead

After the death of her husband, and with her children all grown up, Mary embarked on a tour of America. During the adventure she carried her sketchbook and filled it with drawings of her journey. When she returned to England she published a book about her travels entitled Travelling with a Sketchbook.

1952 8d Wilding definitive stamp designed by Mary Adstead

Between 1948 and 1963 she submitted designs for a number of Post Office stamp issues including the Universal Postal Union stamps of 1949, the Festival of Britain stamp of 1951 and four denominations of the Wilding definitive stamps of 1952, which featured the Dorothy Wilding photographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II .  Adshead’s design for the 8d, 9d, 10d and 11d were chosen.

 

Mary Adshead
(1904 – 1995)

In her latter years, lameness caused by painting off ladders hampered her work and life, but, ever purposeful, she would crawl where she could not walk with a stick, curious glances notwithstanding.  Despite this affliction Mary Adshead remained an active working artist until the end of her life.  She died in London on September 3rd 1995, aged 91.