Images above: Pottery by Carol Greenaway
Probably the oldest surviving Open Studios
Artists At Home celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. Chiswick is blessed with many artists and it is a lovely thing to wander round over a weekend in the summer in and out of people’s homes and studios looking at a vast range of styles of work.
It is of course fun to be nosy and see inside people’s houses and wonder what the artists have done with the evidence of their families and how on earth they can be so organised and tidy that they can invite hundreds of people to traipse through.
But it is the work that people come to see, and it is a real opportunity to chat to them about how they work and what inspires them, often over a glass of wine or some freshly made lemonade. It is the antithesis of what people have come to expect about living in London – open doors, an invitation to all and sundry to come into their homes.
Within three square miles, between Brook Green and Strand On The Green, Uxbridge Road and the Thames, there is a surprising diversity of artists – painters, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers, print-makers, textile and fashion designers, jewellers and glassworkers.
“We are excited to be 50” Chair of the Artists at Home Steering Group, Kathryn Davey, told The Chiswick Calendar.
Image above: Painting by Jennifer Abbott
The origins of Open Studios
The tradition of ‘Open Studios’ dates back to 17th Century Paris in the modern era where aristocratic French ladies presided over salons hosted in their huge drawing rooms. Catherine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet, was the first to encourage good conversation, literary criticism and political exchanges at the Hôtel de Rambouillet, which wielded significant influence on French society.
In the 20th century the trend for sharing intellectual ideas in public forums was taken up by the Beat Poets, with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at the fore, and Andy Warhol’s ‘happenings’ at The Factory in New York, which attracted artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities.
The post war era in Britain saw an ‘outbreak of talent’, as surrealist painter Paul Nash described the modernist painters he taught at the Royal College of Art, who coalesced as a group which became known as the Great Bardfield Artists, led by Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious.
The network of artists included Peggy Angus, Helen Binyon, John Aldridge, Barnett Freedman, Tirzah Garwood, Percy Horton, and Enid Marx, with Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious sharing The Brick House and sharing ideas and a social life with it.
They showed their work in the Essex village, attracting national and international attention and becoming the first example of an Open Studios in Britain.
Image above: Julian Trevelyan – Durham Wharf, 1943 Portland Gallery
Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan, who started Artists At Home in 1973
Artists At Home was started in west London in 1973 by Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan, who lived at Durham Wharf on the river at Chiswick Mall. On the 30th anniversary of Artists At Home Mary Fedden (then 88) wrote:
“We never realised we would be starting a local tradition. We had been asked to open by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who enticed us with a £5 grant for tea and biscuits. Much to our surprise the day was a great success … and gradually more and more artists joined in the scheme”.
Mary Fedden OBE studied at the Slade School of Fine Arts, London from 1932 to 1936 and developed her own style of flower paintings and still lifes, reminiscent of artists such as Matisse and Braque.
Julian Trevelyan RA read English Literature at Cambridge and studied art in Paris, where he found himself working alongside artists such as Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso. He is considered to have made a major contribution to Surrealism in Britain and was an influential teacher at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s.
Trevelyan moved in the same circles as Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious. Both artists had lived in Hammersmith in the early 1930s. Trevelyan bought Durham Wharf in 1935. He also overlapped with Edward Bawden at the Royal College of Art. Bawden taught there between 1930 and 1963 (except for the years of World War II). Trevelyan taught there from 1955 to 1963. It is likely that he was aware of the Open Studios at Great Bardfield.
The tradition Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan started in west London is, as far as Artists At Home can tell, the oldest one of its kind still surviving. Cambridge Open Studios started the following year, in 1974, Brighton and Hove’s Artists Open Houses dates from 1981 and Oxfordshire Art Weeks has been going since 1982.
READ ALSO: Artists At Home
Image above: West Wind, Julian Trevelyan, 1983
An intellectual and cultural hub on the banks of the Thames
In an interview she gave in 1991 to Mel Gooding, for the Artists’ Lives oral history project at the British Library, Mary Fedden talked about the very high standards of the artists who lived around them at Chiswick Mall and Hammersmith Terrace and how Trevelyan drew in some big names in the art world:
“He started a picture loan library in a room here at Durham Wharf, and he got paintings from his friends in Paris, and from all sorts of people. He had John Piper’s, and, I think, Graham Sutherland’s, and Henry Moore drawings, and all sorts of friends, including Vieira da Silva from Paris, and her husband, Arpad Jenec, and he ran it as a gallery and as a picture lending library.
“And people used to come, eagerly, to rent pictures. I think they paid ten shillings for six months, and then, if they loved the picture at the end of six months, they could buy it, otherwise they handed it back and got another one.
“And it was, apparently, very successful. But, in the end, Julian found that every person who came to hire a painting, wanted to stay at least a couple of hours and talk about painting, until they’d decided which one to hire. And in the end, it really took all his time, he couldn’t get on with his own painting because he was talking to the borrowers of the pictures.
“But he loved doing that, because he met a lot of people, and he got a lot of painters’ work shown, and for quite a long time it was a great success.”
Norah Hyde, an Irish artist who represented Ireland in the Venice Biennale in 1950, was one of the artists who lived near them on Hammersmith Terrace. The painter and printmaker Ceri Richards lived in St Peter’s Square, and the pioneer of abstract art Victor Pasmore also lived nearby in Hammersmith.
Images above: Mary Fedden; Julian Trevelyan
“Amateur artists, which is nice enough”
Mary was 76 when she gave that interview and clearly looked back on their heyday at the centre of a vibrant colony of successful artists with fondness and pride. She was less enthusiastic about the way in which the Open Studios developed in her lifetime (she died in 2012).
“The sad thing is, in a way, about open studios, is that now that we have them, there are so few really good painters down here. There are masses of people who paint, and are very nice company, but we don’t have the Ceri’s, and the Victor’s, and the McWilliams, and the people like that here, any more.
“Which is a pity, since Open Day has become a feature, but a lot of the people who open, are sort of retired businessmen who paint… And amateur artists, which is nice enough… But, but it isn’t what it would have been in those days.”
In the 21st century, the open studio focuses on the creative act of making and sharing, and Artists At Home has become a much more democratic organisation.
Last year the organisation had 83 members who took part at 66 locations across Chiswick, Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush and nine artists showed their work online only. Some are full time, professional artists while others are what Mary Fedden would have described as amateur. What they do collectively is to make art accessible.
Artists At Home currently has no selection process. Artists merely have to live in the geographical zone and to have a website or some form of online presence. Applications are open until the end of January for a few more artists to apply to take part for this year’s Open Studios in June. Membership costs £115 for the year, plus a joining fee of £140. Find out how to apply here: Apply to join
Images above: Tuareg Woman; The Emir of Zaria arrives at Kani-Kombore; artist Peter Thornborough
Images above: Felicity Gail earrings and necklace
Images above: The Year of the Tree 84; The Year of the Tree 47; artist Jane Price
Artists At Home will take place over the weekend 16–19 June 2023.
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See also: More on Artists At Home
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